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The Seventh Week Sabbatical – Part 1

I’m someone who can get overwhelmed and stressed out relatively easy, especially when it comes to work. It’s a trait I’m not very fond of and have worked a lot on over the past couple of years. I’m also very much either “on” or “off” – rarely is there something in between. If I go in on something, I’m all in. Otherwise, I don’t care much.

A few years ago I noticed that I was getting overwhelmed and stressed out far more than usual. A lot of factors were at play, most of them personal, but it was enough to make me re-evaluate things and find a better way.

Taking a deeper look

I can’t remember the exact process or steps I took, but I do recall breaking things down to figure out what was the cause of my stress and overwhelm. Off the bat I knew there was a lot of personal growth and change going on that was causing a major disruption in my life – and I say that in a good way. Real, deep, personal change is never easy or smooth. Aside from that I also was well aware of the fact that my number one source of stress is work (and it’s generally stress I create for myself).

I began by taking a closer look at what part or parts of work specifically were causing me stress. It essentially boiled down to wanting to get a lot done and feeling like I didn’t have enough time to do it all. And when I peeled that layer back further it became clear that the real issue was how I manage client and non-client projects on a high level. The core issues could be summed up as such:

  • I was working far too many hours.
  • I wasn’t resting enough.
  • I always had work on my mind.
  • I would get frustrated and resentful when I didn’t get the chance to work on a side project, usually because something else ate into that time.
  • I was far too hard on myself.

After identifying these issues, I needed to determine what I could do, from a high-level perspective at least, to improve. What I came up with was the following:

  1. Setting work and non-work boundaries (i.e. better work-life balance).
  2. Prioritizing rest and time away from stress triggers, be they client work, personal projects, or something else.

At this point it’s incredibly easy to simply say that you should be easier on yourself, plan better, and get more rest. Well, duh. The problem with that is it’s a lot like throwing darts at a target while wearing a blindfold. You might get lucky and hit the target, but more often than not you’re going to miss. What I really needed was a system.

Time blocking and the Seventh Week Sabbatical

I’ve written about time blocking before, so I won’t go over that in detail again. I’ll just add that time blocking really helped in setting work and non-work boundaries. It also helped me to properly “close up shop”, as I like to say, at a more consistent time while at the same time giving me margin for personal things, whether they’re projects, going for a drive or walk with my partner, or just switching off completely by zoning out to something on Netflix. Ironically, time blocking also gave me more flexible with my schedule.

Serendipitously, right around the time I was getting into the full swing of time blocking and reaping its benefits I heard about the Seventh Week Sabbatical on an episode of the Focused podcast. After hearing the gist of it, the idea really appealed to me.

The Seventh Week Sabbatical concept was created by Sean McCabe in 2014. The premise is simple: work six weeks and take off every seventh week. To be fair, when I first heard about this, not only did I think it was a good idea, I thought, “Awesome, I can use that sabbatical week to get so much done!” Maybe you’re thinking the same thing. But that thought misses the entire point of the Seventh Week Sabbatical. As they say, the devil is in the details.

The key to the Seventh Week Sabbatical, as I understand it, is to not plan a single thing for that week. Don’t plan on working on side projects, don’t schedule any obligations. As Sean says, obligation is not restful:

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

So, that sabbatical week’s purpose is to have freedom from obligation ahead of time. In other words, you can do nothing or anything or everything that week; you just have to decide during sabbatical, not ahead of time. It’s also intended to be margin, which means that the Seventh Week Sabbatical schedule should never be adjusted. Here’s more on that from Sean.

Looking forward to this new way of working and resting

As someone who tends to live with stress far, far too much, I feel like I need something like this. Evenings and weekends off just aren’t cutting it for time off and real relaxation. That’s why I’m committed to giving this a shot. “My why” is centered around improving mental health, avoiding burnout, and just slowing things down.

It’s probably obvious, but I was sold on Seventh Week Sabbaticals pretty easily. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to try it out right away, I couldn’t. The last third of 2021 was pretty much planned ahead of time – filled with project deadlines, personal obligations, and other plans. Much of that just couldn’t be moved around to give me a free, unplanned, no-obligations week. Instead, I decided to commit to myself to fully implement it in 2022. So I scheduled it out. I set up a repeating week-long “event” on my calendar appropriately called “Sabbatical week”. Now when I book things ahead of time, I ensure to not book anything for that week.

Obviously I can talk this concept up all I want, but I’ve yet to fully try it. That makes me super hesitant to write anything about it. But I’m hopeful and determined to give it a fair shot. I’ll be posting at least a couple of follow-ups to this. I hope you’ll come along for the ride. ✌️😎