Tips for a Great Sabbatical

From my back porch: Today I’m writing my first post/tweet/FB status update in over a month. The mallards and sandhill cranes that nestle on the pond behind our home don’t seem to notice I’ve been offline. This is day #29 of my sabbatical and I’m feeling pretty dialed in to nature.

The verdict is in: Sabbatical works. With only two days left, I feel refreshed, restored and eager to reengage. If you’re considering a sabbatical anytime soon, here are some of my takeaways:

1. Intentionally break your routine on Day #1. At the advice of two close friends, on Monday, March 1st I packed a small overnight bag and checked into the Canterbury Episcopal Retreat Center about 10 miles from my home. Just one night and two full days. This provided the clean break and a mental ‘reset’ button to help me escape the pull of gravity around my home. I took long prayer walks on the grounds. I fell asleep on a bench in the sun. I packed a few books on Contemplative Prayer, a topic I had been eager to learn more about but ‘never had the time.’ I read one or two chapters from each and tried some of the forms. I threw my road bike in the trunk and explored a new 40-mile bike trail. I worshipped.

2. Don’t hurry. Donna, another friend who just finished her sabbatical in January, offered this wise counsel. I had to repeat this to myself several times the first few days. It became pretty natural after the voices in my head quieted down on Day #4. Grace and peace are yours for the taking.

3. Pursue the people and activities you love. Sabbatical is all about fueling your soul. Don’t do the stuff you don’t want to do. Avoid obligatory social events if you really don’t feel like going. I did a few small projects around the house – ‘quick wins’ – but left the major stuff for another month. I took my Taylor guitar out to the beach and sang my way through about 30 of my favorite praise songs. Indulge in family and friends.

4. Have a plan, but flex as you go. I broke the month of March into four weeks, each with its own focus on being, learning, doing and/or writing. It really helped me, for instance, to save reading any books on leadership until week #4, since that tends to be my default setting. I also used the month to train my palate to enjoy eating healthier foods and lost a few pounds along the way. Days #30 & 31 have been set aside as an onramp back to reality.

5. Have a strong support system. Hebrews 4: 11 exhorts us to “strive to enter God’s rest.” It takes a village and a lot of advance planning to rest well. Ann amazed me in her strong spousal support. She was virtually silent on any work-related issues for a month. Kudos also to my assistant Kelly for deleting… um… handling… most of my email; to my teammates for honoring my boundaries; and to my boss for his whole-hearted support of this time away.

6. Go public. By publicly declaring my intentions and my dates away I was able to set reasonable expectations for colleagues and people I care about. My ‘out of office’ reply clearly communicated that I would not feel obliged to respond to any email received during this month and asked colleagues to resend important email on April 1. This also helped maintain accountability when I was tempted to cheat.* Worthy of note: Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson) and John Piper (preacher, writer, speaker and book-writing machine) both went public this week, saying they are taking social media sabbaticals for the next 3 weeks and 8 months, respectively. Piper’s explanation is worth a read. Maybe we’re starting a movement….

7. Don’t break your rules. Exercising your ‘no’ muscle allows you to say ‘yes’ to the deeper yearnings burning within. For me, this meant no meetings, no business travel, no work-related phone calls or email, no Tweets, no Facebook posts, no blogging. I fudged once or twice for unique circumstances, and upon reflection I honestly don’t even think those were necessary. For one month away most things can wait. Here are two great HBR posts on unplugging and not breaking your own vacation rules. Be self-aware enough to know if you’re crossing the line into legalism or obnoxiousness in the process. Just like authentic Christian faith, sabbatical isn’t about what you avoid. It’s all about what you pursue.

How are you doing in exerting sufficient self-leadership to enter into regular days or seasons of personal restoration?

*Pulling away revealed deeper heart issues that I’ll tackle in another post.

By Ken

Dr. Ken Cochrum (DMin, Bethel University) is Vice President of Global Digital Strategies at Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) in Orlando, Florida. An avid cyclist and aspiring guitarist, he also holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Texas and a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He recently co-founded, a movement passionate about connecting people to Jesus using digital strategies. He previously served as vice president of Cru’s student-led movements worldwide. He and his wife Ann spent 13 years in East Asia where they raised their two children. Ken blogs regularly at

10 replies on “Tips for a Great Sabbatical”

Thanks for the encouraging feedback, everyone. You’ve got me looking forward to my next sabbatical. Peace to you.

Great insights!
Do you know the books by Pete Scazzero on “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”?
Check it out – very helpful material, going the same direction!

[…] Every four years, missionaries with Campus Crusade are allowed 30 days to step away for spiritual renewal.  Although I knew I had this rare privilege, this is the first time in 18 years with CCCI that I’ve taken advantage of it.  I followed the advice of Ken Cochrum and others who gave excellent tips for planning a successful sabbatical. […]

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