Why You Should Take a Sabbatical

Stefan Sagmeister is a designer. His studio has created a glass coffee table filled with hundreds of compasses, which swing about wildly when you set down a special magnetic cup. He designed t-shirts featuring wild dogs from Indonesia that attacked him, featuring the vengeful message: “So many dogs. So few recipes.” His next project is The Happy Film; the title below was crafted by pigs munching on the inside of watermelons:

The Happy Film

But Sagmeister couldn’t have done much of this work without sabbaticals. As he explains in a TEDGlobal talk, “The power of time off,” he closes his New York studio every seven years and sets off for 12 months of inspirational non-work. And though he might have to retire five years later than the rest of society, the benefits are enormous:

  • His job becomes a calling. The experimentation and learning that takes place during his sabbatical years reinvigorations his love of his craft.
  • It’s fun. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
  • It makes financial sense. When he returns to work, his work gets better, and he can charge more for it.
  • It stimulates creativity. All the experiences and sights and lessons from that year are channeled into new projects.

But a sabbatical doesn’t have to be a year long; the same logic applies to shorter breaks. elBulli, the famous restaurant near Barcelona that took 8,000 reservations in a single day, closed for five months a year for experimentation when it was in business. 3M lets employees spend 15 percent of their time on projects of their choosing, and this was the origin of post-it notes. Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness was written during a sabbatical.

To start, entrepreneurs might just think about their weekends as a sabbatical, a time for inspiration, rejuvenation, and rest. The next step could be yearly vacations, or even quarterly (something Brad Feld does). The important thing is to commit yourself to time off and tell enough people that you’ll stick to it. And don’t feel guilty: because all that time not working could actually give a big boost to your work.

For more, watch Sagmeister’s TED talk:

[ted id=649]

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Written by:
Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.
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