3 Steps to Successfully Working While on a Sabbatical

We are nearing the end of our month-long getaway to Central Oregon. It has been a wonderful time for our family to slow life down, create memories, and grow closer to each other. I mentioned in a previous post that we made a similar trip last fall in an RV for a month. That was also an enjoyable experience that we will never forget.

However, my work life on last year’s RV trip and this year’s getaway in Sunriver, Oregon, was vastly different. In my particular case, I am the owner of a financial planning firm. I am the sole owner and employee. My wife and I also have a real estate investment company. Our real estate investments are managed by property management companies and require very little time while we are away unless we are actively pursuing new investments (I’ll get to this later). However, for my financial planning firm, because I don’t work for a company with multiple financial advisors or employees, I need to remain somewhat available, even during my time away. It is not ideal, and if you can put yourself in a position to completely check out from your work while you are gone, that is great! For me, I really do enjoy my work and have figured out how to not let it impede my time away…this year.

How NOT to work on an extended vacation.

Last year, on our month-long RV trip, I did a poor job of planning how I would stay on top of my work with my financial planning clients. I got ahead on my work a little bit before we left on the trip and then used the early mornings to stay up to date on everything. I am an early riser, so at 4:30 am-ish, I would sneak from the back of the motorhome to the front passenger seat with my laptop and pull the curtain shut behind me that separated me from the coach part of the motorhome. My wife would continue sleeping in the back, and our one and a half-year-old would continue sleeping in his pack-n-play on the dining room bed. Just about every morning I was able to get a good two hours of work done before they woke up.

However, the problem with this is that for the entire vacation, I basically gave up my morning routine, which is one of the most important parts of my day and sets the rest of the day up for success and growth. I exercise, read my Bible, pray, journal, and listen to business and personal growth podcasts during this time. The mornings are normally a powerful time for me, where my most creative and important ideas and goals are formed. My morning routine also sets me up for being a better husband, father, and friend. For almost a month, I lost this. Instead, my wife and son were often greeted at 7 am by a slightly frazzled and frantic dude who had just been plowing through work in the wee hours as fast as possible.

We still had a fantastic trip, but I knew that this year’s trip would need to be different. I wasn’t refreshed by time away from work during last year’s trip as it followed me every morning, even into the weekends sometimes, which I never let happen during my normal work life. So, at my quarterly planning retreat for Q3 this year, I mapped out how I would make this year different, and it has made this month away feel entirely different and tremendously refreshing.

(Related post: The Importance of Planning Retreats)

The 3 steps to successful sabbatical work.

1) Get ahead. Way ahead.

I did this last year but did an even better job this year. It may seem obvious, but the more you can get ahead on your work, the less you will have to do while you are away. This is going to look different for everyone depending on your work or business. For me, it consisted of cleaning up lingering client paperwork, conducting some meetings ahead of time, and completely removing the month of September, when we would be gone, as well as the two weeks prior in August, from my scheduling software for any meetings or phone calls. This ensured I wasn’t putting anything new on my plate right before leaving and had plenty of time to get ahead.

2) Batch work ruthlessly while away.

This one is the secret sauce, and I will likely write an entire post on batching your work. On this trip, I decided to work two more significant chunks of time each week. I worked each Monday and Thursday from about 6 am to 1 pm at the local coffee shop. The goal was to always be back by the time our son woke up from his afternoon nap so we could go off on our daily adventures. This came out to about 14 hours of work per week while on our vacation. It was usually less because I rarely worked the full amount of time on Thursday. I chose Monday because I often get many email responses from clients after the weekend and could plow through them quickly and efficiently Monday morning. Thursdays were then for any additional follow up on client work I had sent out on Monday and also for any real estate investment work that I needed to complete.

Outside of those specific times, I did not check my work email. I haven’t had my work email on my phone for years. The only way I can access it is on my computer. I think this is what made this year’s extended time away so much more rejuvenating than last year. Last year, I started every day with the urgency of my work email, first thing in the morning. This year, 5 out of 7 days of the week, I had no idea what was coming into my inbox. The mental load that removed on a day to day basis was notable and tremendous.

“But what if someone, say a client, needed to get a hold of you and you aren’t checking your email?” you might ask. Well, I have this nifty piece of technology called a cell phone. All of my clients have my cell number. I have worked very diligently with my clients over the years show them that their financial plans and investments are not meant to be short-term, or emotionally-driven, decisions. This is how people sabotage their finances. That being said, true emergencies, though very rare, do happen in regards to finances and my clients can call me directly if that is the case. How many financial emergencies have happened this month? Zero. How many clients have called me regarding their financial plans? One. She is in her 80s and doesn’t have email.

When you batch your time like this, you will be amazed at how much you are able to get done during the constrained time period. You will also find your self wondering how you were wasting so much time before.

3) Plan for your return.

In order to feel at peace mentally during your time away, you need to have a solid plan for re-entry. It will reduce the dread of returning and maybe, if you like your work, even create some excitement for jumping back into performing high-value tasks.

For me, I have a substantial surge of client meetings in the last three months of the year due to it being a great time for reviewing financial plans, making last-minute changes for the year, and getting a headstart on plans for the next year. So, one of my Monday morning work tasks during our extended vacation was to schedule my client meetings for the next three months ahead of time so that when I returned they were all set and ready to go. As of writing this, I have my schedule completely booked out with meetings for the next two and a half months.

Having all of my client meetings already on my calendar for when I return is a huge deal in order for me to hit the ground running. I already have systems in place for meeting prep and follow up. All I have to do now is spend time with people I enjoy and help them with their finances.

Be prepared to be blown away by the increase in your true hourly wage while away on a sabbatical.

If you do any work during your extended time away and if you prepare ahead of time, batch your work ruthlessly while away, and plan for your return, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish.

I already know the value of batching and the benefit of time away from the normal grind and routine of work. And yet, this month has still surprised me. We are currently in the process of closing our largest real estate deal, which we found while on this trip. I have a long list of prospective clients that have come in during our time away that I cannot get to until next year — all the while spending most of my week reading books to my son, riding bikes with the family, and spotting deer in the meadow.

Don’t be afraid of extended time away. Try not to think that you can’t do it. Try to think instead that you can’t not do it. It will change you.

I wish you all the best as you strive to create greater value with your limited time.

Kyle Mast, CFP®

Kyle Mast, CFP®Comment