Over 10% of workplaces offer an unpaid sabbatical, notes the Society for Human Resource Management. In the U.K., 5% provide paid ones. DJ DiDonna found an 80% return rate to employers in a Harvard study. He discusses these findings in this interesting TED Talk, “Time Off – Well Spent.”  Stepping away from work to recharge or retrain has clear benefits. But how does this work when you’re self-employed or run your own small business? 


This was my situation last year.  I was reflecting on the previous ten years. I had started and built Stornish and navigated the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. But stress had taken a toll, and I was starting to recognise the effects of burnout.  On reflection Covid has had a much greater impact than I initially recognised, and I believe the impacts of the pandemic will continue to be revealed over the coming years.

So, when my wife had a serious accident, I had to spend time nursing her back to health. I decided it was time to slow down and plan a break.  Not a vacation, or a temporary work pause.  Instead, it was a chance to step off the work treadmill. The aim was to relax, brainstorm new ideas, and refresh my mindset. I hoped for a peaceful break to recharge, review my past decade’s achievements, and plan. 

Challenges stopping

Stopping work had some difficulties. Pausing work, especially when running a business, presented obstacles. It impacted my business in terms of finances and structure. I had to part ways with the team I had built and decline projects. Concerns about losing clients and paying the mortgage. Yet, to steer my business in the right direction for the next decade, I had to step back. I planned to take three months, or one business quarter, off.

I helped resolve problems by finding new job opportunities for employees. After that, I reached out to clients to reschedule projects. I politely turned down new requests. I also prepared financially by setting a budget, using my savings, and reducing expenses. I sold all the house clutter on eBay that had built up over the years to help with finances.

How much time off is enough?

I could take a break from my business for up to three months. If I needed more time, I might have to make some changes or even shut them down. But when I tried the break, I found out that three months wasn’t enough. I didn’t know I was feeling so exhausted, mentally and physically. I had plans to learn new things, but I had to put that on hold. I also wanted to explore new interests that could lead to new job opportunities. That had to wait too. So, I decided to focus on getting my energy back, resting, and enjoying precious moments with my family.

To truly excel in my work, it was essential for me to reignite my enthusiasm and drive. Being a designer is integral to my identity and brings me immense joy. It’s not merely a job but a vital part of who I am. I think many artists can relate to this deep connection to their craft. The Japanese concept of “Ikigai” resonates with me as it focuses on finding one’s true purpose in life.

Recommended Reading

I discovered and recommend the book “Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong” by Dr. Tim Cantopher. Although it’s intended for Christians dealing with mental illness, as an atheist, I found it to be a useful and respectful guide.

Making changes.

I returned to work with a clear plan in mind. I had burned out from overworking, neglecting my personal life, and losing sight of what matters. I rediscovered my passion and energy after a good break, but I knew I needed a long-term plan to maintain a healthy balance.

To achieve this, I decided to keep my business small for the next year. I would work less and make time for personal projects that bring me joy, alongside meeting client needs. I believe it’s essential to focus on self-generated projects. I also promised myself not to expand my business until it was right for my family.

I imagine my business as a wheel with different projects making up its sections. As one project ends, another begins, and my job is to manage each part efficiently to keep the wheel moving. During my break, I realised it’s okay if my wheel spins slower with fewer sections sometimes.


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