Ten Tips for Rebooting Your Life by Taking a Break

Feeling stressed out by work? Try these tips for taking a sabbatical from your busy job.

Many of us have been working full time since we were in our early twenties. We have satisfying careers and very busy lives. But sometimes we feel like the play and movie, “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.” How can we do that and still maintain our careers? How can we take the time to dream, recharge, rebalance our lives, and come back better?

Here’s how—take a Reboot Break, a period of time away from work for renewal. Much like the academic sabbatical that we have heard of over the years, it is a break from any work, including yours. It is more common, and certainly more achievable, than you might think. Scores, if not hundreds, of organizations have sabbatical programs where employees take time off and then return to their work. Others leave their jobs by choice or take a break through job loss, and then go on to another job, often in a whole new career. Sabbatical takers return to work with more energy, enthusiasm, and ability to maintain a work/life balance—and they stay on or improve their career track. Everyone who takes a sabbatical says they are better off personally and professionally afterward.

How can you undertake a Reboot Break and make it successful? My co-authors and I—four professional women—offer the following ten tips from our new book, Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break, which is based on our own sabbaticals plus interviews with 200 sabbatical takers and research on over fifty organizations.

1.    Give yourself permission to take time off.
This is the first step. It is hard to say it, but you must get to the point of realizing and saying, “I deserve it. I have worked hard, and I need a break—whether it is to learn something new, make a career course correction, be with a sick child or relative, volunteer, recover from emotional havoc, or plan what to do in retirement or semi-retirement.”

2.    Have a dream for what you want to do on your Reboot Break.
Go for a walk by yourself in a beautiful area and dream about what would make the most wonderful Reboot Break you can imagine. Assume there are no constraints; you have the time, money, permission to take time off work, and support from your family. Then write it down. It becomes more real that way. 

3.    Decide whether you want to take a break from your current job or go to something new after a break.
You might be a little burned out where you are but want to stay there for career or other reasons. Companies have sabbatical programs because they have learned that employees come back with renewed energy and loyalty. If you definitely want a change, you can take a break without knowing what is next. It’s a great feeling to have that space and time to explore new options.

4.    If you have lost your job, take a break and consider what you really want to do in life before plunging into the next job.
Those who lose a job on Friday and frantically send out resumes the next day often end up unhappy. Taking a breather is important to process the feelings that accompany job loss and to gain new perspective on what’s next.

5.    Communicate with your family and other loved ones and include them in the planning.
In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In planning and taking a Reboot Break, it’s communication, communication, communication. Talk early and often. Let people in your life know what you are planning. They will be more supportive and you can plan fun things together.

6.    Plan well and set goals.
Build on the dreaming you did in step one. Think big in setting goals for the sabbatical, but also be realistic about what you can accomplish in a given time. Then set forth a written plan so you can accomplish the goals. 

7.    Have a financial plan.
This clearly is on everyone’s mind. There are many ways to fund your freedom, from your salary continuing while you are away to the sabbatical account you create in advance to build up the necessary funds for a break. Strategies such as renting your house and cutting back expenses come into play too.

8.    Make the most of your time and make sure you have time for yourself. 
The first thirty days of a break from work, including job loss, can be confusing and difficult. You are used to being “on” twenty-four/seven. Suddenly, you have time on your hands. Understanding that is key to beginning to do a few things but not putting too much pressure on yourself. Then, as the break continues, be sure you plan into your daily schedule the things you want to do for yourself, including time for reflection.

9.    Plan how to handle Sabbatical Robbers.
You may be surprised by this, but the Sabbatical Robber is often you. You might procrastinate or find yourself not fulfilling your Reboot Break goals. Or you may hear the siren song of those who would interrupt your sabbatical and take up your time. “Please be on a board or do carpool every day since you have so much time.” Successful sabbatical takers learn to say “no.” They also learn quickly that something that might seem to others to be a Sabbatical Robber is really just what they want to do. 

10.  Carry the lessons of your Reboot Break into your life.
After a sabbatical, one knows what is important and what the priorities are. It is easier to achieve a life/work balance and to keep doing things one loved doing on sabbatical. It takes a conscious effort and planning to retain the values and habits you learned, but you will know the benefits and how to do it. And soon you will be starting up dreams and a sabbatical fund for your next Reboot Break!

Written for w2wlink by Nancy Bearg, one of the Sabbatical Sisters, authors of Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break (Beaufort Books, April 2011). Reprinted from our content partner, Divine Caroline.