Six Ways to Make Your Sabbatical Productive

Corporate roles in the twenty-first century offer several perks, from paid sick days, paternity leave, and free meals, to cell phones, on-site massages, and free medical check-ups. An important and exciting one on the rise is the sabbatical policy. Typically offered to long-timers, but sometimes to newer employees too, the sabbatical represents a vision of tranquility and calm, or energy and rejuvenation to many a corporate employee.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to utilize a sabbatical myself. Since then, several colleagues and friends, who have considered the possibility themselves, have asked how I used my time while on the sabbatical. Now that taking a leave of absence from regular work duties has become acceptable, even coveted, I wanted to share some thoughts on how one could come out at the other end of a sabbatical a happier person.

These six themes could, of course, be part of a regular routine, but given the high propensity with which we tend to find excuses (of not having enough time) not to do them, the sabbatical, with its fabulous promise of offering you ‘time’, is a great opportunity to put them into action:

  1. Get fit.

The older I get, the one piece of wisdom that only seems to get reinforced is how important it is to be healthy to be able to enjoy life and work. If you’ve had this on your list but never had the motivation (or time) to make a start, grab this chance to make it happen. There’s a plethora of information and options out there on how you could begin. Even if you are wondering whether you’d like a gym environment or not, or whether you can achieve this goal in a short timeframe, you’ll likely find sufficient help both online and offline to set up a regimen that works for you.

  1. Learn something new.

The learning curve often suffers after several years of a working life. The sabbatical can be a fantastic opportunity to add new knowledge or even a new skill. You could pick up online courses, set up some time regularly for a new activity, sign up for a language course or a web-design course, join a virtuoso as an apprentice, or take a sculpture class – basically anything that catches your fancy and you’ve been meaning to do but had not had the time for.

  1. Do something you are afraid to do.

The sabbatical is as much a time for expanding your mind, your known limits, as it is for rejuvenation and education. Use this time for doing something adventurous. For some it could be skydiving or bungee jumping. For others it could be living alone or living without creature comforts. For yet others it could be public speaking or scaling up an offline hobby into an e-business. The exhilaration at the accomplishment is bound to be memorable. And the confidence you gain will be for keeps.

  1. Meet people – old and new.

It is unfortunate but true that the regular workweek usually leaves little time for the really important people in your life – spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends. The weekends are often consumed in putting the house in order (literally) and catching a breather before (manic) Monday arrives. The sabbatical is a great window to spend some quality time with the people who matter to you. You could plan an elaborate vacation or an adventure trek with them, or simply spend your days together doing regular things such as cooking, catching a play, shopping, attending weddings, or visiting family members.

This stint is also an excellent time to meet new people and expand your network, whether through interest groups, alumni groups, hobby classes, or social work. Meeting people from different walks of life will give you new perspectives on problems and issues that you may be working to resolve.

  1. (Re)create something.

The joy of creating something is hard to replicate. The humdrum of typical corporate careers allows few opportunities for creating something from scratch. You might be enthused by something ordinary such as writing a blog, sewing a tablecloth, or cooking a new recipe. Or you might be motivated to do something less ordinary such as growing a patch of organic vegetables, or starting a new business. In both cases, you will feel productive and accomplished.

If creating something from the ground up seems too daunting, you can always focus your efforts on re-creating something. A sabbatical gives you the blank canvas you need to take on somewhat long-term projects such as de-cluttering your home, or renovating (a part of) it.

  1. Give back.

Having spent a lot of time in the world of entrepreneurs, whether social or not, I’m amazed to see how many business ideas are spawned from altruism, from wanting to help others. Your sense of self-awareness is bound to reach a new high when you give back to your community and your environment. The sabbatical can be a good time to give wings to your altruistic side. Again, you can choose from several options. Your efforts can be concentrated at the local level – planting and growing trees in your neighbourhood, coaching school students in mathematics, or spending a few hours each week at the elderly care centre nearby. You could also consider global causes such as volunteering in Africa or initiating a research program on renewable energy.

You are bound to receive advice from several well-wishers on how to be conscientious in your use of time while on the sabbatical and how you will risk wasting your ‘holiday’ if you don’t. You will also likely hear how you absolutely MUST use it to advance your development professionally.

To such advice I’d say, following any or all of the routes above can only help your development. And who is to say that one of those activities won’t turn out to be your dream occupation?!