Discipline Doesn’t Stop When You’re on Sabbatical

When you think of the word discipline, you may get flashbacks. These flashbacks could be of a coach who treated your team more like a military unit than a sports group.

You may associate the word discipline with strict parents and a regimented childhood.

Discipline might make you think of an authoritarian regime.

I’m not talking about that kind of discipline.

Self discipline is your ally. It is not your enemy.

Discipline is doing the hard thing you know you should do but don’t want to do.

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Self discipline comes from within. It’s not something anyone imposes on you. No one is telling you what to do. No one is forcing you to do anything. You set your own pace.

With Seventh Week Sabbaticals, people often say, “Oh, that’s great you take so much time off! You may get less work done, but work isn’t everything.”

They miss the point. We get MORE done because we take Seventh Week Sabbaticals. Why?

We get seven weeks worth of work done in six weeks.

How is this possible? Because things take as long as the amount of time you give them.

Not only do we get the same seven weeks worth of work done as everyone else (in less time), but we also come back from sabbatical CHARGED UP. Because we’ve rested, we return to work with energy and enthusiasm.

There is a spike in productivity when we return from sabbatical because we’re amped up and ready to go. We’re looking forward to getting back to work.

As a result, we actually get more work done than people who don’t take Seventh Week Sabbaticals!

But seven weeks worth of work doesn’t get done in six weeks without discipline.

Discipline is what enables us to perform at a high level.

It’s not about the number of hours you work but how productive you are when you do.

We don’t have to work overtime to get seven weeks worth of work done in six weeks. We just have to stay disciplined when we do work. That means:

  • Minimize distractions.
  • Prevent the possibility of interruptions.
  • Prioritize and protect focus like your life depends on it.

Discipline frees you up to rest guilt-free on sabbatical.

Discipline is your friend.

In Maintaining Routine Through Sabbatical, I talk about how I keep my early morning schedule and continue to exercise throughout my sabbatical.

I treated my first couple dozen sabbatical weeks like lazy vacations. I’d stay up late, sleep in, and just sort of veg out. Sometimes I would do productive things, but mostly I just let the time slip away from me.

The week would go by in a blink and my sabbatical would be over.

In more recent years, I’ve made a point to stick to routine during sabbaticals. In other words, discipline does not stop.

Staying disciplined during the sabbatical does not mean I have no freedom. In fact, the exact opposite is true: I have more freedom than ever.

When I wake up early and maintain my early morning routine, exercise, and writing, I feel good about myself. In the first few hours, I’ve already done so much. Then, I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want! Nothing feels more restful. It’s a fulfilling kind of rest, as opposed to the lazy kind of rest I was practicing before. The lazy sabbaticals where I slacked around did not feel like true rest. They left me feeling unproductive, unfulfilled, and guilty.

When I stay disciplined on sabbatical, the week feels longer. I have more time in a day. I have more time to do nothing if that’s what I want to do! But I maintain a structure that creates this freedom. I can then use the freedom to rest, create, think, or do anything I want.

Discipline doesn’t stop when you’re on sabbatical—and that’s a good thing.

Margin is Not a Luxury

Why are people so busy?

There are many reasons, but two stand out to me:

  1. People say “Yes” by default (which is a mistake).
  2. People feel like being busy means they’re important.

There is only one word that can create time: “No.”

Yes fills time. No makes time.

You don’t have time because you’ve said “Yes” too much. It’s your fault and no one else’s. No one else is responsible for your lack of time. Reevaluate the commitments you’ve made. Take ownership and take charge.

It’s hard to say “No” because we often feel a sense of obligation and don’t want to offend anyone. We feel bad and don’t want to disappoint people. While no can be a hard word to say, it’s the only tool we have for creating more time.

“Yes” and “No” are not right and wrong, good and bad. They’re left and right, up and down. Learn to see the words “Yes” and “No” as directional, not emotional.

You may think of margin as a luxury you don’t have time for, but you must see margin as a necessity for your sanity.

How will you ever have margin if you’re always filling up your free time?

Schedule Margin

You will never find margin. Margin will not happen to you. This is because we fill time automatically by habit.

If something is important, you put it on your schedule. Similarly, if you’re ever going to have margin, you need to schedule margin on your calendar. Treat margin as you do any serious commitment.

Margin is an event. It’s not the absence of an event—margin itself is the event. When you schedule something else during your margin, you’re effectively double booking yourself. Don’t double book yourself.

Block out time by putting an event on your calendar called “margin,” “break,” or “sabbatical.” If you don’t schedule margin, it won’t happen. People will fill your time automatically if you don’t protect it.

You may feel like you don’t have time to schedule margin in your life. You don’t have time to schedule margin because you don’t schedule margin. It’s a perpetual cycle. You have to be the one to break. Choose to schedule margin even though you feel like you can’t.

You will never magically have more time. You have to get ahead of it and put margin on your schedule.

Try this out today: create a new event on your calendar called “margin.” Consider this a beginner’s guide. Later, you can work your way up to taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals.

  • Block out an hour.
  • Block out two hours.
  • Block out an afternoon.
  • Block out a day or whole week.

You’re not allowed to schedule anything else during this time.

You can do whatever you like with your margin: sit, walk, think, rest, relax, travel, write, plan—anything you’d like. But remember, don’t schedule anything for your margin. You need freedom from obligation. Margin itself is what you’re scheduling.

You will be amazed at the clarity that comes from this blocked-off time. A moment in your day when you’re not rushing from one thing to the next will feel incredible.

Actually, it will feel wrong at first. You might even feel guilty. Don’t feel guilty. Embrace the discomfort of space and living with your own thoughts. This is important time. It is a necessary to take a break from reacting to the world.

Avoiding burnout and stress is not a luxury; it’s survival.

Freedom From Obligation (and the #1 Rule for Sabbaticals)

I’m going to tell you the #1 rule of sabbaticals. No, it’s not “you do not talk about sabbaticals”. That’s Fight Club. Please do talk about sabbaticals!

When I first started taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals, I thought of that week as “bonus time”. In my mind, it was a whole week of extra space that could be filled with anything.

So what did I do with that extra space? I filled it.

That’s what we all do automatically. We fill time by habit. We look at our calendar, and if there’s nothing there, we say, “Great! I can add more things!”

I didn’t yet understand that margin is not a luxury.

My friend would say, “Hey, we should get together some time for coffee! When are you free?”

I’d look at my calendar and see that I had a sabbatical week coming up in a couple weeks. Perfect! Plenty of open time to schedule some events.

“How’s Friday at 1:00 PM in two weeks?”

“Sounds great.”

I’d go about my day.

Someone else would message me to schedule dinner. I’d look at my calendar and see a nice large blank space coming up for my sabbatical and schedule the dinner there.

Gradually, I added more and more things to my sabbatical week. A meeting here, an interview there, and more promises to attend events. I filled time automatically by habit.

We Don’t Know How Much We Need Rest

The time came to take off my sabbatical week. I’d finally made it!

On my first day off, I became aware of just how much I needed the rest. After pushing myself for so many weeks, I didn’t realize how burned out I was.

When you’re going, going, going, you don’t realize how much you need rest until you slow down.

Just because you don’t realize you need rest doesn’t mean you can continue to push yourself without lasting damage. Running on fumes will result in burnout.

Obligation Isn’t Restful

The first day of my sabbatical felt like therapy. I needed this downtime more than I ever knew. I was only beginning to enjoy the restorative properties of this rest before I realized something terrible:

I had a meeting the next day.

Attending a meeting was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to do absolutely nothing. It wasn’t until Day 1 of my sabbatical that I understood how important having nothing is to resting.

I thought about that meeting when I went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up to an obligation: I had a meeting that day. I’d already said yes. I’d made a commitment to this meeting. There was no backing up. I was obligated to attend.

Obligation completely negates the purpose of rest. You cannot truly rest on sabbatical if you have obligations or commitments.

I treated my sabbatical as “empty space” and “free time” to fill. As a result, I ended up with a week of obligations.

I trudged through the rest of the sabbatical week attending meetings, calls, interviews, and events I did not want to have. It was the opposite of rest.

I just wanted to do nothing.

But I couldn’t do nothing. My past self had made sure of that. My past self had filled my calendar with plenty of events and obligations. This ensured I couldn’t rest effectively.

Why did I do this to myself? How could I avoid this problem in the future?

The problem was, while I was in work mode, I’d just go, go, go. I didn’t think about the fact that I might be tired in two weeks. I just scheduled things blindly.

The solution was to understand that the sabbatical version of myself was a different person.

I had to accept that I did not know how much I needed rest until I gave myself the opportunity to rest.

Now, it may very well be that the sabbatical version of myself is doing just fine and actually wants to do all of these things. Great! But the sabbatical version of me needs to be the one to make those decisions in the moment.

I cannot make the decision to commit the future version of myself to something on my sabbatical when I don’t yet know how much I will need to rest.

I knew I had to come up with a better system. I needed to implement a rule that would solve this problem once and for all.

The #1 Rule: Do Not Schedule Anything for the Sabbatical

I must first make a clarification to preempt the question that inevitably comes up.

People always say, “So you’re saying I can’t do anything on my sabbatical? What am I supposed to do? Stare at the ceiling?”

No, I’m not saying that.

You can do anything and everything on your sabbatical. But that is a decision you get to make on sabbatical—not beforehand.

The purpose of the sabbatical is freedom from obligation. When you go into a sabbatical, you should have NO prior commitments, so that you can say “Yes” to anything in the moment.

Again, we’re trying to solve the problem I mentioned earlier where your past self commits to something your future self doesn’t want to do! You don’t know how much you need rest until you have the opportunity to rest.

Having obligations will destroy the restful properties of a sabbatical.

Say “Yes” to Anything You Want—On Sabbatical

It bears repeating: the rule that you cannot schedule anything for your sabbatical does not mean there are any limitations imposed on your sabbatical.

You can say “Yes” to absolutely anything you want on sabbatical.

There are no limitations.

Many times, I will choose to do things on sabbatical that look like work to someone on the outside. That’s okay. I can do whatever I want.

There is not even a limitation that says I can’t work!

There is no rule that you can’t work on sabbatical. The only rule is that you can only say “Yes” to something (including work) while you’re on sabbatical.

If you decide on sabbatical you want to work on a project, great! Go for it. It’s your sabbatical. Do what you want.

The goal is not to “not work”. The goal is freedom from obligation. Freedom from obligation is everything.

“Work” you don’t have to do will feel like play. It can even be restful!

Some sabbatical weeks, “doing whatever I want” looks like working on a marketing campaign. It’s what I wanted to do. It doesn’t matter if someone else thinks it’s “not a true sabbatical”! That’s the best part about sabbatical: there are no limitations. I can choose to say “Yes” to anything I want on sabbatical.

A true sabbatical is where you have freedom from obligation and the choice to do what you want, when you want, where you want.

As I write this, I just finished a sabbatical week. I wrote 25,000 words while on sabbatical and built and designed this website. You might think that doesn’t sound very restful. You know what? You’re right! It wouldn’t be restful if I had to do it. But it was restful because I chose to do it.

I feel absolutely fantastic. This last sabbatical was maybe one of the best of the 36 sabbaticals I’ve taken, and it was one where I maintained my routine through the sabbatical. I wrote more than I do during normal work weeks, and I feel extremely rested.

When you get to do what you want, when you want, where you want, it rejuvenates you.

When you go into sabbatical and are met with obligations, you will curse your past self and come out drained.

Virtually everyone ignores this rule when they start taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals. Eventually they come around. Don’t feel bad: it took me years to figure it out. I only hope to save you some pain should you choose to take my advice instead of learning the hard way.

The Beauty of Possibility

When you choose to abide by the #1 rule of sabbaticals, you will enter your sabbatical with a sense of unprecedented freedom.

Say “Yes” on your sabbatical. Not before.

Trust the process.

You’ve entered your sabbatical. There are no events. No meetings. No calls. There is nothing but pure possibility.

Release the shackles, leave the ball and chain behind, run through the fields of tall grass and experience the beauty of possibility.

This week can be anything you want—anything you decide to make of it. Say “Yes” to anything!

  • Spend the first 2 days doing absolutely nothing. Yes
  • Make an outline for a book you want to write. Yes
  • Spend a day watching some documentaries. Yes
  • Go outside and take a walk before sunset. Yes.
  • Take a day trip to a neighboring city. Yes
  • Spend a day just reading books. Yes
  • Meet an old friend for coffee. Yes

These are just ideas. You get to decide. Every day is your choice.

Keep in mind though: your sabbatical week will almost certainly not include all of the above. I used to think I’d have all the time in the world during my sabbatical week. I’d write a big, long list of things I wanted to accomplish and end up doing only 2 or 3 of them.

When you’re not used to taking off every seventh week, you’ll assume you have more time than you really will. A week is not a long time. You’ll gradually adjust to it and learn to estimate more accurately after a few years of practice.

The Travel Exception

There is one exception to the “do not schedule anything for the sabbatical” rule.

The exception is you have to plan some travel in advance.

Over the years, I’ve observed that sabbaticals fall into three different types:

  • Rest Sabbaticals
    • These comprise 50% of the sabbaticals I take.
    • Most sabbaticals are what I would call rest sabbaticals. These are typically made up of mostly low key, chill days. I prioritize rest, sleep, and taking it easy. I made poke at a side project, but not really “work” on much.
    • I like to spend a lot of time learning on rest sabbaticals. I enjoy reading, taking courses, and watching videos.
  • Project Sabbaticals
    • These compromise 30% of the sabbaticals I take.
    • Examples might include: writing a book, recording music, drawing, coding a website, outlining a future course I want to produce, designing marketing campaigns or sales funnels, etc.
  • Travel Sabbaticals
    • These compromise 20% of the sabbaticals I take.
    • I haven’t traveled much in recent years on sabbatical, but it’s not necessarily for lack of want. As the oldest of 13 kids, we didn’t take many family vacations growing up. I’ve always wanted to travel more. I’ve made a personal decision to work hard all of my 20s, build a strong financial foundation, and travel a lot in my 30s and beyond (without having to stress about expenses).

Now, of course, traveling often involves a lot of planning. You have to book flights and hotels far in advance to avoid paying unnecessarily exorbitant amounts right before your trip.

For this reason, there is need for a “travel exception” to the #1 rule of sabbaticals. While you should strive as much as possible to avoid scheduling anything for your sabbatical, travel plans are the one exception that make sense.

Book your flights, reserve your hotels. If you plan to have a travel sabbatical, do what you need in advance to set your trip up for success and minimal stress.

Remember the spirit of the rule: freedom from obligation.

Sabbatical vs Sabbath

“Are sabbaticals some kind of religious thing?”

I’m often asked if I take sabbaticals as a part of a religious ritual of some kind.

This stems from a confusion between the words sabbatical and sabbath. While similar in sound and root, the two words have different meanings.

Sabbatical

I’m an all-in kind of person. If I’m going to work, I work hard. Whatever I do, I want to be the best. Maybe it has something to do with being the oldest of 13 kids. I’m not sure.

I don’t know how to do something half way. I tend to obsess.

This is great for my career advancement and for my business. It’s not so great for my health.

I needed a way to go all in on a break. I didn’t know what that looked like or if such a thing existed.

When researching rest and what it would look like to take an extended break, I came across the concept of sabbaticals. Most examples cited an extended career absence for those in academic fields.

A traditional sabbatical is one full year of paid leave granted to a professor in their seventh year of employment. This sabbatical year is usually for a specific purpose—such as research or writing a book.

A sabbatical is an extended career absence, usually in the amount of one year every seventh year.

When I came across this idea, my first reaction was, “A year is a long time! A really long time.”

Why isn’t there a small scale sabbatical? Something more frequent?

What if, instead of one full year off, I took off every seventh week?

Thus, Seventh Week Sabbaticals were born.

(Spoiler: After years of Seventh Week Sabbaticals, I realized the immense power of rest and time off. I came back around to the idea that initially seemed “too extreme” for me; two years ago, I made the decision to also take off every seventh year. I will take off one full year in 2020 as my first Seventh Year Sabbatical. I’ll talk more about this in a future post.)

Sabbath

The first time I heard of a sabbatical, I too wondered if the word held any religious connotation. While sabbatical does not have a religious connotation, sabbath does.

What sabbatical and sabbath have in common is they both encompass the idea of rest and the number seven.

The word sabbath has been watered down with informal use to the point of nearly being synonymous with rest, but it does have religious roots. In fact, when referring to observation of the seventh “holy day” (either Saturday or Sunday depending on whether Jewish or Christian), the word Sabbath is usually capitalized.

Differences in capitalization may help you distinguish between the two:

  • sabbatical: not religious
  • Sabbath: religious

While Sabbath is the religious observance of one holy day per week, sabbatical refers usually to a full year of paid leave for academic purposes.

Fallowing the Land

There is biblical admonition to let the land lie fallow in the seventh year to restore nutrients to the soil. However even the pagan Romans followed the practice of land fallowing.

Before the advent of chemical fertilizers, fallowing the land helped add back three essential nutrients to the soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Each harvest removes more nutrients from the land. This causes a progressive loss of soil fertility.

As soil fertility decreases, yields decline.

You cannot over-farm the land and expect the same harvest without replenishing the soil.

You may think fallowing the land is an ancient practice that’s no longer needed thanks to modern farming systems. But the excessive use of chemical fertilizers can cause environmental pollution and degradation1.

In other words, attempts to alleviate one problem by taking shortcuts often end up creating new problems.

Rest to Sustain Productivity

Sabbaticals are not inherently religious, but there is some wisdom (and science) to the ancient practices of intentional rest.

Chemical fertilizers solve some problems and create others, in the same way that energy drinks make you feel as though you can operate without sleep. We know energy drinks are merely a temporary “solution” to the problem of needing rest.

After a little while, exhaustion catches up with you.

Shortcuts end up costing you in the long run. Foregoing rest will ultimately result in burnout.

It’s nearly impossible to put a price on the opportunity cost of burnout. It’s just not worth it.

Prioritize sustainability. Set aside time for purposeful rest.

Try a Seventh Week Sabbatical.


1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9780123485366/soil-in-the-environment

How To Motivate People

Most motivational messages are pretty basic:

  • “Do the hard thing.”
  • “Be disciplined.”
  • “You have what it takes.”

What is it about certain people saying those messages that makes them resonate? Why is it cliché one person repeats an inspirational phrase, but motivational when someone else says it?

I figured it out.

During my writing session yesterday, I figured out what motivates people.

When someone we respect tells us to do something, we do it.

Where does respect come from?

We respect someone when we see them demonstrate discipline, restraint, and self control.

It’s the physically fit body that you know came from hard work and discipline. There’s no arguing that fact. You can’t buy a fit body. You can’t outsource it, you can’t delegate it. Instant respect.

It’s posting a photo of “4:30am” on your wristwatch day, after day, after day. That’s discipline. Instant respect.

When you show yourself to be disciplined, people understand you’re not just talking the talk—you’re walking it.

You’re doing the hard work. You’re sacrificing.

Discipline garners respect.

When we see someone who is disciplined, we respect them. When we respect someone, we do what they say. When they speak, we are motivated.

Maintaining Routine Through Sabbatical

I warned you on my About page this blog might be all over the place.

While I consider this blog a public draft of my upcoming book, Seventh Week Sabbatical, the posts I publish will by no means be in any particular coherent order!

I find it much easier to run with what I’m thinking about. I like to write on topics where I feel momentum. I can always edit, cut, and rearrange later.

Today, I’m writing about what’s on my mind: routine. Specifically, sabbatical routine.

There are many concepts and pieces of the overall sabbatical idea that I’ll mention in passing today that I will expand on further in future posts. That’s okay. I’m looking forward to being able to cross link core sabbatical concepts as I write more posts moving forward. We’ll then be able to build off of some of the foundational pillars. Once I know we’re on the same page, we can get to more fun, nuanced details.

Alright, enough preamble!

I Had Trouble With a Sabbatical Routine Because I Didn’t Have a Normal Routine

I remember when I first started taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals years ago, it was hard to figure out what my day should look like on sabbatical.

At some point I’ll write a post about your first three sabbaticals—because you’re going to be completely out of whack until your third sabbatical (I see it happen repeatedly for everyone). It doesn’t click until your third sabbatical.

Even once I was accustomed to the rhythm of Seventh Week Sabbaticals, I had a difficult time figuring out a routine.

Part of why I had difficulty is because I didn’t have much of a “routine” during my normal life! I just woke up, worked all day, and slept. It wasn’t great, but it worked, I suppose.

How could I expect to develop a good sabbatical routine if I had no normal one?

Because I was working such crazy long hours, when it came time to take a sabbatical, I only knew how to completely turn off. I was either ON or OFF.

This meant sabbaticals during those years involved a lot of sleeping in and lounging around. At least, that’s what the “rest” sabbaticals looked like. I’ll write a future post on the three kinds of sabbaticals (rest, project, and travel).

The problem at the time was I had no routine to begin with—let alone a sabbatical routine.

Having no routine back then “worked” only because all I did was work. If I was awake, I worked. I didn’t have a strict routine.

How I Developed My Normal Routine

First, I will outline how I developed my current routine (it’s been a multi-year process). Further down below, I will explain how I’ve adapted that to a sabbatical routine. I don’t think you can have the latter without the former.

Two or three years ago, I finally developed a serious morning routine—one that starts the night before. I did this in preparation for writing my book, Overlap, in 14 days. It took me 3 months to develop this routine. I kept a daily journal about my book writing process, and explained in the first entry how I developed that habit.

More recently, I turned it a more structured process anyone can follow: 3-Month Guide to Waking Up at 6am Consistently.

What started as a morning routine developed into a full day routine. I used to work until bed time. I finally stopped doing that in the past two years, and made a commitment to stop work at 5:00 PM every day for what I call a “mini date” with my wife. The idea is to spend intentional face time with her every day. We also go on a walk during this time, so it’s good extra exercise. I wrote more about “mini dates” in my post on the Five Habit Tracker.

I had previously justified working into the evening because there was “always more work to be done”. One day, I realized how stupid that was. If there’s “always more work to be done”, what’s the point in working late every night? It’s not as though I’m ever going to finish the work. I might as well stop at a reasonable time and resume things tomorrow!

If you know anything about habits, you know it’s not a good idea to merely try to stop doing something. It’s much more effective to replace a bad habit with a good one. Rather than simply trying to stop work at 5:00 PM, I committed to spending time with my wife at 5:00 PM. I have a literal appointment on the calendar.

People joke that I’m “penciling time in for your wife”, but it’s no joke. You make time for the things that are important to you. You don’t “get around to it if you feel like it”. So you better believe it’s on the calendar.

At this point, I have a normal routine that I’ve developed over the past two years. I’ll show you that routine first, then an adapted version for sabbaticals, followed by an explanation of how I came to that version (and why I don’t just forego the routine while on sabbatical).

Sean’s Normal Routine

  • 4:30: Wake
  • 5:00: Run
  • 5:45: Shower
  • 6:00: Write
  • 6:30: Breakfast
  • 7:00: Work
  • 12:00: Lunch
  • 1:00: Work
  • 5:00: Mini Date/Walk
  • 5:30: Read
  • 6:00: Dinner
  • 7:00: Free time
  • 9:00: Shut down
  • 10:00: Lights off

Sean’s Sabbatical Routine

  • 4:30: Wake
  • 5:00: Run
  • 5:45: Shower
  • 6:00: Write
  • 6:30: Breakfast
  • 7:00: Free time
  • 12:00: Lunch
  • 1:30: Free time
  • 5:00: Mini Date/Walk
  • 5:30: Read
  • 6:00: Dinner
  • 7:00: Free time
  • 9:00: Shut down
  • 10:00: Lights off

How I Developed My Sabbatical Routine

It’s not complicated how I arrived at the sabbatical routine: it’s literally my normal routine with the “work” slots replaced by “free time”. (We’ll talk more about what one might do during said free time in a future post.)

  • Step 1 of developing a sabbatical routine is developing a normal routine.
  • Step 2 is to simply replace “work” time with “free time”.

It’s literally that simple.

But what might be more interesting to talk about is why.

In the early days, I would have no routine whatsoever on sabbaticals. That sounds great in spirit, but it devolved quickly in practice.

I may wake up at 4:30 AM when I’m following my normal routine, but that doesn’t mean I like waking up early. As I wrote about in Chapter 12: Rise and Write of Overlap, I’m a night owl at heart. I default to being a night person.

Why then do I wake up early? Well for one (as you know if you’ve already read the chapter), I logged my output and proved I’m literally twice as productive when I work in the morning.

I don’t wake up early because I enjoy it. I do it because I like who I am when I do.

Now that you know I’m a night owl by default, you can probably imagine what happens on these routine-free sabbaticals: I go to sleep later, and later, and wake up later, and later. The whole week just completely devolves.

When I wake up late, I feel sluggish. I don’t run. I don’t write (or if I do, it’s not nearly as much). I’m reactive instead of proactive, and I’m slave to the world’s agenda for me. I’m not in control, I’m being controlled.

It’s a disaster.

Here are several other reasons I maintain my routine on sabbatical:

  • I feel better overall when I wake up early.
    • NOT in the morning (obviously). I don’t like waking up early. But I always appreciate the fact that I did afterward. I’m on top of the whole day.
  • I feel productive.
    • It’s not just a feeling either. I track my time with RescueTime (which absolutely everyone should do), and I can report that I’m objectively twice as productive. It’s tracked.
  • I get things done.
    • Again, reactive vs. proactive. Waking up early means you set the tone, you set the agenda. What do you have for the world? Not what does the world have for you?
  • I’m proud of what I got done.
    • There’s nothing better than feeling a sense of pride. The days where I go on a walk with my wife at 5:00 PM and I tell her, “Today has been fantastic. I’ve been unbelievably productive, I feel well rested, and I’m proud of what I accomplished. I feel great,” are the best. It’s infectious too.
  • The day doesn’t just disappear.
    • This is maybe the biggest one. My wife and I have talked about this a lot (we’ve taken sabbaticals together for years and we’ve both experience all of the different versions). It’s unanimous: when we follow our early morning routine on sabbatical, we feel extra refreshed. The sabbatical feels like it’s 1.5X as long. When we follow no routine, stay up, and sleep in, the sabbatical disappears in an instant, and we feel empty.
  • I’m happier.
    • A simple, but important reason. I’ve outline a good number of reasons why above.
  • There’s no real reason to change.
    • Think about it: why did you come up with your normal routine? Because it works. Why stop using something that works? Just replace “work” time with “free time”. Continue living in a rhythm that’s been successful for you, and enjoy the freedom you have from obligation! There’s no need to fix what isn’t broken.
  • If you don’t follow routine, it’s harder to get back on routine once sabbatical is over.
    • Ugh. This is the worst. I’ve experienced this and so have my employees. The reason you come back to work groggy, unfocused, and frazzled Monday morning after sabbatical is because you didn’t follow routine. You completely let yourself go and somehow expected to “snap” back into place come Monday. It doesn’t work that way.
    • Maintain the sabbatical routine and you will be excited to go back to work on Monday. Your rest will feel better, and your work will be more productive.
    • If you are fortunate enough to have a boss who gives you sabbaticals, earn that sabbatical by respecting your boss enough to come back to work refreshed and ready to roll on Monday morning. That means discipling yourself to follow routine during sabbatical.
    • Ooh… that’s an entire post on its own I can write: discipline DOESN’T STOP when you’re on sabbatical. I think people have this notion that rest = no discipline—or that you no discipline whatsoever should be involved if you’re “resting”. That’s a myth. Discipline is a lifestyle.

In total this post spawned four more topic ideas!

Today is Day 4 of my 36th sabbatical week (I counted). It was an extremely productive day.

  • I woke up at 4:30 AM.
  • I ran 3.5 miles.
  • I wrote 3,000 words.

All of this before lunch time. I still have the rest of the day to do anything I desire!

Yesterday, I met a friend for coffee on a whim. We had a lovely, several-hour conversation that I will think about for a long time. Later that evening, I recorded a video and wrote even more.

I wrote a second post today as well, which I will publish shortly. I will also share the video I recorded soon.

(Update: I posted the video.)

I’m already excited to wake up tomorrow and write more!

Tomorrow

You have a nice, full, busy day. You eat dinner. Next thing you know, it’s getting close to bed time—at least if you want to stick to that new morning routine you’re building.

But there are so many things you want to do! You want to work on that side project. You want to play that game. You haven’t caught up on your social media feed. Your inbox still has messages. You want to go through your “Read Later” or “Watch Later” list or enjoy another TV show.

What do you?

Well, if you’re anything like me, you probably just… do it!

The night is young. The night brings with it the promise of infinite time. You can always sacrifice tomorrow—the imaginary future—to feed your short term desires.

You can always sacrifice sleep. It’s like making a charge on your credit card. “That’s a problem for future me.”

I’m proud to say I finally feel like I’ve reached a point where I no longer do this. I have finally become content with shifting the things I want to do to the next day in favor of maintaining my routine.

I had a bunch of items in my “Read Later” list that I wanted to read. I had two YouTube videos I wanted to watch. I had a blog post I wanted to finish and publish that evening.

“No,” I said. And I went to bed at 8:30 PM.

It sounds insane, but here I am and it’s “tomorrow”. I woke at 4:30 AM. I ran 3.5 miles. I wrote 2,170 words (before I started writing this). I had a great conversation with a good friend. And it’s still only 10:00 AM. I have the rest of the day! I’ve already been super productive, and there will be plenty of pockets of time for me to consume those things I wanted to last night—only, I didn’t sacrifice my sleep, my routine, my health, or my productivity. I feel great.

Origin of Seventh Week Sabbaticals

Sean McCabeMy name is Sean McCabe. I am the founder of seanwes.

In 2014, I started taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals.

I work six weeks and take off every seventh week. I also pay my employees to take off every seventh week. We don’t have “unlimited time off”, we have mandatory time off.

It is my mission, by 2047, to get every company in the world to pay their employees to take off every seventh week.

Before you think I take 7.42 sabbatical weeks each year because I must love taking time off, let me assure you the opposite is true.

I was heading toward burnout

I started my first business at age 17. As I write this, I’m about to turn 30.

For the entirety of my 20s, I worked. What I don’t mean is that I had a job and also did other things. I mean, I worked and did nothing else but work and sleep.

In my first decade of business, I worked 16 to 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I love my work.

But I was heading toward burnout.

I just didn’t know any other way to be.

It seems I have two modes: ON and OFF. Nothing in between. I’m either all-in or I don’t care at all.

When you’re in your 20s, you’re practically invincible. You can stretch yourself and bounce back like it’s nothing. I could work crazy hours and get up at 6:00 AM and do it all again with no breaks. Just go, go, go.

But as time passed, I could feel that I was wearing down. I knew was I couldn’t keep going at this grueling pace indefinitely. It took many years for me to come to this realization.

I have experienced real burnout before. I was so burned out, I didn’t even know I was burned out until six months after the fact. That’s a story for another day, but I’ll tell you this much: it’s not pretty.

Whatever you think you can’t afford to lose—whatever is causing you to push, and push, and push yourself beyond your limits—is not worth it.

What you truly can’t afford is burnout.

Once you’ve burned out, you’re out of commission. It’s not impossible to come back, but it’s a long process of recuperation.

  • You think you’re saving time by pushing yourself.
  • You think you’re preventing problems by overworking.
  • You think you’re getting more done by grinding harder.

But the time you will lose by being burned out is a million times worse than the time you think you’ll lose now.

“All in” on a break

I knew I couldn’t keep going at the same rate without risking burnout. I knew I had to slow down—I had to take a break somehow.

But the only way I know how to be is “all in”.

Well, okay then.

What would it look like to go “all in” on a break?

I came across Stefan Sagmeister’s 2009 TED talk, The power of time off. He talked about taking off an entire year every 7 years.

The problem for me was I needed something more immediate. I couldn’t wait seven years to rest, I needed a solution now.

I decided to take this idea of the sabbatical and create a small scale version of it.

Rather than take off only the seventh year, the way I could go “all in” on a break now was to take off every seventh week.

Thus, the Seventh Week Sabbatical was born. I’ve been taking sabbaticals ever since and never looked back. It’s the single best thing I’ve ever done for my career.

P.S.

Fun Fact: Initially, and for many years, I referred to my time-off concept as “Small Scale Sabbaticals”. But the name never stuck (no one but me ever used it), and one knew what it meant when they first heard it.

It wasn’t until this year that I came up with “Seventh Week Sabbaticals”. I like it a lot more. It’s descriptive, and you immediately understand what it means.

Seventh Week Sabbaticals.