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The Unconventional Guide to Work

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In A Productivity Slump? Time Off Can Boost Your Performance

Every seven years, renowned graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister takes a year off. Unencumbered, unrestricted by the demands of his high-profile career, he has an opportunity to work for himself. The result is surprising, beautiful, provocative (check it out in his Ted talk here) and comes from a place of authenticity and complete creative freedom.

“From my experience I did my best thinking when not under pressure” – Stefan Sagmeister

I know, it seems too good to be true...and maybe even a little counter-intuitive! How does he still have clients? – you might ask. How can any reasonable person just take off and do what they want for an entire year? Well, that’s what we’re here to discuss! This post provides tips on how some time off – whether it’s a day or a few weeks or yes, a year! – can help you find your mojo again.

Tip 1: Be organised about it.

“I put the plan in the agenda, work out the finances and tell the clients” – Stefan Sagmeister

We’re all for spontaneous decision-making, but to maximise the experience of this all-too important time off, a little planning goes a long way. For starters, depending on how long you want to take off, you’ll need to think about things like finances and what you plan to do about your living arrangements.  

  • Set a budget and stick to it. Book your time off well in advance so you have enough time to save appropriately, depending on the target amount. A lot of banks offers tips on saving or tools to help with this. You can set a target and get a percentage or fixed amount deducted from your account weekly. If you’re in New Zealand, check out the guides on Sorted or your local bank.
  • If you’re going overseas, find out what the average living costs over there are like (the government website, local forums or Lonely Planet are a good place to start). Leave a buffer for unexpected costs too!
  • Will you need to put stuff in storage? Do you need to organise a house-sitter? Rent out your place while you’re gone? Becoming an Airbnb Host is a good option for this. You could even do a house-swap if you’re the adventurous type.
  • Make a list of the to-dos! Some of the apps we recommend: Wunderlist, Evernote and Google Docs.

Tip 2: Figure out the goal

“The most fundamental question is why you are doing it” – Clive Prout

Time off can be an incredible opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone, pick up a new skill, or simply launch yourself into an “absorb state” where you spend more time gathering information and inspiration than working. That tap dancing you’d always wanted to try? Travelling to a remote location you’ve never seen before? Immersing yourself in a local culture/language? It’s all tempting – but if you try and do it all, chances are you’ll do nothing well, or you’ll be so stressed that it won’t actually amount to anything at all!

I recommend treating it your sabbatical like you would any other project. Set some (loose) goals so you know you want to achieve during the period, ask yourself what would constitute success for you and do a little bit of research! Mini-sabbaticals are becoming increasingly common nowadays and people get pretty creative about how they document their experience, finance their trip and how they spend their time.

Tip 3: Tell everyone

The best thing about making your intention public is that you’re much more likely to follow through. If you’re an employee, you want to make your intentions known to your employer as soon as you can and get them to see the value in it. How will this benefit the business? For example, when you return, will you able to add new ideas to the team from trends you’ve observed overseas?

If you’re a small business owner, before you shut up shop, make sure you’re letting all the stakeholders know what’s happening well in advance. This includes your clients! Don’t spring it on them last minute. Some things you’ll want to cover off:

  • What you’re doing (and why, if appropriate).
  • How long you expect to be gone.
  • Points of contact in your absence. This is a big one, especially for clients – let them know they’ll be in good hands and well looked after. The more personal you make the “handover” session, the better. For example, take your clients and the new contact person out to a team lunch.
  • Some form of thanks or appreciation to your team and/or clients. Got some mad baking skills? Bring in a cake and share it around work – again, the personal touch goes a long way!
  • An out-of-office to direct queries to the right place (this will also help you maintain accountability).

Tip 4: Follow through

As the time looms closer, you might find your resolve faltering. I mean, it’s big and scary step after all. There will be unknowns and you’ll face more questions than answers. Are you making the right decision? Will your clients still be there when you come back? Will it be worth all the effort of organising?

But you’ll never know unless you try. Think about the positives: A sabbatical can help you avoid serious burnout. You’ll return to work re-energised, with a new focus and determination and new ideas. Travel and time off have a way of changing us that we may not even be prepared for ourselves. Expect this change and embrace it, knowing that returning to work in whatever capacity will be better for yourself and your business.

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