About Seventh Week Sabbaticals

Sean McCabeMy name is Sean McCabe. I am the founder of seanwes, and I’m a recovered workaholic.

For 10 years, I worked 18-hour days, 7 days a week.

“But I love what I do!” As if loving my work meant it was any less of an addiction.

It was an addiction. I buried myself in my work.

I slept just 5–6 hours a night for more than a decade. I told myself I felt better sleeping less and sleeping more made me feel worse. Besides, it was a waste of time. I was “one of the rare ones” who could get by just fine on less sleep (I was wrong—click and listen for just 5 minutes).

I ate two out of three meals at my desk. I consumed dinner with a TV show, after which I returned promptly to my office to work again until midnight.

There was work, and there was sleeping and eating (although little of the latter two). I cared about sleeping and eating only as much as they enabled me to work more.

I was not physically active for most of my 20s. I sat at a desk (I didn’t own a standing desk). I didn’t walk, I didn’t run, I hardly even went outside.

“The business would not grow itself,” I thought. There were only two modes:

  • Mode 1: Working on the business.
  • Mode 2: Feeling guilty about not working on the business.

I didn’t like feeling guilty.

Had you asked me if I had any friends, I’d say, “Certainly! I mean, not a lot of friends, but who needs a lot of friends? I have a few friends. Good friends! Of course I have friends.” Had you asked me to name their names, I’d have no trouble providing a list of half a dozen people.

It wasn’t until some years later, upon reflection, I realized every single person I’d have named as friend was someone I paid. They were all on payroll—except my wife.

Wait, no…

My wife was on payroll as well.

I let loose an expletive.

The realization hit me like a ton of bricks.

  • My health was poor. This was masked only by the fact that I was in my 20s. When you’re young, you’re like a rubber band—you bounce back—but bad habits catch up with you (mine would later).
  • There was no end in sight. I felt like I was treading water. There was always some surface-level reason (like meeting payroll), but I never took a step back to reflect on the big picture.
  • I had no quality non-work relationships. All I did was work. I didn’t invest in relationships. There were people in my life who might call me friend, but I certainly wasn’t being one.

The only relationship I kept up was the one with my wife. But I put that relationship in maintenance mode. I didn’t invest in my marriage beyond a few dates per month. Time was my most precious commodity (never mind that it was the one thing for which she was starved).

There was time spent working and time spent feeling guilty.

I didn’t like feeling guilty.

I convinced myself I didn’t have time.

  • I didn’t have time for sleep.
  • I didn’t have time for exercise.
  • I didn’t have time for relationships.

Don’t you understand? There’s work to do!

When I say I worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week for 10 years, I’m talking about an average. There were some 14-hour days, but there were equally as many 18-hour days—and 20-hour days.

How to know if you are burned out.

Burnout is bad. I’ve experienced it. It took a full year to recover, and I consider myself lucky it took only that long.

You can’t afford burnout. Whatever you have to invest in preventing burnout before it happens is worth it.

If you wait until burnout happens, it’s too late.

If you’re wondering whether you’re burned out, you already are.

If you feel burned out right now, you have a long road to recovery ahead of you—and that journey must begin now. Don’t put off what is already going to be a lengthy process. Don’t continue pushing.

I’ll write more about recovery from burnout in the future, but for now, I will focus on preventing burnout in the first place. Whether you’ve been burned out in the past or are burned out now, you need to know how to prevent your next burnout from happening.

Going “all in” on a break.

I knew what I was doing was not sustainable. I knew I needed a solution. I was running myself into the ground.

I needed a break. I had to stop. Something had to change, some how…

I couldn’t keep working 7 days a week.

I couldn’t keep working 16 hours per day.

I know only how to be obsessed. I have an all-on or all-off kind of mentality. Either I’m going to be the best or I don’t care at all. It’s like a light switch. There is no gradient to my intensity. You get the full thing or nothing at all.

You might also call it an addictive personality.

Either way, I know myself enough to understand that if I’m going to do something, I’m going to go all in.

That’s probably why I became a workaholic.

But I couldn’t keep going this way. I needed to make a change. I needed to save myself from destruction. I had to take time off somehow, but I only know how to go “all in”.

This begged the question: what would it look like to go “all in” on a break?

Four years later: sabbaticals changed my life.

I now take off every seventh week as a sabbatical.

In a moment, I’ll tell you what I did and how it all works.

But let me first show you how different things are.

Today:

  • I sleep 8 hours per night.
  • I take off all major holidays.
  • I take off every seventh week.
  • I exercise 90–120 minutes per day.
  • I work 5 days per week and take off weekends.
  • I work no more than 8 hours per day (often less).
  • I spend 30 minutes every day talking with my wife.

How in the world is this even possible? How did I go from having “no time” to doing all of this—and still working 8 hours a day?

I sleep more, I actually exercise, I don’t work weekends or holidays, I get all my work done and there’s still time to spend a dedicated half hour conversing with my wife every single day. We call these daily chats Mini Dates. We also go on at least one “full date” each week.

It’s incredible.

This isn’t some radical 4-hour work week we’re talking about here. I regularly work 8 hours per day because I want to. Remember, I still truly love my work! I enjoy helping people. I like writing. Teaching makes me come alive.

But I don’t have to work 18-hour days to accomplish my goals or grow my business. I don’t have to be a workaholic.

How did I get to this point? What changed?

It’s all thanks to sabbaticals and changing my habits one small step at a time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but by making small changes, your life can look drastically different a few years from now. Imagine being a wholly new person, completely transformed in just a few short years.

It’s possible with sabbaticals.

Seventh Week Sabbaticals

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 explain more in my first post to learn about the Origin of Seventh Week Sabbaticals and how I was heading toward burnout.

If you’re wondering, “What the heck is a sabbatical, and why seven weeks?” click the link above.

Otherwise, continue reading for more on why I started this blog.


4 reasons I started sabbatical.blog

I’m very passionate about the topic of sabbaticals and rest. As a society, I believe we are chronically burned out.

We simply do not realize how much rest we need. We don’t value margin like we should.

Most people see margin as a luxury, but margin is a necessity.

I want to help you prevent burnout.

I have tens of thousands of words written about sabbaticals stored on my hard drive. I’m working hard on a book, but I don’t want to wait until the book is finished to start sharing those ideas publicly.

Reason #1 – I want a place to share my thoughts on the TOPIC of sabbaticals.

When I started taking Seventh Week Sabbaticals in 2014, I began publishing what I call “mini sabbatical episodes” on my podcast during the weeks that I’m off.

I originally started doing this because I didn’t want to just “disappear” during my sabbatical. More than just resting myself, I wanted to remind people in my audience of the importance of rest. I wanted to lead by example.

When you listen to the seanwes podcast and you hear a mini sabbatical episode, it reminds you that I’m taking time off. My hope is that it at least makes you think about rest—if not eventually adopt Seventh Week Sabbatical for yourself.

(Side note: many of my listeners actually do take Seventh Week Sabbatical on the same schedule I do now, which is pretty cool!)

This is what the podcast output looks like:

  • Week 1: Normal podcast episode
  • Week 2: Normal podcast episode
  • Week 3: Normal podcast episode
  • Week 4: Normal podcast episode
  • Week 5: Normal podcast episode
  • Week 6: Normal podcast episode
  • Week 7: Mini sabbatical episode

This is fine, but I don’t have enough space to share all of the thoughts I have on sabbaticals.

More often than not, I end up just sharing some thoughts that vaguely touch on the idea of rest and don’t even talk about sabbaticals on those episodes.

I needed dedicated place to share more.

Now I have somewhere to do just that.

Reason #2 – I want a place to share the thoughts I have WHILE I’m on a sabbatical week.

As I write this, it’s Day 2 of a sabbatical week. It’s fantastic. I would never otherwise have time to do something like create and write for a new personal website.

But that’s exactly what I just spent the past two full days doing, and it’s been awesome.

It felt great to dig into code again and write some HTML, CSS, and PHP—and mess with some nitty gritty typography details.

I’m really happy with the result. I’m sure I’ll continue to tweak things as I go, but I’ve reached a point where I’m satisfied with the typography and reading experience. Now, I’m just eager to write more.

I have thought that I could simply blog about sabbaticals on my main site, seanwes.com, but I wanted a place where I can share more stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Somewhere I don’t have to worry too much about quality or diluting the purpose of seanwes.com. Sure, sabbaticals are somewhat related, but that site is mainly focused on business for creative professionals. If anything, I need to blog MORE about business topics there anyway, and adding a ton of sabbatical posts would just water down the focus.

This blog is for me. It’s a place to chronicle my thoughts and ideas and to iterate in public.

When I have ideas on my sabbatical weeks, I want a place to log and share those ideas. This is the second reason for creating sabbatical.blog.

Reason #3 – I’m taking off a full year in 2020 as my first Seventh Year Sabbatical (and I plan to document the journey).

When I first heard of people taking off every seventh year, I thought, “That’s way too extreme. What about a small scale sabbatical?”

I went on to take off every seventh week, and that’s been great.

But after the first two years of seeing the immense benefits of sabbaticals, I decided in 2016 that I would take off every seventh year as well.

How did I decide when would be the first Seventh Year Sabbatical?

I figured I’d start counting from the first year I began taking sabbaticals: 2014. This would put my first Seventh Year Sabbatical in 2020.

I made the commitment two years ago. My teams knows it. My family knows it. It’s a foregone conclusion. Now, it’s just a matter of working backwards from it.

When I first made the decision to take off a full year in 2020, I was scared to death (remember, I’m the crazy workaholic who worked 18-hour days for a decade). But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized I was just as scared when I committed to the Seventh Week Sabbatical. I don’t know if I ever would have followed through if it wasn’t for making myself publicly accountable and telling everyone in my audience I was going to do it.

I decided to trust the process.

I don’t know what to expect from a full year off. It scary to think about. There are a lot of unknowns. But after many years of benefits from small scale sabbaticals, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be revolutionary.

Something just tells me it’s going to be game-changing, and it’s going to cause next level success for years to come. I’m trusting the process.

I know for a fact that I will want to have something to look back on for that year. I want to document the journey. This is primarily for me, but I think it will also be interested for you to follow along.

I needed a place that would be my online home for the year 2020. This is where you can find me during my Seventh Year Sabbatical.

I may blog, I may podcast, I may make videos, I may do it daily for 365 days—I don’t know yet. But I will document that year in some form or fashion.

Reason #4 – My next book is called “Seventh Week Sabbatical” and this blog is my public draft.

I’m writing a book called Seventh Week Sabbatical.

The purpose of the book is to:

  • Show you the benefits of rest and how to prevent burnout.
    • There are so many benefits to sabbaticals. This book will help you be more mindful and purposeful about how to maximize those benefits.
    • You’re actually bad at taking time off and you don’t even know it. I will help you so you get the most rest out of your sabbatical so you don’t burn out.
  • Show you HOW to actually take off every seventh week (and what to expect).
    • This sounds silly at first, because it seems so straightforward, but you are going to encounter so many unexpected issues. It’s taken me years to figure this out. I can help you avoid a lot of pitfalls, disappointment, miscommunication, and unmet expectations. This will be your handbook and your personal guide to sabbaticals.
  • Provide a resource you can give to your employees (or people you care about).
    • Once you just how many layers and systems there are to properly implementing sabbaticals into your routine, you’ll be glad someone else wrote the book on it, so you can simply hand it to people you want to “get” it.

There’s so much more to the book, but those are the benefits at a high level.

When I wrote my first book, Overlap, I pulled from a lot of the podcast episodes and blog posts I’d already created over the years.

I’ve already started writing tens of thousands of words privately, on my own hard drive, but that’s not how I want to continue writing the book. I want to iterate in public.

This blog will feature a lot of the ideas, concepts and systems I’ve come up with over the years. Those things will be a part of the book as well, but by essentially writing my draft in public, you can get a glimpse into my process and thinking, and I can get a sense of what’s resonating.

The blog will also enable me to keep a finger on the pulse of what people are struggling with and what sabbatical questions they have.

I know from having written a book already that I (or my editor) will end up rearranging virtually everything after I think I’m finished with the first draft. What I publish here won’t be in any particular order. It will be fragments of an overall idea that I will later piecing together into a cohesive narrative.

Also, not to be completely morbid here, but one never knows when one will die. God forbid, I get hit by a bus and none of my ideas are public because I didn’t have enough time to finish a lengthy manuscript. Sorry—I just think about these things.

It’s much better to share my thoughts sooner and more frequently, even if it means they are imperfect and less polished. I can always add polish later.