The new year is here: Cue the articles on goals, resolutions, time management, and making this year the one to get it all together. Or what if we … didn’t? What would it look like to take an intentionally slower approach to 2022, a year of rest, a strategic sabbatical? Reflecting on these questions, I see a strategic sabbatical as a chance to rest with a purpose, a season set aside for reflection to help me better govern my time and resources.
More practically speaking, I am approaching this annum with less grit and more intentionality. I’m hoping to move from the idolatry of toxic productivity, which can too often prevent me from investing in relationships, to doing good work more sustainably and with room for the spirit.
Love, kindness, charity: These are the things I want to leave behind when I’m gone — and that means creating space for them today where work would otherwise crowd them out. Here’s what I have in mind:
Take time to explore your gifts
Playing piano. Hiking. Church ministry. Teaching my daughter to read. None of these activities provides a paycheck, and yet each one can help me tap into gifts that fuel my soul and help me build something for others, not just myself.
I like to think of exploring these gifts the same way I think about exploring creation: A hike through a beautiful mountain vista or walk along a wooded path can provide me with a chance to exercise and vitamin D, but I take them because they draw me outside of myself, not for how they can benefit me.
I find that even though I love my work as a writer, designer, and communications strategist, exploring interests outside of my work passions awakens different facets of my creativity and helps me from burning out on client projects.
Practice the “rule of halves”
Gone in 2022 will be the 15-item to-do lists that leave me exhausted or pulling a second shift when I should be sleeping. Instead, I’m planning to start my days by cutting my lists in half, focusing only on what is absolutely essential. This leaves room for the rest of my day to fall where it may rather than schedule every minute and hope the world bends to my will.
An essential task might include completing the next step for an imminent client deadline; a non-essential task could include redesigning a page on my website. Taking on fewer tasks each day makes for smaller output but a more enjoyable process.
The extra space in my schedule gives me the mental space to pray more consistently throughout the day and the bandwidth to call friends and take advantage of on-the-fly service opportunities without depleting my reserves.
While I start the day with a Bible, a notebook, and a half hour of prayer for that morning’s stresses, I try to integrate that prayer time into the rest of the day, whether that means praying for a driver who cuts me off on the freeway, stopping to buy a meal for a homeless person I pass, or picking up the phone to check in on a friend who is struggling.
Approach days with intention rather than checklists
For all of its ability to help us get things done, goal-setting can also make us too introspective, focusing on all that we need to accomplish at the expense of thinking about others.
In the new year, I plan to measure my success on elements other than my productivity through an evening reflection: How well did I love today? What opportunities did I take to be focused on others in my actions or strategy? How did I pray through my mundane tasks? In other words, I will frame my days with a focus on what I’m about rather than what I’m doing.
In his book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Greg McKeown argues that essentialism, or the idea of “less but better,” can help us accomplish far more than we would hustling through long to-do lists. Yet beyond getting the important things done, a mindset of essentialism can help me make room for them or, more importantly, room for important things I might not have otherwise realized I needed to do.
In my work, reducing my tasks lists has allowed me to create space for weekly conversations with people I trust and respect to help guide everything from the opportunities I pursue to the content I create. The same is true in my home life: even removing one of my daughter’s after school activities has given both of us more time together to strengthen our relationship and relax in each other’s company.
Seeing 2022 as the year of the strategic sabbatical means giving my ambition a much-needed rest and considering where I can work on separating my “worthiness” from my work. I am more than my productivity, and this year, I want my mindset and my actions to reflect it.