Do you ever feel like you spend your work week jumping from meeting to meeting and juggling so many projects/putting out fires that you don’t have time to explore areas that pique your curiosity or that bring you joy?

I felt that way several times last year and knew I needed a refreshing approach to how I work and manage my day. That’s when the suggestion for a sabbatical week came into play. Sabbaticals are typically thought of as time away from work, but the leader who proposed this idea challenged our team to step away from our normal routines and instead work on whatever interested us. 

PRE-SABBATICAL SCENARIO

As a remote worker, I regularly have five or more calls a day. Though most of these are necessary, it proved very easy for me to get stuck in routines and a habit of simply doing things the way they’d always been done—cram project work at the beginning of the day, back to back calls, continuous IMs and then if I was lucky I’d have time at the end of the day for research/working on new ideas. Maintaining tired patterns wasn’t bringing my best self to my team or my work.

In my current role, agility is key. Because of the work and the industry, I’m always on my toes, ready to shift directions and priorities at a moment’s notice. We drive hard to innovate and stay ahead the curve, and therefore our creative muscles are always flexing. I knew I was in overdrive. This way of operating wasn’t sustainable with our work and also becoming a new mom, so I eagerly raised my hand for the opportunity to take on the weeklong sabbatical challenge.

However, as a person who tends to be more at ease with clearly-defined tasks, I wanted to know about our leader’s expectations so I could be certain to do it correctly. However, having no expectations was part of the challenge. I was told to take the time and just let my mind wander. It was extremely difficult for me to approach a week of work without an agenda or a plan, but I have been working to get more comfortable with the uncomfortable. So off I went into a completely unstructured week with a wide-open calendar.

SABBATICAL WEEK KICKOFF

I’ll be honest, I started the week off with physical self-care: I got a massage. By reducing some of the tension that had built up in my body, I began my week fresh and relaxed. This allowed me to intentionally think about things that give me energy versus things that drain me.

Because I tend to over commit in all areas of life, I decided to write down my obligations so I could better prioritize where I invest my time and effort. This was an incredibly helpful exercise that has continued post-sabbatical and continues to evolve and grow. Here’s a snapshot of where I started.

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This was just one helpful practice, but below are a few additional energizers I discovered.

MY ENERGIZING ACTIVITIES

Mentoring and Next Practice Sharing

Because I enjoy brainstorming, learning from others, and sharing experiences I found it incredibly beneficial to connect with my mentees at my alma mater and to meet in person/virtually with new professional connections, including my new board role here at Talent Brand Alliance.

Reading Books, Blogs, and Articles and Listening to Podcasts

I used to think I needed at least an hour to get something out of the many learning resources I had bookmarked. This is FALSE! Taking just 20 minutes here and there provided valuable and thought-provoking content. These were a few resources I found inspiring.

Working on My Personal Brand

I am often my worst critic, so I took some time to seek out feedback from a few teammates and peers at T-Mobile and from volunteer organizations I serve on. This included asking them to describe me in a few words. Not only was this an encouraging activity, they opened my eyes to deeper understanding of myself and used words I would never have thought to. This helped me recognize the true impact and influence I have, even when I don’t realize it.

ADDITIONAL TAKEAWAYS

“Work Smarter, Not Harder”

These words of wisdom serve as a daily reminder on a sticky note above my desk. I’ve always been one to put in 110%, but as a new mom, the work tactics I previously relied on now burn me out faster than ever. Finding new ways to work has been crucial. Here are a few of my top ones.

  • Have one day a week that does not have any reoccurring meetings.

  • Ask for and accept help in all areas of life. Don’t be hesitant to delegate.

  • Focus on a daily “to-done” list versus a “to do” list.

Abandon Perfectionism

My days of being a perfectionist are over. Because of the rapid pace at my company and our desire to constantly innovate, it’s ineffective to overly obsess on ideas and projects. I’ve learned to take an idea and start a conversation even if the idea isn’t fully vetted. Through collaboration, good ideas can grow into something great. Nowadays, I’m finding leaders truly do want you to ask questions and be curious. They don’t have it all together, so they don’t expect you to.

We Are All Part of the Workplace Ecosystem

The ability to develop cross-functional relationships and build strategic partnerships is key to success. It’s important to take time to learn and understand about other areas of our business. Through shared success, we all benefit and increase our collective impact.

PARTING THOUGHTS

I started the week calling it my Creative Sabbatical because I hoped to use the time to ideate and have some major aha moments around new projects or strategies. However, what really happened was that I learned a lot about myself, the impact I want to make in the employer brand space at my company, and how much I need to regularly and consistently carve out time to let my mind wander. (For me, this will look like setting aside one day a week for these energizing activities only.)

Taking a sabbatical from routine work was such an impactful practice, I plan to do another week later this new year. Let me know if you’d like to join me next time!


About the author:

Noelle Holdsworth is an Employer Brand Manager at T-Mobile. Noelle leads the Knowledge Base committee here at Talent Brand Alliance, overseeing case study documentation, reference creation, and research, to better capture, index, and understand the knowledge and experience of our members.

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