Preparing For A Sabbatical: What To Do While On Break From Work

One of my biggest regrets while working was not taking a sabbatical. If I had taken a one-to-three-month sabbatical, I probably wouldn't have left finance at age 34. Instead, I probably could have kept grinding until age 40 and made a lot more money.

Alas, I was too afraid to take a sabbatical because nobody else did. Everybody was afraid that if they took a sabbatical, their year-end bonus would be slashed. Further, all my colleagues, including myself, were hungry to climb the corporate ladder.

It was a shame not to have a sabbatical culture, even though our employee handbook clearly stated we could take one every five years. If there had been one, I'm sure employees would be much happier and employee turnover would have been significantly lower.

Thankfully, I'm my own boss now. The main pressure I feel is mostly self-induced.

In my Pre-Retirement Checklist For Post-Pandemic Life, I set June 15 as the date to start taking things down a notch in preparation for a sabbatical. Then I ended up taking a two-month sabbatical and now I'm back.

Redlining For Way Too Long

The simple reason why I need a sabbatical is because I'm tired. Instead of spending my ideal 20 hours a week writing and operating this site, I've been spending closer to 40 hours a week since the pandemic began. Normally, 40 hours a week is a walk in the park, if that's all you have to do.

However, in addition to spending 40 hours a week working, I'm also spending about 30 hours a week taking care of our two children. We pulled our son from preschool in March 2020 and we've been homeschooling ever since.

70-hour weeks with no time off for two years is too much for this old man. During the height of the pandemic, I was getting up between 3 am – 4 am to write because that was the only quiet time in the house. If I wasn't writing during the early mornings, I was writing after 8:30 pm once both children went to bed.

If you redline for too long, your engine breaks. Given my goal is to operate Financial Samurai until both children are at least 21 (the year 2040), I need to pace myself. At the very least, I need an oil change.

You might wonder why I've worked so much during the pandemic given we have enough passive income. It's because working hard has always been my go-to solution during difficult times. It is like a biological instinct that can't be switched off. I refused to let the pandemic hurt our wealth or our lifestyle.

After all, Financial Samurai was born at the bottom of the Global Financial Crisis in July 2009. It is during difficult moments that my motivation is at its highest. As the good times return, my motivation to work wanes. Our investments end up working more for all of us so we don't have to.

What Is A Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended period of time off work. Most sabbaticals last between one and three months. However, in Europe and Asia, sabbaticals can often last between 6 – 12 months. The same goes for parental leave policies.

At highly competitive employers, most sabbaticals are either fully or partially paid. The amount an employer pays for your sabbatical often depends on the length of your sabbatical. For example, an employer may pay 100% of salary the first month of sabbatical, followed by 70% of salary for the second month, and 50% of salary for the third month.

Sabbaticals are generally allowed for employees in good standing who have met a minimum threshold for the number of years worked. For example, my previous employer allowed employees to take a 1-3 month sabbatical every five years. After 11 years, I took zero.

If you don't know your employer's sabbatical policy, please check. As the economy continues to recover, demand for labor continues to rise. To attract and retain the best talent, I'm confident more employers will enhance their sabbatical policies.

10 Ways To Spend A Sabbatical

A sabbatical will be different for everybody. Many think about a sabbatical as a way to relax and recharge. However, you can also use a sabbatical to:

  • Pursue a new passion like music, art, sports, and writing
  • Find a new purpose if you're feeling unsure of what you really want to do
  • Develop more skills related to your career if you enjoy what you do
  • Focus on health if you've seen it decline
  • Improve your relationships with family members and important friends
  • Travel overseas and go on your Eat, Pray, Love moment
  • Volunteer at organizations you care about
  • Start your own business
  • Organize your house, landscape your garden, and work on any deferred maintenance

It's important to make a plan for your sabbatical because it will go by quicker than you expect. Further, if you don't do your sabbatical right, you may come back feeling more exhausted or demotivated.

My Sabbatical Plans

For me, a sabbatical is a time to heal the body, brain, and soul. Once healed, the hope is to have more energy and clarity to resume normal activities.

Too much damage has been done since the start of 2020.

I have witnessed a disintegration of people's mental health over social media. The public cries for help are always so sad. And the unhinged attacks can also be quite perplexing at times. At home, many relationships have become strained. Further, we're tragically seeing an increase in mass shootings.

Here are some of my sabbatical plans. I'd love to hear some of yours as well if you plan to take a sabbatical or have taken one in the past.

1) Reduce Production To The Ideal Steady State

Nobody retires early and does nothing productive. Like water, our energy flows towards doing things we enjoy. And what I enjoy most is writing.

My ideal amount of time working on Financial Samurai is between 15-20 hours a week. This means roughly 2-3 hours on weekdays and 1-2 hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Writing makes me happy. It's proven to be reliable therapy for my soul. Further, building new business relationships with the right people and products is also gratifying.

But not too much, as indicated in my post, Reflections From Making Money Online Since 2009. Therefore, my goal is to reduce online work by 50% – 60%. At 15-20 hours a week, it won't feel like I'm working at all.

Doing zero work on sabbatical may be the norm. However, because I have the flexibility and ability to work solo, I'd rather keep chronicling my thoughts.

Instead of publishing 3X a week, I might just write once or twice a week during my sabbatical. Instead of publishing a newsletter once a week, I might just publish once every two weeks. If I don't feel like writing, I won't.

Further, I no longer plan to respond to e-mails after 5 pm on weekdays. There will be no working on the weekends during my sabbatical either.

What To Do On A Sabbatical
Art by

2) Focus On Creative Work I've Neglected

Part of the 15-20 hours a week will be spent recording more podcasts solo and with my wife. Although I've consistently published at least one podcast a month for several years, I'd like to do more. Each 10-minute podcast takes about 20-30 minutes to record. Therefore, it's actually much quicker than writing a post.

I don't have any fancy intro, mid-rolls for advertisers, or sound-editing equipment. I just record my thoughts on my phone, then upload the file to Libsyn, and schedule a publication date.

Podcasting is a fun way to share some different nuances on topics I care about. A podcast also serves as a nice audio archive for our children to one day listen to.

The Financial Samurai podcast can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.

3) Refocus On Healthy Eating

After the lockdowns began, we started ordering much more takeout to help save us time. My workload increased and we were busy taking care of two kids all day instead of one.

Unfortunately, restaurant food is generally less healthy than home cooking. As a result, I've probably gained about five pounds. But I'm not sure because I haven't stepped on a scale in two years. It's hidden somewhere like a traumatic experience somewhere in the back of one's mind.

During my sabbatical, I plan to cook more food and focus more on what I'm eating. When you're so busy, it's easier to just shovel anything in your mouth for sustenance. By the end of my sabbatical, I will have shed all the weight I've gained since the beginning of 2020.

Insufficient exercise is not an issue since I play tennis three times a week and go on daily walks with our children. In fact, I should probably play sports less given my constantly sore right shoulder.

4) Spend More Time With Our Daughter

They say that once you have a second child, you should spend more of your time with the oldest. The reason why is because the oldest will remember more and appreciate your efforts. A baby will not.

Now that our daughter is 18 months old, I plan to spend at least seven more hours a week with her. Total time spent will be roughly 21 hours a week. She's developing her own personality, is starting to chat a lot, and is ready to run around everywhere. Therefore, it's time to take her to more fun places like the zoo, various playgrounds, science museums, and so forth like I did when he was her age.

The four hours I spend with my son every day will continue. I'm just taking some of the 20 hours a week I formerly used for work and reallocating seven hours to our daughter.

Once you realize you likely won't have any more kids in the future, you begin to cherish the time spent with your youngest even more.

Going to spend more time with my daughter on sabbatical

5) Spend More Time In Napa Valley And Lake Tahoe

We plan to spend a couple weeks in Lake Tahoe and a week in Napa Valley. We're still not keen on getting on a plane with two little ones. Our kids aren't vaccinated yet.

Further, taking a long flight with kids and having them adjust to different time zones is not fun. Therefore, our trips will continue to stay within a 4-hour driving distance from San Francisco.

Because we live in a tourist destination city, there are so many things to do here.

For example, I took my family to the beach the other day when it was 72 degrees. The experience replicates about 85% of the experience going to a Hawaiian beach. The only difference is that Hawaii's air temperature is about 10-15 degrees warmer and the water temperature is about 15 degrees warmer.

People love to bag on San Francisco and California. However, there's a reason why San Francisco is perennially in the top 10 cities in the world with the most number of billionaires (NYC is #1 in America).

It's a beautiful place where people who can afford to live anywhere choose to stay. California GDP growth has also been faster than the U.S. average since 2015. As a result, more people are looking to migrate to California to seek their fortune.

California and a sabbatical

6) Find A Better Way To Run Financial Samurai

One main goal during the sabbatical is to figure out how to sustain Financial Samurai for the next 20 years. I generally like to publish about 12 posts a month. Half the battle of creating something meaningful is to last for as long as possible. Sooner or later, good things will happen.

One solution I've come up with is to publish more posts written by guest authors who have more energy or motivation. The writers could be made up of long-time readers, invited bloggers, and select business partners. I'd like my wife to post at least once a month as well. It's always nice to read new perspectives and learn different things.

I'd only hire a staff writer if he or she has been reading Financial Samurai for several years and really jives well with the Financial Samurai Principles. I don't enjoy managing people and telling others what to do. It's probably because I don't like being told what to do either. Congruency matters in thought and action.

One thing I do have is an archive of roughly 2,000 posts written since 2009. At least 1,500 of them are worth updating and at least 300 are worth republishing. Therefore, that's what I plan to do.

7) Focus On Writing My New Book

I signed a book deal with Portfolio, a Penguin Random House imprint last year. The goal is to finish the first draft by the end of this year and be ready for public consumption in mid-to-late-2022.

So far, I'm finishing chapter 4 of 12. By the time my sabbatical is over, I should be on chapter 9. Most authors I know set aside everything to write their book like a full-time job. But I've taken my time because I want the process to always be enjoyable. Further, juggling stay-at-home dad duties and Financial Samurai is a lot.

Therefore, it will be nice to focus my attention more on the book during my sabbatical and create the next classic!

8) Spend More Quality Time With My Wife

When you have kids, quality time with your partner suffers. When you have kids who don't go to school during a pandemic, it's easy to just go through life like walking zombies. You're just trying to get through the day with your sanity in check and your kids safe.

My wife has been an excellent caretaker of our children. Without her, I would not be able to keep up my writing cadence of three posts a week and one newsletter a week since 2017. Further, she does all the back end work like taxes, reconciling the books, expenses, and all the stuff I don't like doing. Teamwork!

I'm going to use the sabbatical to take her out on multiple dates a week. We'll find childcare help as we go hike new trails, visit our favorite restaurants again, and more. It's going to be great!

Take A Sabbatical Before You Burn Out

If your company has a sabbatical policy, take it. It is a part of your company's benefits. If you don't take one, it's kind of like not contributing enough to your 401(k) to get a full company match. Take a sabbatical before you decide to quit your job or preferably negotiate a severance.

I'm sure more people are burned out than ever before. However, doing something as drastic as walking away from a well-paying job in your mid-30s because you're tired is not financially prudent. That's like me selling Financial Samurai after 12 years just because I'm exhausted.

Selling a strong cash-flowing asset in a low interest rate environment is not wise. It's better to just take a break, recharge, and devise a new way forward. After all, it doesn't cost much to keep the site up.

For the longest time, I've tried to work harder during the summers while more people take it easier. However, not this summer. This summer, I'm going to join the crowd and live life to the fullest!

Sabbatical post-mortem: I ended up taking a pathetic sabbatical for two months. It was pathetic because I worked too much and came away feeling just as tired as before the sabbatical started. As a result, I'm taking another sabbatical. Call it a do-over or a 4-month sabbatical. This time, I plan to get it right.

Readers, have you taken a sabbatical before? If not, what stopped you? If you have taken a sabbatical, what did you end up doing? What did you wish you would have done? If you want to keep in touch, sign up for my free newsletter where I share more nuanced perspectives about everything personal finance.

The YOLO Economy Is Here To Stay

The Best Time To Retire May Be Under Joe Biden

22 thoughts on “Preparing For A Sabbatical: What To Do While On Break From Work”

  1. Sam,

    I love this post! Working at a university we do have sabbatical policy and taking them is really great. I will be taking a 3 month sabbatical later this year and doing some traveling.

    I agree with all your points here, but I think there are two important pieces missing from your Sabbatical plan: 1) I would plan a 2 week trip to travel overseas without kids and explore somewhere you have never been. 2) During your Lake Tahoe and Napa trips you MUST leave your laptop at home. Do not log in, check internet, or do any work at all. I would arrainge to have a few guest authors during that time.

    It will be really hard for you to truly unplug, but I think it is essential. Working part time is still draining, and I think Sabbaticals are best when you do something totally different and unique that you have never done. I hope you have a great one!

    1. Enjoy your 3-month sabbatical!

      Any suggestions on who I can have to take care of my two young children while I’m traveling for two weeks abroad? Who are you getting to care for your kids during your sabbatical?

      It’s kind of hard for me to find something to do for fun that’s unique anymore. I’ve traveled to over 60 countries and lived overseas for 13 years growing up. I also worked in international equities for 13 years, which meant traveling a lot every year.

      Maybe I’ll explore my inner teenager again and join a paintball crew or something lol.

  2. Sam, good for you for changing the pace and refocusing on what matters most to you!

    My company does not offer sabbaticals, but after 26 yrs of work in a corporate environment, I am ready to take a year off. That means I need to quit my job. The scary part is that, returning to the workforce a year later at 52 will be a real challenge. Any advice there?

    My plan for my sabbatical is not to have a plan, but loosely, travel to see family (scattered in various countries in EU and South America) and recover from all the stress and hard work from all these years.

    I feel I have missed out on life a bit, and I also have a sense of urgency to take time and enjoy now that I have most of my health. If anyone has taken this type of break later in your career, I’d love to hear your perspective.

    1. 26 years non-stop is quite a long time. But good on you for taking a break!

      Make sure your finances are in order. My #1 advice is to try and negotiate a severance. The financial runway and cushion during your time off will be huge. A severance gave me so much peace of mind for five years after I left work in 2012.

      If you are going to leave your job anyway, you might as well try and negotiate a severance.

      Related: If I Could Retire All Over Again, These Are The Things I’d Do Differently

  3. Enjoy your time off!
    I just hit 20 yrs with my company and Ann taking 4 weeks off in July in Hawaii!

  4. Divinetomedy

    Sounds like you’re still trying to be pretty productive on your sabbatical. Might you consider fully unplugging for a bit?

    My first sabbatical five years ago, I spent the first two weeks mandating that I literally have no plan, just see where the wind took me every single day. It was incredibly uncomfortable, as a productivity minded person. But the discomfort was instructive. I think it helped prepare me for the remainder of the ~5 months.

    Just a thought! That list is looooong. :)

    1. Yeah, I like to be productive, just not too productive. And spending more time with my daughter and wife is a real blessing. We went to the beach for the second time this week.

      How long more did you end up at your company after a sabbatical? And what are you doing now? I’m always curious about what the end result is after the sabbatical.

  5. David @ Filled With Money

    I literally was in an interview two days ago where the interviewer said he started in IB, worked in corp finance for a combined 7.5 years. Afterwards, he was burned out and took an EIGHTEEN MONTH sabbatical.

    I really wanted to ask him more about that as a personal finance blogger but it took a lot of willpower to not look as interested in that information because I was well.. interviewing for a job, haha.

    Sabbaticals are so underrated in the workaholic culture of America.

  6. I’ve worked for the same company for just shy of 10 years. I haven’t taken a sabbatical but earlier this year I asked about taking a leave of absence in the summer. After going hard for almost 10 years now and being pretty far along the way to FI I’m feeling burned out at times.

    It was interesting, I could definitely tell that HR was shocked that I was even asking. Our company had a policy at one point but because nobody ever used it the policy manual just says “this section is being revised.” Luckily for me, I’ve worked here long enough that I have older versions of the document saved so I know it’s been policy in the past.

    Long story short, they strongly discouraged me from taking a leave by throwing up all kinds of hurdles. I decided for now I won’t be taking it but in December I’ll be able to take family leave, which they can’t bar me from taking in my state. I’ll be the most senior person in my company to take any significant amount of time away so I’m sure they will be shocked once again when I tell them.

    Looking forward to taking a month off around the holidays and just enjoying time with the family.

    Enjoy your sabbatical!

    1. Bummer, but great you are taking family leave! And please tack on all your holidays as well!

      3 years before I left work for good, I took 6 weeks off a year each year. They didn’t like it, but it was my right.

  7. Your plan is solid, but I think you may need longer to accomplish everything on your sabbatical to-do list.

    I took a 6 month sabbatical/mini-retirement that landed me in full retirement. Though my plan was to really avoid most work related things and focused on reading/journaling/vacationing and figuring out what I’d ideally like to do next. Your situation is a bit different.

    If I offered any advice it would be to just enjoy your trips and time with family. Then come back refreshed and ready to hack away at the book and how to set up the site for the next 20 years.

    1. Many of the goals on my sabbatical list will definitely extend way beyond a 2-month sabbatical that’s for sure.

      For longevity, my hope is to create a new sustainable operating system for the next 20 years.

      I’m tired of the business aspect of things and need to take a break. By July 1, I will have solidified some important long-term deals and will have also updated all posts in my archives that matter.

      Are you able to spend more time with your kids, if you have them? Not sure what age they are.

  8. I used to work for a company that provided Sabbaticals after 10 years. Somehow I stayed that long and got a 3 month paid sabbatical. It was great- ended up doing a trip up the west coast and decided that one day I really wanted to live on the west coast. 4 years later I’m living in Oregon working in a different industry- so I think that time helped me re-focus and think about what I wanted next.

    1. How long after you took your sabbatical did you leave? I guess that’s something else to consider. Like quitting your job a week after taking 3 months of parental leave. What is the right amount of time to wait before moving on.

      I’m thinking at least 6 months. But 1+ year is probably ideal.

  9. Congrats on building your firewall between work and home. It’s important to have and I suspect many of us were at sea when the pandemic forced those worlds together for many of us. A firewall is needed more than ever in that situation.

    I’d love to take a sabbatical, but we have to justify it by doing something “useful” during one and face a committee (seriously) voting on whether it will happen. So it’s not likely to happen.

    1. Thanks, although, the firewall broke down after we pulled our son from preschool in March 2020. But we are looking to build back that firewall you say after August 25! It’s going to be great and I’m so excited for him to meet new people and learn new things and spend more time with our daughter while he is in school.

      You can make an “useful argument” you wish! You just have to learn how to sell it! If you say you want to cure cancer and fail, I think they will be OK!

  10. I took 5 (or was it 6?) sabbaticals before taking the current gap last June. I’m a big fan. First one was in my 30’s at Apple. Such a great concept, we took one every 5 years since whether we needed one or not. Travel to the South Pacific. Built an airplane. RV trip to Alaska. So much more. The shortest duration was 3 months. The longest was 1 year. On return to work, I was refreshed, motivated and thought creatively on new projects. However, there was often that moment on arriving back in the office while looking out the conference room windows when someone was talking and all I heard was blah, blah, blah.

    1. Wow, 5 sabbaticals! Now that is very impressive. Do you felt taking so many sabbaticals hurt your progression? At what age did you end up working until?

      I just realized that I guess I took a 1-year sabbatical from June 2012 – June 2013. But it was all on my own dime. Well I guess kinda, since I was able to negotiate a severance.

      The goal is to take a sabbatical 100% on the company’s dime!

  11. Burnt Out Burn Out

    My company doesn’t allow for sabbaticals, unfortunately — unless it’s a forced sabbatical, of course. I’m a burnt out near-39-year-old.

  12. Smart thinking! It never hurts to ask about a sabbatical at work. I asked HR back way back when and they said there was no official policy for our company but one person had taken one (unpaid though). I decided that wasn’t optimal for me so I started planning to negotiate my severance instead and that worked out brilliantly. I am really grateful to your ebook for helping me with that. Thanks!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *