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Everyday Sabbaticals for Entrepreneurs

James Yeagle, Cofounder and Director of Sales Operations, Anteo Group, LLC

Six months after launching Anteo Group, LLC in 2002, I sensed that I was about to hit the wall. I recognized all of the signs because half a decade earlier I had had a similar experience. What caused the need for a break back then were the twin pressures of adjusting to living abroad, as I was transferred to London by my former employer, and working 14-hour days in a new job.

This time the experience was even more intense because the company was my own. It was my money, my reputation, and my career that were directly on the line.

In the throes of a start up, I couldn’t take an extended period of time off. Nor, as a type-A personality, would indulging in a sabbatical have been on my radar screen. I see my work life as a sprint to age 50 — I am 39 now — which means devoting my all to my business today.

A Case for Time Out

However, hitting the wall was serious. I remember saying to myself, “Whoa, I have to do something.” So I took a week off over Christmas break to go to Florida with my family, and I ran for seven straight days on the beach.

The running helped. So much so that I’ve become convinced that to maintain clarity and focus on the entrepreneurial job, I must award myself time off every day to run. I’ve since come to call my daily run an “everyday sabbatical.”

The running I did on the beach is now a habit, as are other activities that get me away from the company. The pilot’s license I hold allows me to take a day each month in which I have a greater number of hours to myself. My family and I attend church regularly, which enables me to put work into perspective. Finally, as a voracious reader, I try to make time to read one book each month.

In my opinion, other entrepreneurs would be doing themselves a favor to do likewise. What follows is an exploration of my strategy for incorporating everyday sabbaticals into my entrepreneurial life. My hope is that others will benefit from the tactics that worked for me and that could work for them.

Making a List

Having realized the need for time off, I first made a list of all of the engagements in my life. Topping the list were my wife, five-year-old daughter, and extended family. My parents live in Sarasota, Florida, and relatives are scattered around the country, so I have to set aside time to travel for family.

The list also included friends. Having worked abroad for many years, my wife and I have friends throughout the United Kingdom and Italy, and we travel extensively to visit them. In addition, the list featured hopes and dreams, such as my wish to upgrade my pilot’s license and to earn an M.B.A. degree.

And how could I forget the job of maintaining our huge house, with its 4,000 square feet of living space, three-car garage, and swimming pool? That was definitely on the list. Oh, and by the way, the list included launching and building Atlanta-based Anteo Group into a thriving project-based technical staffing and ROI consulting firm.

Checking It Twice

Clearly, something had to give. So my next step was to whittle down that list in order to focus on the endeavors that were essential — namely, my family and my company — and to make room for pursuits that would satisfy my need for time off.

I put dreams, such as the upgraded pilot’s license and the M.B.A., on hold. I called all of our friends, saying I would be out of pocket for about 18 months and explained why. In part to raise money for the company but also to free myself from maintenance chores, my wife and I sold our home and lived for two years in a rented 1,400-square-foot bungalow. (Only recently have we moved back into a home of our own.)

Reducing demands enabled me to focus on a group of activities that for me were ideal for achieving a reprieve from the business. While I often fly my plane solo during my monthly excursions, I periodically take my wife and daughter with me and tuck in an afternoon of hiking with the family.

What Works for Me

The everyday sabbaticals that I take work for me because I’ve chosen pursuits that fit my personality type. Because I am not one to sit in front of a TV, I am energized when I am actively engaged and 110 percent involved.

Since flying is a particularly rigorous task, I consider it my most effective means of getting away. As a pilot, I must focus on flying, or I’d become a statistic. Yet, because I cannot drift off and think about the company, I find that flying energizes different parts of my mind. It also gives me an alternate measure of accomplishment and reinvigorates me for the entrepreneurial job.

In a different way, running, as an activity I can pursue for short bursts every day, allows me to blow off steam from the day’s work and keeps me physically fit.

Crucially, I’ve managed to avoid the trap of becoming so involved in any time-off activity that it becomes a job. Although my wife and I attend church regularly, for example, we aren’t members nor have we assumed any leadership roles.

Making It Work for You

What follows are six tips that have helped me structure my everyday sabbaticals in hopes that they will help other entrepreneurs plan for their own.

  • 1 - Recognize the importance of sabbaticals on a daily basis.
  • 2 - Consciously think about and plan for time-off activities that aren’t related to your company.
  • 3 - Choose only those activities that don’t increase your workload.
  • 4 - Select activities that are far enough removed from the job that they get you away from it.
  • 5 - Target only those activities that you consider to be fun.
  • 6 - Include the people you love in the activities you choose.

Sabbaticals, in short, are what you make of them. They needn’t be an extended period of time away. They can and should be worked into the everyday job of building an entrepreneurial company.

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