I grew up with two professors as parents, and I always loved the university policy giving them a semester off of teaching at full pay for every five semesters they taught.
It gave them a chance to step back from their day-to-day routine and give them an opportunity to find a new perspective.
When starting Podia — 10 years this upcoming November — one of the policies I wanted to add to our handbook was a take on a sabbatical. Not something other tech companies or any companies I knew of were doing at the time.
As a fast moving tech startup, and significantly less staffed than a university, I knew we couldn’t take a full six months off for every three years we worked, but one continuous month in addition to our regular yearly vacation allowance seemed more than doable.
With that idea in mind, the policy looked like this:
For every three years you work at Podia, you can take a full four-week period off (in addition to your paid vacation) for a sabbatical.
Note that this isn’t an extra four weeks of vacation days to be used through the year, but rather a chance for a long-term period of disconnecting and recharging.
Your sabbatical “clock” resets after every three years of continuous employment, regardless of when you actually take your sabbatical.
To date, Podia has had about 10 people take their first sabbatical, with several people eligible for their second sabbatical early next year.
Until this summer, I hadn’t taken one yet, because I didn’t have complete confidence that I could leave for an entire month until more recently. With two new additions to our leadership team this past year and the business running more smoothly than ever, I felt like this past July was my time.
This was definitely the toughest week for me.
I made a decision going into my sabbatical that I would completely remove Slack, Basecamp, work email, and other work tools from my phone and computer to completely disconnect myself.
Those first few days were really difficult because of the unconscious habits I’d formed over the past years to check Slack, Basecamp, and my email whenever I had any downtime in my day.
It took several days before I could shake the habit, but by day four or five, I felt free from its grip.
What I took away from that first week is that nothing is going to go wrong if I’m not constantly checking in on things. When you’re working, it’s important to be present and engaged with work, but there’s no reason (unless there’s an emergency) to check in on things when you’re away from your desk.
As of this writing, I still haven’t installed Slack, Basecamp, or my work email back on my phone. I do feel the urge to reinstall those apps, but I’m really trying to do a better job at disconnecting when I’m not at my desk.
Weeks two and three
I’d best describe these weeks as almost an out-of-body experience.
My wife and I had friends visiting us throughout the month of July, which made weeks two and three fly by with lots of fun activities planned.
During these middle weeks, I felt the most relaxed and comfortable with my decision to take my sabbatical. I’d go stretches of 2-3 days without thinking about work at all, which honestly blows my mind.
If you know me well, you know that before sabbatical, rarely an hour would go by without me thinking about something work-related.
These were the weeks where I really found calm.
During the last week of sabbatical, I started to think a lot more about work.
From going 2-3 days without thinking about work during weeks two and three, I began thinking about Podia a few times a day.
My brain started spinning with ideas that had been tucked deep down in my subconscious and instead of letting them sit there, I took out a journal and wrote notes as they popped into my head.
Ideas about big changes to Podia and thinking about how we’ll build and run the company for the rest of the decade.
Even though I wasn’t working, it felt good to write down my thoughts as they were exciting ideas that energized me about getting back to work the following week.
Without sabbatical, I think I would have been too sucked into the day-to-day of the business to really think clearly about what’s up ahead.
Everyone is going to have a different experience taking their sabbatical.
As the founder, I’m sure that my experience is going to be very different from others’, but hopefully there’s something meaningful here for everyone.
I’m so happy that we have this policy and I implore all company leaders to adopt it. It really gave me much needed time away to relax and it allowed me to find a deeper perspective on the future of the business.
This perspective was an unplanned outcome, but ultimately led to a long email I wrote the day I got back to work that will guide us over the next few quarters and years to come.
Besides the relaxation and additional perspective on Podia, it gave my wife, dog, friends, and I time to really be present and connected with each other. Without Slack, Basecamp, and my work email on my phone, my phone was basically a brick and I rarely picked it up throughout the day.
It felt so freeing to see my screentime dip to new lows.
I’m more excited than ever to be working on Podia and I feel so energized about the business. I’m so happy to be back amongst my friends and coworkers and getting back to work.
And, lastly, I’m excited for my next sabbatical more than ever. 😉