Why I take a week off every 7th

There’s only a finite amount of time in the day, and when things feel out of control, our tendency is to fill the time with more action and busyness. But this exactly the wrong approach.

In order to maintain perspective, I do two things regularly, and it’s been immensely useful to me.

Thinking Thursdays

Every Thursday morning, I block off time to simply think. 

First, I do this starting 6am in the morning, when my wife and son are still sleeping. I close the door, lay out a yoga mat, put a clipboard with a pile of fresh paper and some pens next to it, set a timer for 90 minutes, and lie down to think. I scribble notes and sketches as they come to me, in no particular order. When the timer beeps, I get up, throw my notes into my inbox, and get on with my day.

What I think about varies from week to week, but how I approach this time doesn’t.

And I always come up with something valuable. Whether it’s a different way of thinking about my life goals, or some small detail on how to solve a particular UX problem that’s been bugging me.

Of course, you don’t need to wake at 6am and stare at the ceiling for this to work. But there are criteria that make this time far more effective.

For more on what is needed to think creatively, watch this video by John Cleese on Creativity.

Sabbatical Weeks

Much more difficult, but also more valuable, is to take every 7th week off.

It’s difficult because there’s always some pressing issue that has your attention, that you feel you just can’t put aside for a whole week. And even if you could, would the world let you?

To this I say, do it anyway, and let the world wait. This space to play can yield immense returns, but few will understand your choice to do it.

Recently, someone whose podcasts I listen to extensively, has decided to also take his 7th weeks off. When he heard I’ve been doing so (on and off) for the last year, he asked me about it. Here’s the core of my reply:


[…]

Yes, my wife and I both work for ourselves, and from home.
We tag-team on child care, as we have a 1.5yr old son too.

We started taking 7th weeks off a year ago: my son was a few months old, my thesis work was giving me trouble, things were stalled with our software development, and I was hardly sleeping. From this sleepless haze I made some rash, out-of-the-blue decisions. Fortunately my partner recognized my burn-out.

Ever since then, even though we’ve had many ups and downs, every time one would sense that the other was losing perspective, going down rabbit holes, or getting overworked, we’d insist that they take a break for a week.

The results on coming back, again and again, proved how just one week off can make an astounding difference. I would notice his output go up, and he would notice mine, even at a distance (he’s in Russia, just to throw another twist into the mix).

During breaks, what I do is simple: I play.

I love just thinking, and as a physics PhD, I love math and creative problem solving, so often my play looks very odd. My wife and I call them “math binges”.

But the idea is, I allow myself to follow whatever trail I’m interested in at the time, for as long as I’d like (or am able to, given childcare constraints).

And I do not worry about producing or sharing the end result: I don’t want fear of judgement or fear of failure.

Often though, this freedom to explore, to ask and answer “what if” questions, to learn a new programming language, does pay back directly when I get back to work.

During breaks I’ve: built tools that I now use regularly (like my “brain-sort” tool, that helps you sort a long list efficiently by comparing items pairwise), I’ve come up with novel approaches to the data structure of our app (one which resulted in 20x speedup with a massive simplification of code). etc.

And there’s also the times where a break just gives you perspective. Where I do no intense thinking, but we do go on lots of ‘walk-and-talks’ with my wife, discussing where we see our companies going. Since I’m a futurist and a sci-fi nerd, I don’t just think big, I “think cosmic”. And breaks are a great time to do that.

Anyway, I could go on, but I hope you get the idea.

[…]


So those are the two things I do regularly to maintain perspective. And there’s one more benefit to this scheduled time. I have a tendency to think too much. But now, with my thinking timeboxed to Thrusdays and Sabbatical weeks, I can allow my self the freedom to just do, knowing I will have time to just think.

What about you?
If you were able to, would you consider taking a week off every seventh?
If not, would you be willing to schedule a 90minute block of time to “meet with yourself” every week (or at least every other week)?

4 thoughts on “Why I take a week off every 7th

  1. I’ve seen this 7th week thing pop up a lot, also mentioned by Mike Vardy (productivityist). Although I can’t afford to take a week off my private English classes every so often, just by focussing on the essentials and taking a step back from my side projects significantly lightens the load and stress. I could see myself doing this once a month, actually. I should do this. Also, I like the idea of a weekly time-boxed time out.

    Is there some book that you, Mike and others have read on this, that I can get my hands on?

    I was just thinking… Even the crew of the USS Enterprise needed shore leave and time out from going where no man had gone before. And even during their regular routine, they had the holodeck for playing, sharpening their senses or just a plain escape.

    Thanks Adriano!

    Frank

    1. Hi Frank!

      Thanks for sharing. Yes, if you can’t take the time off, at least being aware of the need to step back can do wonders.

      I hadn’t heard of Mike Vardy before, but I think that the idea (for me at least), stems from a TED talk by designer Stefan Sagmeister, who takes a year off every 7th.

      With a year off every seventh at one pole, and a day off every 7 days at another, it just felt like a natural rhythm to take every 7th week off. Not sure if I’ll take every 7th month and year off too, but my love of self-similarity and fractal order makes me really really want to!

      There’s also the Power of Full Engagement, which advocates alternating periods of stress and rest. I highly recommend this book.

      Nice point about the holodeck, hadn’t really thought of it’s true function (beyond a handy plot device).

      If there are any other references that relate to this, I’d love to hear about them!

      1. Hi Adriano,

        Thanks! I have just downloaded a copy of “The Power of Full Engagement”. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in there.

        “Managing Energy, Not Time…” seems to be in line with one of the GTD methods of prioritization that David Allen writes about. Prioritizing according to your energy levels.

        Haha, I may just do a Throwback Thursday post about the holodeck… but I’ve been giving too many Star Trek references recently. It helps when the “material” is so prolific.

        Remember those episodes where Captain Jean-Luc Picard would indulge in a good fantasy on the Holodeck as he took on the role of private detective Dixon Hill? It was pure diversion for him. Something stimulating… a case to solve. Sometimes certain crew members would take advantage of the holodeck, even when they could have left the ship on shore leave. It seems like getting immersed in an interactive fantasy was sometimes more entertaining than a real planet to explore. Kind of like what we do with movies.

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