Must be nice. That’s the number one comment that I get from colleagues when they learn that I’ve been taking a three-month sabbatical every year in my business for nearly 15 years. If the mere thought of extended time off from your business sounds nice for everyone else but you because your business could never survive without you, you need a break.
Humans need rest—there are no two ways around it. And while a restorative weekend can do wonders for morale, sometimes life calls for a harder reset in the form of a sabbatical. Or in the event industry it’s more like a Monday and Tuesday off after a big weekend event. An extended break from your business offers a chance to unplug, step back, and recharge your mental health, which can benefit you and your business.
The good news: Sabbaticals aren’t exclusive to CEOs of big companies with hundreds of employees to pick up the slack. Breaks and planned time away from your business is just as feasible for solopreneurs and small business owners—and are often more valuable to busy professionals who are often stuck doing all the things and then some.
So, what exactly is a sabbatical?
A sabbatical is a chance to disconnect from the grind, prioritize rest, and focus on the projects that tend to fall on the back burner. Far more than getting a massage or a day off after a big event, it’s a pre-planned break from “business as usual” to restore your energy, inspiration, and creativity.
When you get lost in the day-to-day hustle of running your business, keeping your clients happy, and trying to have a life outside of your work, it’s easy to lose sight of what your business truly needs and what you need for yourself. Change and growth are impossible when you’re constantly moving onto the next thing on the to-do list. So, after seasons upon seasons of busyness where the “off season” never really seems to come, it’s therapeutic to give yourself time and space to refresh.
Stress is unavoidable, particularly in the events industry, but an extended break can help you weather the worst when you know a reprieve is on the horizon. Regular sabbaticals train your brain to operate in ebbs and flows, keeping burnout at bay as you navigate the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.
It’s a break or a breakdown
If the idea of taking a break from your business sounds appealing, that’s an indicator that you need a sabbatical. If you think that a break sounds amazing, but it could never be possible for you, that’s also a sign that you need a break. There are many “signs” that you need to plan for a sabbatical, such as exhaustion, anger at your loved ones, and resentment towards your clients, but the truth is that as a business owner, you don’t need a sign to take a break. Breaks can and should happen regularly, even when there are no clear signs or warning lights.
The whole point of planned time off is to step back and reset before you reach a point of breakdown. It’s better to plan a break proactively than wait until it’s the only way to address a severe case of burnout that makes you want to walk away from your business entirely. Consider a planned sabbatical as an insurance policy against burnout.
A well-planned sabbatical is restorative with the goal of removing yourself for long enough that you actually miss your business. You know you’ve had a successful break when you can’t wait to get back to the office and get back to doing what you do best.
Of course, there’s always work to do. Who has time to take weeks off?
You do. Claiming your time is an entrepreneurial right. Nobody–not your clients, not your co-workers, not your loved ones–will give you a break. You have to take it yourself. And if you’ve been working tirelessly to serve your clients, you and your business have earned the time off.
Preparing for a sabbatical
Once you’ve decided you need a sabbatical and it’s necessary for your future, look at your calendar and schedule a period with enough time to plan for it. Consider the cadence of your business. When can you afford to take a break? Are there slower seasons that naturally allow you to disconnect?
After blocking the time on your calendar, start working around it and adapting your schedule as you prepare for the break. For example, you might need to reschedule some meetings or pause new bookings until you return to the office. Over time, you will begin arranging your life and business to adapt without question.
Next, reflect on how you want to feel at the end of your sabbatical. What will it take to feel that way? Will catching up on sleep help you feel energized upon your return? Or will decluttering your office closet provide you with a calmer, more organized space to work? Design your time based on how you want to feel, not what you want to do.
An important note: You are allowed to work during your sabbatical. In fact, it’s the perfect time to work on your business and address projects typically put on pause for more urgent needs. Perhaps you want to update your systems or declutter your Inbox once and for all. Use this time to work through your backlog of tasks while you have more mental clarity and space to process.
To have a successful sabbatical, you must determine how you will define success. So, instead of flying blind, set a goal for your mind and body to work towards and let the rest fall into place.
Best practices for your next sabbatical
If you’re visualizing a rested and recharged version of yourself post-break, it’s time to pull out your calendar and get your sabbatical on the books. As you plan, follow these steps to make the most of your time off.
Give your clients plenty of notice.
Most clients will respect your break (and might even ask for advice on planning their own!), but only if they feel prepared for your absence. Keep your clients informed by communicating as soon as your dates are on the calendar. Add it to your email signature, post it on your website, and mention it on social media. Set expectations for your time off, explaining your process and introducing other team members who will fill in while you’re out.
Set rules for your sabbatical.
Consider how you will establish boundaries while you are away from the office. How much do you want to disconnect? Will you check emails once a week or not at all? There is no right or wrong way to do your sabbatical, but setting some ground rules will help you stick to your goals and achieve the success you set out for yourself.
Take a real break.
While you might see your sabbatical as a workcation, don’t forget to set aside time for actual rest. Book a weekend away or take a few days off to dive into a new hobby. The last thing you want is to come back feeling more stressed than when you left.
Buffer your time off.
Build in a few extra days or more on the front and back end of your sabbatical so you’re not pressured by lingering work. At the start, spend some time preparing to be out of the office without last-minute meetings or trying to squeeze in every little task. Then, give yourself space after your break to ease back into your routine without rushing back into the hustle.
Manage your expectations.
Accept that your sabbatical will never turn out how you envisioned it—that’s the point. It doesn’t need to be a deep, soul-searching journey that transforms your life; it can be simple and low-key, as long as you’re giving yourself a bona fide break. Let your energy guide you and see what’s in store, following your feelings and trusting your gut.
While you might have a list of things to do or that you want to do while on a break, don’t tie your definition of success to a set of unrealistic expectations for your break. If you do nothing more than sleep in, try a new restaurant, and catch up on your book list, consider it a win.
If a long sabbatical feels too jarring for you, your team, and your clients, consider taking a mini-sabbatical first. Don’t just cast a break away as impossible for you before you’ve even tried it. For example, you might take a two-week break around the holidays with the goal of taking a four-week break the following year. Start small and try it on for size. Test out your systems and learn what works before going all-in on a full sabbatical.
Remember: There is no “perfect” sabbatical because perfection isn’t the goal. So, whether you’re a solopreneur, an employee, or a leader, let your experience and context guide you in the right direction. And, when in doubt, focus on how you want to feel on the other side—that’s the whole point, after all.
Julianne Smith is a nationally recognized wedding accessory designer, digital media strategist, and small business educator. In addition to being the owner of The Garter Girl, a stylish wedding garter design company, Julianne helps creative small businesses throughout the wedding industry who are struggling with their online presence.