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How to take your first sabbatical by Ashlyn Writes


last updated:
August 18, 2017


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Let's get you a message so tight you can bounce a quarter off of it. Around here, we serve up science-based storytelling strategies the creative set.  Even while raking in more than 1.26M in agency work since I've been at it, I firmly believe working from a place of rest (not hustle) IS possible—and I want the same for you. Words matter. Best be sure they work (and oui, with math) ... and know how to party while they're at it. 

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Reading time: 7 min.

When it comes to how to take a sabbatical, sometimes we grow into our own advice. I’m the girl that says “work from a place of rest—not hustle” … and the slow-down is a waltz and interruption in striving I struggle to learn.

Back in December of 2016, we decided August of 2017 would be a sabbatical of sorts. Wes would work to get a block of time to call his own, and I’d arrange my client flow to alot for the month.

And as August approached, I panted, lunged, heaved into the month: there’s a theory for my condition, however.

It’s called burnout.

Yup. Just plum burned out.

Listening to my friend Christina on her own podcast made me laugh the other day. “I distinctly remember people telling me when I first started, ‘If you keep going like you are, [you’ll get burnt out]. Pssssh.’You’re just weak and don’t have it in you,’ I’d think,” she laughed. “And lately, I’m like, ‘Oh, crap—they were right. I can’t do everything, all the time, always.” I grinned and nodded: I can completely relate.

After rigorously practicing my craft of writing, calligraphing, and entrepreneur-ing for 17 months, sabbatical felt like honey on my tongue.

How to take your first sabbatical by Ashlyn Writes

We have the most workaholic culture in the history of the world, yet simultaneously, our condition is to think we work more than we do. Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours cites how almost no one REALLY works 80 hour—or even 60 hour—weeks. We inflate our own numbers, studies show.

Thus it’s an abiding human problem, this lack-of-rest thing. This but-she’ll-get-ahead-if-I-don’t-keep-at-it thing.

I’m very new at the sabbatical thing, but I heard sometimes it’s the college freshmen that high schoolers want to show them around campus … not the administration.

So with my pressed polo on and nary a couple of weeks into a sabbatical, here are the steps I took to get to my first sabbatical—because I want you to see that it’s possible for YOU, too!

1. Figure out what sabbatical means to you.

In my PR agency days, firm partners and leaders who’d been at the agency for 10 years got a sabbatical. I drooled over the thought—but the seeds were planted in my head that this was something reserved only for big wigs.

Not true.

If you’re an entrepreneur or creative, you can swing a sabbatical. But first, do some soul searching to figure out why you need one—because it’s not just a pink permission slip to say no to client work. Sabbatical is a derivative of the word “sabbath,” from the Hebrew word “rest.” As the Jews of the Old Testament followed God’s commands, they learned He wanted them to look set apart and different from all the nation-states rising up around them in the desert. One way they got highlighted in bright yellow on the Ancient Near Eastern cultural landscape? By resting one day a week—a day when everyone around them strove to get ahead.

Sabbatical to me means resting in the finished work of Christ, and re-centering on working for the joy and delight of the One who gave me the gifts to do this.

Meditate on Matthew 6, Matthew 11:28-30, watch Chariots of Fire, and this sermon from Tim Keller.

2. Make room in your financial plan.

I’m a big-time believer in reverse engineering your business finances based off of your personal finances. It’s the beauty of entrepreneurship: there’s no ceiling, there’s no limit to what you can make. But ah, therein lies the rub. My dear friend and client Shanna Skidmore has coached Wes and I through her Blueprint Model money plan (look out for doors to open again in January—I’m leading a crew of creatives through it, and you can sign up here to be the first to  know!)—and all this starts with defining enough.

We set up this business to be an asset to our family, and the minute it shows its claws to me, the owner, is the moment Wes tells me its time for a conversation. So, Wes and I define what our little family actually needs. What dreams we actually want to make a reality. Then, the business is set up to bring in those amounts, and anything more is icing. Back in January, we teed up the year’s client spots and launches so that for August, I didn’t take on any new clients. AW is only serving the clients that are already in our system. But financially, there’s hardly a dip: payment plans were teed up in advance and I can still cut the same check for myself each week.

Ashlyn Writes lifestyle photo

3. Pray about how to take a sabbatical.

Here’s the thing: holy rest must be an act of the will. We’re a ping-pong people of Netflix-and-chill or one-more-email-it’s-11:30-but-I’ll-sleep-later tendencies. I don’t think I prayed enough before, but our God is good to intercede. I’m a Jesus-follower, and because of that I believe that the closer I get to walking with the Lord and into His will, the more opposition comes against me.

Before you take a sabbatical, pray hard over how long to take, which month to take, and ask the Lord to protect that time. It’s so easy to think “just one more client won’t topple things,” but I’m here to tell you: I got more new business requests the week I went on sabbatical than we’ve ever gotten. It’s hard to say no to good to make room for great, and prayer can help.

4. Curate a library of what you’ll read on break.

There are some books I’ve wanted to read all year that I waited on for this month! Chasing Slow is one of them, but there are a few others I’d recommend for reading during a sabbatical time. (Click here to read my favorite business books ever and grab my full list of book recommendations.)

  • Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner – Get lost in poetic prose about ending the chase
  • Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller – My #1 hands-down favorite book about how God views work
  • 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam – “Oh yeah … I have more time than I think.”
  • SCRUM by Jeff Sutherland – “Oh yeah … this is maybe how I should get stuff done in my business.”
  • Seated with Christ by Heather Hollman – “Oh yeah … it’s okay if she does XYZ because I get to do ABC.”
  • Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend – Find the sweet spot between saying yes too much and being rigid in your no’s.

Also …. Fiction! My go-to’s for a while are Phillipa Gregory’s historical fiction books about the Tudor dynasty. 🙂 You may also want to pick up some specific training for what you need in your business right then, for example, Talk Like TED if you’re starting to speak as a revenue stream.

Ashlyn Carter creative copywriter and calligrapher at Ashlyn Writes books in studio

5. Make a list of all the things you want to do in advance.

For the month of July, I kept what I call a “parking lot” page in my Powersheets—if I thought of something I wanted to do, or a goal I hadn’t hit, it went on the parking lot page. Also pulled on the list was any dream or goal I could inch closer to given the space (ex. learning French, learning to sew).

  1. Photo organization, a la Nancy Ray
  2. Finishing courses I’d bought
  3. Visiting my best girl friends at their jobs to go to lunch
  4. Visiting home and helping mom clean out my childhood bedroom
  5. Moving the business from Skype to Zoom
  6. Make art just for me

6. Put the big rocks in first, then the little rocks.

I’m sure you’ve heard the rocks-in-a-jar analogy: to get a slew of stones into a container, you’ll fit more if you put in the larger rocks first. We booked our big date trip (Wes and I take one big trip each year just the two of us) to St. Lucia in the spring, and I cleared dates to speak at my friend Kat’s Creative @ Heart conference (sorta working, more a chance for me to realize why I love what I do). I texted friends and family to solidify hang-out times and lunch dates, and a quick jaunt home to see my family.

St. Lucia Sandals Halcyon wedding venue Ashlyn Writes

Then, I can put in the little rocks, like my list of ideas I wanted to make time for.

7. Communicate your sabbatical with clients.

I could have done a better job at this, but start telling clients and potential clients early. I’m a big believer in the fact that if you don’t tell your time what you’re going to do with it, other people will! My email footer has mentioned I’ll be gone in August the entire year, and I started dropping hints in social media and in my email newsletter two months before. The Thursday before I officially left on sabbatical, every client got a note that we’d be trimming down email response time to 72 hours, and that I’d be in sparingly but still working on their project needs.

8. Divorce yourself from email.

This step was hard for me! Tee up a pretty firm autoresponder during your sabbatical. Collective Hub wrote this pretty funny article called “Why It’s Totally Fine to Be Rude in Your Out-of-Office.” I took a page from them and my friend Nancy—here’s a taste of what you’ll see if you send us an email during sabbatical month:

Ashlyn Writes Auto Responder for Sabbatical How to take a sabbatical

I’m okay checking email for 1 hour each week during my time off. Hire a VA just for the month, if you must.

9. Tee up any important posts.

I included this, but I feel like it’s pretty standard. Queue a lot of Instagram photos, blog posts, and your weekly email newsletters to go out, too! Again, you may need to decide that you’re okay working 2-3 hours on Tuesdays during your sabbatical or something, and if you do, give yourself grace in that—it’s okay to work a bit! I’m working some this month, but only on initiatives and ideas I’VE wanted to tackle and haven’t had time for due to client work this year.

That’s really it! What do you think? Have you taken a sabbatical before, and is it something you could dream about doing? Working through the Blueprint Model is how we plan our business finances for things like sabbaticals—sign up below to learn when doors open, because I’ll be mentoring a crew of creatives through Shanna Skidmore’s program.

Reading Time: 7 Minutes Reading time: 7 min. When it comes to how to take a sabbatical, sometimes we grow into our own advice. I’m the girl that says “work from a place of rest—not hustle” … and the slow-down is a waltz and interruption in striving I struggle to learn. Back in December of 2016, we decided August […]


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