“It is your assignment to let us know when you will take your one-month sabbatical next year.” My Board Chairman spoke those words at our November 2020 Board meeting. According to our sabbatical policy drafted by our board a few years back, the Executive Director (me) must take a month off every ten years. My first thought was pretty egotistical: “How can my team go a whole month without me?!”
Initially, this policy that was established as a safeguard to keep me from burning out was instead causing me anxiety and frustration. “I don’t even need a month off,” I told myself, downplaying the fact that I have run my nonprofit for over 18 years now with only one sabbatical (which was well over ten years ago now). I reluctantly scheduled the month of June as my time away and then engaged the responsible leader within me. “If I am going to be gone a month, I need to make a plan.”
The truth is, I do need a break. In the first half of this year, our nonprofit faced several challenges, many of which we have never encountered before. My time and mental stability have been stretched. Now, with just a few weeks left before my sabbatical begins, I’m not only prepared to be gone a month, but I’m looking forward to it. God has shown me some things about listening to wise counsel and the principle of unplugging. Whether it’s for an hour, a day, or a month, unplugging is a form of rest, which I believe we all are thirsting for at some level.
Here are three things you can do to create space for rest in your life:
1. Make downtime a daily habit.
Aristotle is credited with this statement: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. One thing I’ve started doing that has led to a more peaceful night’s sleep is set up “downtime” in my phone settings. I have mine set for 9:30 pm – 6:30 am so that I will not see emails, texts, or receive phone calls (except for a select few family members) between those hours. Since I usually go to sleep around 10:30ish, this gives my brain a chance to detox and not be hijacked by an annoying or thought-provoking message that could interrupt my sleep. And just for extra safeguard, I do not sleep with my phone beside my bed. Yes, it is possible!
2. Schedule a mental health day.
Proactively scheduling a mental health day provides a much-needed break to pause, regroup, and come back with greater energy levels and a fresh, less-stressed perspective. To do this right, you will need to plan ahead, put it on your calendar, and be proactive about work that must get done. On my calendar, I reserve at least a half-day each month to only do what I enjoy outside of my nonprofit work (shop, mani/pedi, paint). Or sometimes, I just sit with God. Taking a planned mental break from work and spending some time on self-care can give you the mini-break you need to head back into things with a clear head.
3. Plan for your Sabbatical.
As nonprofit leaders, there is wisdom in taking extended time off after years of service so we “do not grow weary in doing good” (Gal. 6:9). Sabbaticals can serve as a catalyst for capacity building that can ultimately strengthen and sustain your nonprofit. It requires much more preparation:
· Budget for any expenses that will be incurred.
· Block pre-determined time off your calendar.
· Communicate in advance with your team, board, and partners.
· Make a list of all monthly responsibilities.
· Designate a point-person, delegate/divide tasks.
· Set up an auto-reply on your email.
You will also want to determine what you will do on your sabbatical, which might include traveling, a spiritual direction retreat, engaging in a new hobby, or even training to run a marathon. The purpose is to come back refreshed on every level—mentally, physically, and emotionally. This renewed focus on a work-life balance can influence and enhance your nonprofit’s culture and significantly improve your leadership.
I hope this motivates you to stop and consider what type of “unplugging” is best for you. And keep in mind the key is not recognizing the need (I think you already have settled that) but executing the plan that leads to a more desirable rhythm of life.