Last September, I decided to take three months off of client work to focus on personal work. There are a few reasons why I took time off. First, I was tired. I had done a year’s worth of client work in 10 months. (Whoa.) Second, I was a little burnt out. I had just planned my third conference in two years, in New York at ADC Global. (Amazing.) Third, I was ramping up for my first art exhibition in San Francisco – West Coast Craft. Okay, now I’m hyperventilating. That is a lot of things!
I’ve spent a bit of time kicking myself for not *doing enough* during this time off. It’s not a good feeling. When I think about what three months of free time looks like, I imagine how much can be done with a clean slate. But the truth is, it wasn’t really a clean slate! I had planned a lot of events and activities during this time! So I did those, and there wasn't time for anything else. The first time Stefan Sagmeister took a year-long sabbatical, he basically did nothing because he didn't come up with a plan beforehand. His story makes me feel a lot better about the way I spent my time.
Free time is amazing. I feel so well rested and low-key stress-free in most aspects of life. I’ve been able to take a step back and reflect on the types of work that I want to be doing, and who I want to be working with. This is a super radical idea to me, since I jumped into freelance in late 2014 and just started swimming. I’ve even started saying “no” to projects that aren’t the right fit for me – something I don’t think I would have done without this time off.
Free time is scary, because you have *so much space* to think about what you want. Too much space means you start playing the what if game. “What if I can’t get what I want? What if I’m not good enough? What if no one wants me for this type of work?” When you start to work towards what you really want in life, you don’t have anyone to blame if things don’t pan out. You’ve got to live with that possibility.
There are more projects I wanted to do after West Coast Craft. I wanted to keep that creativity train goin’ and work on everything, including one very special project that’s close to my heart. But after West Coast Craft, I gave a Creative Mornings talk! Then it was Thanksgiving! Then I made a book for zine fest! Then it was Christmas! I can’t do *any* project in fits and starts – I need continuity. For awhile I felt guilty about not making progress on all those little spare projects. Now I know that I didn’t actually have space for them, and that’s okay. It’s also okay that I haven’t finished posting travel photos from last year, or made music, or perfected sourdough. Patience, my friends.
I need continuity. I need a daily practice. I need lots of time to sit and make and think and explore and process and refine and produce and photograph and show and tell. These are big undertakings. For awhile I guilted myself, “I had three months, I should have been able to do this!” But when I look at reality, there is just no way I could have done all those projects. I was busy making other things!
What happens next?
Now it’s January, and I’ve been quietly thinking and planning my year while slowly ramping up client work. In the future when I take time off for personal work, I will:
• not plan it over the holidays
• set up a project timeline with deliverables and a due date
• be realistic about time management
To be honest, it doesn’t really matter that I didn’t “do more”. Because I did enough. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t crank out that one project that I’m dying to get into the world. Because I will. When I’m ready for that project, it will be my sole focus, and I will plan all my time around it. I will give it the attention it deserves. Nothing gets done without planning first!
Have you ever taken time off from work? What did that look like for you? Let me know!