I’d felt guilty about even mentioning it to people, “I’m taking a month off.”
I mean, who does that? I’d felt guilty about even mentioning it to people, “I’m taking a month off.” I mean, who does that?If you love your work as much as I do—I dream about ministry in my sleep—why would you need a break from that?
But I did. Badly.
A lot of circumstances converged at once. Last year was filled with work highs—working with Proverbs 31 on a record-breaking Online Bible Study, a packed travel schedule, cowriting a book with my friend Cheri, hitting the bestsellers list, launching our speaker conference, Leverage, building our team to capacity, and a lot more. It was an amazing year.
This year was my fiftieth birthday, our daughter’s college graduation and her move to another state with her husband. We also had plans to renovate our home. That’s a lot of great to happen in a couple of years. I should be thrilled and happy and ready to dive into work, right?
Yes. And no.
I felt a weariness this year I’d never experienced before. I knew I needed a break, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. With so many people depending on me, I was hesitant to take time off. But I realized if I didn’t take a break, the possibility of burnout was real. I decided it was better for me to make the decision to stop work now, instead of leaving it up to a mental health professional later.
Now that I’ve actually taken the much-needed break, here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. Time off and Sabbatical are two different things.
I would now consider my time off not so much a sabbatical but a month-long pulling back for creative work. While working, writing becomes one more thing I need to do in an already busy day. During my break from the business of ministry, I could really get creative and actually enjoyed my writing (something that isn’t always true for me when I’m in the midst of work). I’ve decided that from now on, I will be taking a month off each year from emails, management, phone calls, publishers’ deadlines and more to concentrate on writing and creative planning for my ministry. I’m also planning a three-month sabbatical a couple of years from now to take a full break to really restore, rest and reset my life.
2. We need a Beginning and an End.
It was restorative to have a hard deadline of June 10th to get all my emails answered, the auto-responder set, tie up loose ends with my publisher, and basically close out my year. Having a mental finish line and start line enabled me to let go and rest.
3. Rest isn’t only for those who don’t like their jobs.
I adore my team. I truly do. I don’t want to “get away” from them. In fact, I stayed connected on Facebook and through text and phone calls. It’s not that I wanted to get away from my work or my people. God has designed us to need rest, which is hard to come by in our world. I take a Sabbath day off each week, but work is always right around the corner. This gave me a string of time to not feel anxious about the coming week.
4. There are different kinds of work.
On this trip, after about ten days of just being a slug, I started writing. Not because I had to. Not because there was a looming deadline, but because I wanted to. I also had the space and time to make a huge decision – to stop working on the book I was currently writing (a memoir) and shift to another book (prescriptive non-fiction). It was a huge decision, but one I’ve felt peace about ever since.While I’m caught up in the day-to-day tasks—answering emails, writing reviews and having meetings—I’m missing the deeper level of planning for our ministry, praying over book decisions and writing. Both types of work are vital and I need to make space for both. Taking time from the day-to-day frees me to be more creative.
So how do you do it? How do you put a plan into place to actually take a chunk of time off of work? Here are a few key steps that made it possible this time, and what I’ll do to prepare for next year:
1. Empower Your Team.
You need to have one person that people can contact who will be the bottom line for you while you’re gone. For me, this was Angela, who has worked with me and my husband for five years. I would trust her with my DNR, so I felt sure I could trust her with my business. She didn’t fail me. Did she make every decision the way I would have? No. (She probably made better decisions.) If you have control issues, this will be harder for you – but it will probably be a growing exercise as well when you learn that the world can keep spinning mighty fine without you.
2. Set Expectations and Boundaries.
There are a million ways to get ahold of someone these days between phones, texting, email, Facebook messenger, Twitter and more. You need a plan to deal with people trying to get ahold of you. For email and phone, I set an automated response that basically said, “I’m gone until July 10th. I will either get back to you then, or you can contact my assistant Christina.” I included her email address. For FB messages, I had a pre-written message letting people know they could either contact Christina or send me an email and I would respond after my break.
My team was amazing and kept me out of the fray. If you don’t have a team, you just need one person to be your gatekeeper – someone who understands the difference between an urgent email and a sales pitch from Comcast offering an amazing deal on cable.
3. Prepare in advance. To prepare for my time off, my ministry partners and I worked hard to make sure everything was done early so business could run as usual. Michele Cushatt and I recorded multiple episodes of Communicator Academy and Erin MacPherson and I recorded about a dozen episodes of Clutter Free Academy so both podcasts could run without interruption. I let my publisher and partners know I was taking time off well in advance so they wouldn’t have expectations of me during the month. With enough notice, everyone can—and will—adjust.
Was it worth it? Was it worth the hassle, the prep and all the stress to get there?
In a word, yes.
I’ve learned that I need breaks. There will never be the perfect time to take one, so I needed to choose a time and make it work.
Now I’m encouraging all my team members to do the same. We make a better team when we are rested, refreshed and restored. That’s the kind of team I want to be a part of.
Kathi Lipp is the founder and CEO of Communicator Academy and Leverage: The Speaker Conference. She has been speaking to audience all over the country for nearly 15 years, has published 16 books and hosts both the Communicator Academy podcast and the Clutter Free podcast over at KathiLipp.com. Kathi’s passion is to help other speakers and authors be exactly the communicator God has called them to be.