You can feel the stress building. You’re going from meeting to meeting; task to task; and day to day without thinking or creatively looking for solutions to everyday problems. How could you take a day off though with an overflowing inbox and a never ending task list? Seems impossible to make space to catch up. What if you took 30 days off?!?! Not possible? What if you had a plan and the right set up?
I first received the challenge to take 30 days off from thought leader, Michael Hyatt. Michael Hyatt leads a business consulting company that gives his employees ‘radical margin’ with a 30-Day Sabbatical every three years.
Hyatt states, “Too often, people preach productivity for its own sake, which is not enough. It simply encourages overwork and burnout.”
After overlooking his family for his career leading a $250M publishing company with 700+ employees, Michael now helps leaders find the Double Win – win at work and at home.
From Michael’s example and work, I took the plunge and took a 30-Day Sabbatical. How do you lead a national nonprofit organization and leave for 30 days with no access to text or email? We’ll get to the technical set up that makes this possible in the coming paragraphs, but let’s look at the process and the logistics first.
The process for me was to schedule 30 days out west to see the vastness of the Grand Canyon, the beauty of Zion National Park, and many sunsets along the way. My wife, five kids, and I hopped in our van pulling a travel trailer and headed to Colorado. We went through eight states, five national parks, and a myriad of state parks along the way. We saw elk, sunsets, campfires, the night sky at Arches National Park, The Narrows at Zion National Park, and the grandeur of the Grand Canyon. I don’t think I’ve ever spent that much time with my family. It was amazing, and we all knew it! I didn’t take a single call, a single text, or a single email. I was able to be husband, dad, and just Ryan for a while. Nobody asked me for my three year vision, advice on how to open a new school, or the best way to bring Project Based Learning to their community.
It took a week for me to shake off the ideas and vision I have for Magnify Learning and the many schools we support throughout the country. Oddly enough, that’s the average length of a vacation, isn’t it? I found it took that long just to shut my brain off. So a one week vacation might be long enough to help you get ready to rest, but then you head back into the work before you get to really undo the stress that has built up.
What if you started with a two week vacation? Possible? Let’s talk about the technical process I took to get to this point of taking a full 30-Day Sabbatical.
I started the year before with a two week vacation to test the waters. I didn’t take calls or emails. Our hack here was that if something really did happen, and I had to be reached, my staff could text or call my wife’s phone. Otherwise, my out of office responder took care of other good folks reaching out to collaborate. My out of office responder read this:
Hi. Thanks for your message. I am taking a sabbatical. Our energy and results come from our ability to rest and design success. Here’s a blog from Michael Hyatt giving some of the evidence for a leadership sabbatical.
If there’s anything urgent, please reach out to Jennifer Hall at email@example.com. She’ll be able to connect you with the person or resources you need. However, this email is going to be archived. I’m not going to be checking email, and I don’t want to be tempted to check email, so all of these emails are going to be archived, so when I come back from my sabbatical I come back to a clean inbox.
So if it’s urgent, please reach out to Jennifer, and if you really need me to respond, then contact me after September 13th.
Ryan Steuer, Magnify Learning
When I took a two week vacation, I leaned on research as well. We know the research says we do our best work when we are rested; however, the cult of busy continues to push toward work that is not our best by putting us in a position below our best.
So logistically, how did I leave a thriving, growing nonprofit for 30 days? The keys were timing, systems, great people, and communication. I planned my sabbatical after our very busy training season. After our training season, we have a natural lull before we switch gears into our season of reflection and revision. Look for where you have natural times of rest.
Your work is important enough to lean into this idea of rest.
Next, we created systems that provided great people the freedom to work with autonomy and make decisions. Without a clear system and decentralization of decision making, taking a sabbatical is not possible. My staff knew their own goals and had clear objectives and authority to complete these goals.
We also set up clear communication systems before I left, so that everyone knew where to seek advice, what can wait, and when to act. With these keys in place, we were able to run Magnify Learning with confidence.
Expectations were clear. We did have an “Oh no! Ryan needs to know” plan. If there was a “Ryan really needs to know” situation, I gave my wife’s cell phone number to the staff member who was the contact in my out of office reply. I did the same for a few of my other community obligations. By the way, we never had to use that option, and it allowed me to stay away from texts and emails with confidence. I never had the ‘what if’ or the ‘I better go check’ feeling because of this plan and communication beforehand.
So where do you start? It’s likely not going to be demanding a 30-Day Sabbatical at the next school board meeting. Where can you start though? Could you create a communication plan for your next vacation that frees you up more than the last vacation? What if you had three of the seven days you didn’t look at your phone?
What if you took one day and made it a sabbatical day?
Taking time off is not the same as resting.
If finding rest is something you are seeking now, start to investigate and experiment. Some easy ways to start are seeking out activities you truly feel rested after. What activities can you do where you truly feel rested after? Do more of those on purpose. Set aside time for these activities.
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” ~ Anne Lamott
If you are ready to explore rest as a means of being productive, go back through this blog post and answer some of the questions as if this were possible…because it is….yes, even for you! If you’d like some help, reach out (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can coach you through the process, or you can download this free 1-Day Sabbatical Guide. This guide will lead you through setting up a day to help you truly reflect and find rest that will give you the confidence, courage, and energy to be your best self. You can do this! Your work is important enough to lean into this idea of rest. You are important enough to lean into this idea of rest.