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In academia, professors have the option of taking a year away from their home institution for the purpose of expanding their intellectual horizons. They might spend this time doing research in the field, teaching at another university, or writing a book.

For those of us working in a world without tenure and tweed jackets with patches on the elbows, taking a step back from our professional lives and finding a little perspective isn’t as easy. But it’s still necessary.

Luckily, I’ve found that the quality of a sabbatical leave can compensate for a lack of quantity.

Introducing the Amazing 24-Hour Sabbatical.

Why take a sabbatical?

At points in our professional and personal lives, we feel swept up in the flow of events. As milestones and markers fly past us, we promise ourselves that we’ll take a good, deep breath and look around as soon as things slow down. But they don’t. When one project is finally wrapping up, three more kick into gear. Forget smelling the roses, we forget to taste our morning coffee.

I’m in the middle of this myself: from my wedding through a promotion through the honeymoon through a move, I haven’t so much as looked up from my feet in 9 months.

To be clear, a one day sabbatical is NOT a Weekly Review. It is NOT an opportunity to catch up on less urgent tasks, re-prioritize our to-do lists, or brainstorm on projects. It’s an opportunity you grant yourself to get a little perspective.

Immediate benefits

A one day sabbatical will:
  • Recharge your emotional and intellectual batteries
  • Stimulate your creativity
  • Suggest new directions for your efforts
  • Highlight areas in your life that aren’t worth the effort
  • Stimulate long-buried emotions and memories
What do you do when you hang a picture frame on the wall? If you’re like me, you walk a few feet away, then turn quickly and look to see if it’s really crooked or not. That’s what a sabbatical is all about: getting far enough away to see the big picture.

How to Take Your Sabbatical

Your first question might be, why 24 hours? In reality, you’ll only be gone for 8 or 10 hours. But the most important first step in taking a one day sabbatical is to get terrific sleep beforehand.

Get up bright and early the day before your sabbatical, which unless you’re a freelancer who can make your own schedule will probably be a Saturday or a Sunday. Then get to bed as early as you can manage. Set your alarm to wake up before dawn, before your spouse and kids, if any, and get on the road.

Pack Your Sabbatical Kit

Prepare a small, light bag. You’ll be on your feet a lot so you want to travel light. Bring:
  • A paperback book
  • A journal and/or voice recorder
  • Pens
  • Bottled water
  • Snack bars, fruit
  • iPod (no podcasts)
Do not bring work. Do not bring a laptop. No iPhone, no Blackberry, no cellphone whatsoever.

Wear comfortable clothes and your best walking shoes or sneakers.

Choose Your Path

If you live in a walkable area like New York City, embarking on your sabbatical may be as simple as picking a direction and walking. The main thing is to walk someplace off your own beaten path. If you’re in a suburban area, drive somewhere long unvisited. Useful sabbatical activities include:
  • Perusing a major library
  • Visiting your local art or natural history museum
  • Strolling along your nearest lake or, if available, seaside
  • Eating unfamiliar foods
The point is to allow yourself to spend one full day separated from the tasks and obligations of your life. Which is not to say, don’t think about your job or your family. First of all, that’s a hopeless endeavor. Don’t think of an elephant while you’re at it.

But once you step back from the immediate, practical concerns, you may start thinking about your job or life as a whole. Maybe it’s time to accept that your career doesn’t make you happy and never will. Or, it may occur to you how lucky you are to be in your position.

In the first case, you might start brainstorming ideas for a career transition. In the latter, you might decide to come back on Monday morning with renewed vigor and dedication.

The Return

Spend the day out of the house, away from work, and without your gadgets, and I can guarantee that you’ll return home at the end of the day feeling, on some level, transformed. Your journal will be full of new ideas. You’ll be physically tired but mentally recharged.

Don’t worry about processing all those notes right now. A few will be gems; most will seem like they were written by a drunk person in the light of day. Get another good night’s sleep, which is an essential step in absorbing any new experience, and take a look in the morning.

There, you’ve taken a sabbatical, just like an academic. Now, to find a tweed jacket with patches.

Photo by dopesmuglar.

15 Comments

  • Neil

    gravatarMar 10, 2008
    10:21 am

    I couldn’t agree more with this. The last time I took a full 24 hours away I felt incredible. Great post.

  • G

    gravatarMar 10, 2008
    12:15 pm

    Your posts are so insightful and yet humorous. It’s a true pleasure to read this blog

  • Ivan

    gravatarMar 10, 2008
    2:08 pm

    I love doing this…especially the part about not using the internet. I gives me a chance to put things in perspective. The best part is that I end up having the best ideas while I’m out on these ‘sabbaticals’.

  • Stephen Colón

    gravatarMar 10, 2008
    7:55 pm

    Ugh. I desperately wish I could afford the time to do this. Lately I’ve been terribly overbooked and this just can’t work within the next month at the very least. Students: take my advice; don’t get involved in politics while still a student. It sucks up your life.

    Sounds like just what I need though, especially with some recent stresses.

  • Liza

    gravatarMar 11, 2008
    8:30 am

    Stephen,

    No matter how busy you are sometimes you just have to pick a “me” day. “The One-Day Sabbatical” is a great way to do it. You need to take care of yourself or you will get burnt out. The only person who will take care of you is you.

  • Frugal Dad

    gravatarMar 12, 2008
    9:15 am

    Fabulous advice! I’ve even scheduled a vacation day away from the office for just this purpose. On my calendar I have the day listed as a “Mental Health Day.” Sometimes it is important to simply get away from the daily grind, before you become part of it.

  • SG

    gravatarMar 12, 2008
    9:19 am

    I like to use my birthday as a one-day sabbatical, as it’s one day when I feel absolutely justified in taking the time for myself. I take the day off work (or, when I was doing postgrad work, stepped away from the books for a day) and go off on my own. I spent an entire day in bookshops one year. The year before, on a whim, I hopped on a train from London to the town of Battle to see where the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066.

    It may take some arranging beforehand, but the one-day sabbatical is an excellent thing for recharging and refreshing oneself.

  • Matt

    gravatarMar 12, 2008
    10:22 am

    I would advocate for a weekly sabbatical (or “Sabbath” as described in the Bible) over having one “special day” every month or so.

    Since I started this habit in my senior year of college, I can’t tell you how much it has rejuvenated me during extremely stressful times and motivated me to work harder in the 6 days I didn’t have off. My rule during college (and it’s translated very effectively into grad school) is that I can do homework 6 out of the 7 days in the week. On Sunday, I go to church, spend time with friends, read, take a nap, or do anything else that I feel like doing besides homework (on one Sunday, it was a trip to Disneyland!). Once I ingrained this habit into my weekly schedule, I actually feel like I was able to accomplish more in school and more in my life outside of school than if I had worked all 7 days.

    I encourage you to take one day off from your normal pressing activities each week (and it doesn’t have to be Sunday!), and after a few weeks, see the difference!

  • Jason Unger

    gravatarMar 12, 2008
    5:33 pm

    Not to be a downer or anything, but a lot of people actually do this on a regular basis. Myself included.

    As an observant Jew, from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, I don’t watch TV, use the Internet, drive anywhere … or do anything classified as “work.”

    This is every week. Of the year. Of every year.

    I didn’t grow up doing this, but when I took that step in my religious observance, I realized it was one of the best things I could have done.

    Beyond the chance to un-plug and spend time with family and friends, it gives me an amazing opportunity to relax my mind and my body. I get some great thinking done, catch up on reading books, and remove myself from the hectic day-to-day life.

    To the commenter who wishes he could find time to do this … you can. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. You can make time for it if you set yourself to doing it.

  • Pete

    gravatarMar 13, 2008
    10:15 pm

    I agree Matt.

    What did God do after he had created the world? He rested. On the seventh day God rested.

    I think there is good reason why the Bible advises ppl. to keep the sabbath. Mainly to remember God but also we need to get refreshed and refocused. If we don’t take regular time off we pretty soon become what we do, it defines us and that shouldn’t be the case.

  • Vanessa

    gravatarMar 14, 2008
    2:20 pm

    I guess God wasn’t a parent of a small child at the time.

    Not to say that parents can’t get time off – but a full day every week? You must be kidding.

    Still, it’s worth aiming for . . .

  • David

    gravatarMar 26, 2008
    9:35 am

    I never did it, and sounds fine! And I think I need it. Thanks for the great post.

  • Randy Plae

    gravatarMar 29, 2008
    1:39 am

    A one day sabbatical is a wonderful idea. As Jason Unger posted, people in the Jewish faith are used to renewing themselves one day a week. Christians are supposed to do this on Sundays. If most Christians are like me, they seldom, if ever, do.

    I enjoyed reading “The One-Day Sabbatial” so much, I linked readers of my blog to this article yesterday.

    Thanks, David for a great post.

  • luciano

    gravatarMay 13, 2008
    1:49 pm

    just a way to take a pause… ;) also God used it in the last day of creation

  • Hughia

    gravatarAug 23, 2008
    2:18 pm

    Hello All Contributors,

    I have tried for the past three months to be on a sabbatical. I have had many interruptions from others. One day of rest will be easier to take, although I greatly need a month or more. Your advise is helpful.