Friday, March 14, 2008

A Sabbatical Test

One of my friends recently acted on his wish to take some time off from work. He just started a three month break from work. Every now and then I think about taking some time off from work myself. After watching my friend leave town for his sabbatical I gave the topic some active consideration. I realised that while the idea of taking time off from work was very tempting I would have to plan extensively to make it serve my purpose. Following a thought exercise I came up with a check list of things to accomplish before I can take time off. Note that the ordering is random.

1. Build A Monetary Base. I should have enough dough in the bank to cruise for the duration of my sabbatical. The time frame I have in mind is about a year. Whether I plan to leave Bangalore or stay in town makes a big difference in the estimate. I can think of a couple of other places that are cheaper but have other, outweighing disadvantages. For instance Chennai is too hot, Trivandrum is too remote and I don't know anyone in Pune :)

2. Plan Ahead. I have wasted far too many weekends for lack of proper planning. I do not wish to repeat this mistake during my sabbatical. I will have to work out a clear, weekly (or at least monthly) plan before I start my break.

3. Establish Habits In Advance. This follows from #2. I know from experience that even optimistic plans fail because I am not used performing a particular set of tasks regularly. Mental exercise is similar to physical exercise in this context. Even a modestly mind-intensive schedule needs a period of "warming up". I would rather do all the warming up work before I start rather than use the first days/weeks/months of the sabbatical for the same. This involves enforcing basic habits like going to bed and getting up at regular times, not getting "lost" for (unplanned)hours in a task however exciting it is etc.

4. Establish A Ready-to-expand Routine. This derives from #2 and #3. I spend around 10 hours at work each day including getting there and back. While all non-work activities look very attractive from the workplace it is not easy to effectively use the 10 hour or so of daily unstructured time that follows leaving work. One solution for the weak minded like me would be to establish in advance a routine that is "ready to expand". In other words I should use the time available to me *after work* every day to the maximum extent possible. Ideally this should lead to a point where any time off from work would be easily filled by one or more of the activities I have been doing.

Good examples include music practice and coding. Say I can spare 90 minutes for music practice each day, split into two 45 minute sessions before and after work. If I can take up a suitably complex piece that demands more than 90 minutes daily and work on it regularly for exactly 90 minutes a day then I would be making progress on conditions #3 and #4.

Similarly I should be able to pick up a a challenging programming goal and spend a fixed quantity of time, say 90 minutes, each day for a suitably long period.

Another important aspect in my case would be to perform *all* tasks *every* day. I don't think it would be realistic to divide a sabbatical into two or more consecutive periods where I only work on any one thing at a time. IMHO the key to making a sabbatical work is to make a little progress on all fronts every day.

5. Set "Service Level Agreements" For Friends And Family. IMHO a sabbatical is *not* a vacation. It is a life project with specific time duration and goals. I should make it clear to friends and family that just because I am "out of a job" they shouldn't expect me to spend additional time/energy thus gained on lengthy visits or other activities. If anything I expect to be busier during a sabbatical than I would have been while working.

Update: One of my friends who wishes to remain anonymous had this useful point to add: "Having a test (to be taken at the end of the period or at specific times) to check whether the purpose of the sabbatical has been achieved will be useful too. The act of coming up with the test will bring the why (take the sabbatical) question into focus. I suppose this will be an outcome of the planning activity."

7 comments:

James said...

Namaste Manoj,

interesting. About #1, did you mean that you plan to do it in a year's time or that you plan a whole year off?

About #2-4 I agree with you, when I am at work I do nothing EXCEPT make plans for when I get out. Not sure that it is possible or desirable to plan down to the minutest detail though to advance on all fronts every day. For instance to break off the music and go coding when perhaps you suddenly make a breakthrough in the music and feel the need to do it more?.
I use my time best when I write a list of things I wish to do in advance and pre-set myself a small goal; ie I will undercoat 4 panther tanks then paint the flesh on 6 figures; I will not stop until I have completed each task. Invariably however I give myself too many tasks but that is OK; the one I don't get onto becomes the one I start with next time without further ado, as I have already run through it mentally.

#5 made me smile.

Manoj Govindan said...

@James,
"About #1, did you mean that you plan to do it in a year's time or that you plan a whole year off? "

I meant the latter - I would like to take a whole year off.

"For instance to break off the music and go coding when perhaps you suddenly make a breakthrough in the music and feel the need to do it more?."

I can see your point. In my experience though one of the biggest challenges has been maintaining constant touch with all three major areas of interest. This calls for working a little bit on music, programming and learning every day. Less "impetuous warband" and more "steady legion" approach, if you will :)

If I were to encounter a situation like the one you described then *ideally* I should finish work on programming and learning and *then* spend whatever time is left on music.

"Invariably however I give myself too many tasks but that is OK; the one I don't get onto becomes the one I start with next time without further ado, as I have already run through it mentally."

I do pretty much the same thing. In addition I have found that about the only way to plough through the boring/tedious but necessary tasks is to make sure that I break them down into little chunks and attack them one at a time.

James said...

Hi Manoj,
[whistle]To take a whole year off...nice thought but in your line of work wouldn't that be career suicide?

Manoj Govindan said...

@James,
I am afraid whatever "career" I have is built on the Rupee-Dollar disparity. As such it is in danger of extinction given the weakening Dollar. Moreover there is nothing in my job that cannot be done by another person.

The only kind of programming jobs that are not affected by the currency arbitrage are the ones that require hard core, hard to gain knowledge. IMHO it makes sense from the career perspective to acquire such knowledge and make myself *really* qualified to take up programming jobs.

Then there is the Life aspect. I am already 30; I don't want to do the same kind of work for the rest of my life.

Aeromaniac said...

Hi Manoj,
Found your blog after you mentioned over dinner that I was given an honourable mention in your blog:-)
Well the sabbatical is going fine as you know:-). But my recco to all who want to take a sabbatical is, just go ahead and take that (well deserved) time off. Too often we spend way too much of our lives agonizing about whether we should take the sabbatical or not, making ends meet, handling adverse reactions from colleagues, friends etc. In the process the sabbatical never happens and life catches up. Also there should be a broad plan during the sabbatical. Otherwise the days will rapidly fly past and at the end of it, nothing much to show. In my case I want to travel, so let's see how much more travel I can pack in. All the best!

Bob

Madhav G S said...

Manoj,

I am confused...


I couldn't understand "the break" part. Break from what. Is it from the job you want the break or from your routine?? If it is break from job because it is eating into your "quality times". Take a less demanding job with lesser pay.

But, what i think is that you just dont want to do the kind of job your doing. So you want to take a break. Good take one till you find the job more suitable for you.

I am confused beacuse I couldnt find the whole purpose of taking the sabbatical; or whatever reason given is not that good one.

"I want to make a film or writing a book or farming or read ten thousand books or travelling" because you love to do any of these things would have been a reason for the sabbatical.

May be I just misunderstood what exactly a "sabbatical" means....

Manoj Govindan said...

@Madhav:
[QUOTE]"I am confused beacuse I couldnt find the whole purpose of taking the sabbatical; or whatever reason given is not that good one."[/QUOTE]

You are not able to find out the "reason" because I have *not* addressed it ;)

All I did was make a list of questions to ask before a Sabbatical.

The "why" is a separate - and irrelevant to this discussion - question.