My system to taking an annual sabbatical

November 6, 2018

business

Every year, I take an annual winter sabbatical—a dedicated number of weeks where I am able to truly disconnect from my business, finish out the year with clarity, and look forward to the year ahead with a lot of intention and some purposeful goal setting.

This is always one of my favorite times of the year. It is absolutely a season of rest that I look forward to as the hectic holidays kick into full swing.

Every year I take my sabbatical, I get so many questions from fellow creatives and boss ladies just like you who are wondering how I do this, how I manage it year after year, and how they can manage it in their own business as well.

So today, I wanted to break down my process for carving out this very intentional time in my calendar so that you can also create a similar season of rest and space from your business to celebrate the holidays and really dive into a brand new year with a ton of clarity and purpose.

My System to Taking an annual sabbatical | How I carve out intentional time in my calendar to create a season of rest and space from my business to celebrate the holidays and really dive into a brand new year with a ton of clarity and purpose. | b is for bonnie design #brandclarity #branddesigner #sabbatical

My System to Taking an Annual Sabbatical

At the core of taking a holiday sabbatical, I find some of the biggest reasons creatives feel like they can’t take a similar amount of time off is because: they feel like they will be letting some of their clients down, maybe they’re going to miss opportunities for new business, they will fall behind with current clients, or they are simply going to go broke.

I completely understand how very real and very menacing those concerns can feel. But to be completely honest, I found early on in my business that if I chose to let those fears of going broke or missing out on opportunities take full control of my energy and my priorities, then I would quickly bring myself into an uncontrollable season of burn out.

That realization helped me decide to take control over my life and over the way I was allowing my business to dictate my priorities.

I don’t know about you, but working like crazy until 10pm on Christmas Eve did not sound like my ideal sense of balance between work and personal life! And I am guessing that it probably doesn’t sound the same for you either.

So with that in mind, I chose to carve out a dedicated amount of time, usually about three weeks between December and the middle of January, where I am fully unplugged from my business. This is a time where my current clients know I am out of the office and unavailable. And potential clients who are emailing me get a very intentional auto-responder letting them know I will be in touch in the New Year.

I am not actively putting out new content on the blog. I am really not posting about anything business related on social media. And truly, this is a time where I am getting my head on straight for the year to come.

But it is also a really sweet time of reflecting on the year that has passed and gives me the space to celebrate so much with the people I love the most. And sweet friend, I absolutely want you to experience this space too.

Over the years, I have found four actionable ways that you can create space in your calendar and really dive into this idea of taking a sabbatical with a lot of clarity and a lot of purpose.

DIVE INTO INTENTIONAL REST WITH A PLAN

Now if you still feel like the idea of taking a sabbatical or any amount of time off feels overwhelming, then I want to encourage you with this: if you can dive into this intentional time of rest with a plan, then this is going to alleviate a lot of stress for you.

On top of that, it is actually going to enable you to serve your clients better as you will be able to educate them about what’s happening, what your schedule looks like and what that means for your work together moving forward.

So first and foremost, you have to plan intentionally. Time off will not just magically happen. And as you already know being a busy entrepreneur, those precious days that happen, especially during the busy holiday season will slip by unnoticed if you don’t plan ahead.

Taking time for rest includes a huge amount of action on your part. This isn’t just something that happens when you snap your fingers and say, alright, tomorrow will be the start of my sabbatical. It takes weeks of prep and planning. You need to carve out precious time on your calendar to plan and make it happen.

If we are intentionally staking a claim, and making sure no business, no work, and no professional goals encroach on special moments we can’t ever get back, then we can have ownership over the fact of what is going on day-to-day in our lives. But, if we don’t carve out that time for ourselves, then we are unintentionally setting ourselves up for our businesses and our clients, as sweet and wonderful as they are, to take over those days instead.

So instead, what we are going to do is pull out our calendars, intentionally plan ahead—which is why we are talking about this in November—and carve out those days or weeks to rest.

For myself, I know that for my sabbatical, I am talking about three weeks off from work completely. And like I said, that means no phone calls, no emails, no meetings. It’s purely quality time with my favorite people during one of the most joyful seasons of the year.

Now, I am not saying this is something I plan for a full year in advance, but I do plan for this at least 6 months in advance where I am so in touch with my calendar and I am so aware of what availabilities I have in my schedule for current client projects and where those projects will fall come the holidays. I am able to accurately assess when I can be out of the office and what that really looks like for me.

So, if you really know that you want to take a few days or weeks off, whatever that looks like for you, start planning this week. I highly encourage you to pull out your calendar and make it happen.

BUILD STRONG BOUNDARIES

The second actionable way to create space in your calendar for rest is to build strong boundaries.

If this is your first time taking time away from work, it is going to be really tempting for you to pop into your inbox and see what is happening or to check social media and see what’s going on. You might even be tempted to squeeze in a few client meetings here and there.

But the point of taking a sabbatical is that you are truly unplugging from your business to come back more refreshed, energized and as a better version of yourself.

Sabbaticals are meant for you to pour into yourself so that you come back into your craft later with new energy, new ideas and new knowledge. If you cheat yourself by constantly popping into your inbox or sneaking in a little bit of work here or there, then you are really missing the full benefit of what a true sabbatical can look like.

You need to create realistic boundaries for yourself to protect that separation of your business and your down time. If you want to truly unplug from client work but your inbox is a big temptation for you, then I want you to set a really strong autoresponder so you can clearly communicate to current clients and potential clients when you are available and when you are not. I want you to also turn off all email notifications. And if possible, completely disconnect your work email account from your phone so that temptation is gone. Even go as far as putting your computer in a different room to physically separate that temptation. You will be so so glad that you did. Especially at the end of a fully restful sabbatical.

So, all that to say if you feel like you want to be taking this time off but you don’t want to be totally unplugged—like say you have a really robust social media calendar or a strong editorial calendar on your blog and you still want those platforms to be working for you in the background. Well then schedule those things out in advance. Delegate those tasks to a virtual assistant, utilize scheduling tools in your social media or blog platform so that you can still be maintaining a strong social or online presence, but it doesn’t actually require you sitting at your computer and hitting publish time and time again.

PROACTIVELY EDUCATE YOUR CLIENTS

Now this is a game changer when it comes to taking time off because a huge opportunity for stress and anxiety to arise is the thought of taking time off of your business but thinking: “oh my gosh, what are my clients going to think if I take time off of my business for three weeks?”

So step three in creating space for intentional rest is to proactively educate your clients.

I am not going to lie, even 6 years into my business I still have those moments of insecurity where I think, can I actually do this, can i actually take this time off?

But the years I have spent taking my sabbatical time, I have found that my clients are the most understanding, kind and gracious humans on the face of the planet. They absolutely understand this time of rest. They respect me for needing time out of my business and they want this for me.

Because of that, I am able to come back refreshed and serve them better. I have more energy, more creativeness, more ideas all because I take weeks off in order to really recharge myself. But in order to do that, I really have to proactively educate my clients well before my last day of the year rolls around in the office.

What I do is email my clients personally and let them know, hey just a heads up this is a three weeks notice. In three weeks, I am going to be checking out of the office for X number of days for my yearly sabbatical and I want to make sure that we are wrapping up our time together or at least reaching a really solid resting place in our project together before that time happens.

Usually in these personal emails to my clients, I actually map out the next steps I think we need to be taking and I prioritize them in order of when they should happen. This gives my clients a clear idea of where I—as their brand designer and strategist or as their mentor—think we need to be focusing our time and energy before I leave the office. Then of course from there they can come back to me with their thoughts and ideas and we refine from there.

Another way I communicate with my clients in advance is I always include a section in at the bottom of my email signature that outlines my upcoming out of office states. So whenever I send an email, no matter who I send it to, they have a very specific record of when I will be in the office and when I will not be in the office. I let them know within a few months notice that come a certain time in December, I am going to be out of the office for a few weeks. This is a great opportunity for you to just let your clients know ahead of time so that they feel valued and important and really like a top priority.

CREATE REALISTIC BOUNDARIES WITH POTENTIAL CLIENTS

On top of that, if we are proactively educating our current clients we also want to create a clear system that educates potential clients too, right?

This is where I see a lot of people have the fear they will lose business if they take time off. Instead, I want you to flip the script and create an approach that helps you proactively educate potential clients so if they get in touch with you during your time off there are still some great ways they can work with you when you return. You can do this by creating realistic boundaries for potential clients.

The two best places for those boundaries to live is on your website and as an autoresponder email.

Make it abundantly clear on your website that you are out of the office for a specific time period. What I like to do personally is have a holiday sabbatical banner that spans the top of my website on every single page so that no matter where someone lands on my website, they see in a beautiful blush pink and big letters I will be out of the office from this day to this day and they can expect a response from me when I return to the office on this date.

I want potential clients to know they can still reach out to me even though I’m out of the office, but to know when to expect a response. And just in case of some wild instance they miss the banner, I also reiterate my out of office information on my contact form. Once they submit their contact form, they get another message that reiterates that I am out of the office, that I will get back to them when I get back.

In another case, let’s pretend a potential client doesn’t see any of that on your website and they just email you directly instead. Well here is where having a killer autoresponder comes into place. When they email you, they get an immediate reply with all of the juicy details sharing you are out of the office, that you will be back at a certain date or time and that you will be so excited to get back to them when you return.

Personally, I include when I have availability in my calendar for projects and some helpful links where people can go to get more info. I provide info for my branding services and resources and I invite them to follow along with all of my holiday sabbatical fun over on my instagram account.

HOW TO PREPARE TO TAKE TIME OFF

Taking a break from your work takes a lot of thought and preparation and it takes a lot of hard work. And if I am being completely real with you, I work so hard leading up to my yearly sabbatical because I want to be leaving my clients in a good place and I want to make sure I am running my business like a well oiled machine while I am away.

But that hard work is so worth it because it allows me to unplug from my work for a good three weeks and be fully present with my friends, family, and with myself during a time of joy, cheer and rest.

And that is absolutely what I want for you as well.

TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS BELOW: DO YOU TAKE A WINTER SABBATICAL? DO YOU TAKE TIME OFF DURING THE HOLIDAYS? AND IF SO, HOW DO YOU PREPARE YOUR BUSINESS FOR TIME OFF?

 

THE HEARTFELT BRAND SOCIETY

If this approach sounds like something you want to implement in your own business, I’d love to walk alongside you as you prepare for rest in your own business! Imagine walking side-by-side over the next six months as we set intentional goals, explore how to take those goals to heartfelt new heights, and build a close-knit community along the way. Well, that can be your reality, sweet friend!

Doors for my six-month group coaching and mastermind program for established entrepreneurs, the Heartfelt Brand Society, opened yesterday and I’d love to invite you to apply! Kicking off in January, this group coaching experience is designed to equip you, and 9 other creatives, with the tools, strategies, and encouragement you need to propel yourself forward. You can explore the full experience, and submit your application to set up a complimentary interest call, right here.

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My System to Taking an annual sabbatical | How I carve out intentional time in my calendar to create a season of rest and space from my business to celebrate the holidays and really dive into a brand new year with a ton of clarity and purpose. | b is for bonnie design #brandclarity #branddesigner #sabbatical

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I'm Bonnie -- a designer, brand designer + strategist, writer, wife, and pet parent to the most rambunctious golden retriever this side of the Mason-Dixon! I'm passionate about building authentic brands, encouraging small business owners to chase their dreams, and spreading joy through design. It's a delight to have you here, lovely! Grab a cup of coffee, pull up a comfy chair and stay a while, won't you?

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