How I Create My Own Sabbaticals

As much as I enjoy the freedom that comes with being self-employed and running an online business, there is one major downside: it can be hard to take time off.

Here I’d like to share a system that I use to create short-, medium-, and even long-term sabbaticals, so that my body and brain have a chance to rest and do other things.

Three Categories of Work

Prior to getting to the sabbatical itself, it was helpful to first identify the broad categories of work that fill my days.

The first category is time-sensitive work like checking email, posting and conversing on social media (though since creating this video I quit social media – here’s why), and spending time within Verbal to Visual’s courses and community to share feedback on student work.

That’s work that has a short time span to it – typically just a day or two.

The three categories of work that I spend my days on.

The second category of work is short-term projects that fall under the realm of content creation – the YouTube videos and podcasts episodes that I post to the blog. Each of those take about a week to complete.

The third and final category is long-term projects – the educational products that I create like courses about sketchoting and (potentially in the future) full-length books.

The purpose in identifying those three categories is to make it easier to pay attention to my daily balance of each. I don’t want to spend too much time on one category to the detriment of the others.

That’s where the three different works mode I’ve created come in.

Work Mode #1: Buffer Building

When in Buffer Building mode, I spend my work day focusing on just two categories of work: the time-sensitive work (email, etc.) and the short-term projects (making videos and podcast episodes).

In Buffer Building mode I create video and podcast episodes that I’ll publish in future weeks.

As the name of this work mode implies, the goal is to build up a backlog of ready-to-publish YouTube videos and podcast episodes.

Those two types of media form the backbone of my marketing. It’s the work that I put out to let folks get to know me and decide if they like my style enough to come learn sketchnoting from me.

With that in mind, each week I publish either a new video or new podcast episode.

But when I’m in Buffer Building work mode, I create new videos and podcast episodes at a much faster rate than that, which allows me to store some in the queue so that in future weeks I can spend time on other things.

Which brings us to the second work mode.

Work Mode #2: Product Creation

Some weeks, rather than focusing on making videos or podcast episodes, I focus instead on building a new product.

In Product Creation mode I work on building a new online course or other sketchnoting resource.

When in Product Creation work mode, I rely on the backlog I created when I was in Buffer Building mode to keep my weekly publishing schedule going as I spend the majority of my work day developing a new course, with a bit of that time-sensitive work sprinkled in.

That ability to focus on a long-term project without worrying about what I’ll publish that week is what I like about the dynamic of alternating between Buffer Building and Product Creation mode.

But there’s one work mode left, if you can even call it that.

Work Mode #3: Sabbatical

Occasionally I like to take a break from making new things and enjoy non-work activities.

That’s what the Sabbatical work mode is for.

In Sabbatical mode I take time off, outside of a short daily check of time-sensitive work.

The reason I consider this to be a work mode is that I do have to keep an eye on work, but just the time-sensitive things that need my attention within a day or two.

So when in this work mode, I do a short daily check of that work, and have the rest of the day to do whatever I want!

Let’s take a look at how those three work modes might flow over the course of a few months.

The Month-to-Month Workflow

I spent most of August 2020 and the first half of September in Buffer Building mode, working on about ten different videos at once (this one included!).

Here’s how I’ve shifted from one work mode to the next over a handful of months.

That allowed me to go on Sabbatical in late September when my wife and I went on a ten-day rode trip throughout southeastern Oregon.

Then in the first half of October (which is when I’m writing this) I went back into another short stretch of Buffer Building mode so that from mid-October on I could shift my focus to the next stage of work on the new course Digital Sketchnoting, which I hope to complete by the end of the year.

For an online business, the balance between content creation, product creation, and day-to-day tasks is not easy to manage.

This system helps me manage it.

If there’s anything that you find helpful about my approach, do steal it and apply it to your own work!

And if you think sketchnoting might be a skill that will help you do your work better, come join us in one of our online courses.