Day 34: Need inspiration? Take time off

It’s 365 Days of Ted productivity week and my last few talks have been about working less! Yesterday I wrote about how we can find that work-life balance and for day 34 I am blogging about taking time off from regular working duties. Ted talk “The power of time off” is Stefan Sagmeister story about why every seven years he takes a one-year long sabbatical. He shares why he thinks that time off is invaluable to becoming more innovative.

How Stefan Sagmeister’s sabbaticals work

Stefan runs a design studio in New York. Over time Stefan started to get bored with the projects as it all begun to blend into one and look the same. He was no longer challenged or inspired so he closed shop for a year to experiment on projects that he lacked the time to accomplish during a typical work year.  Stefan says that our lives are typically divided into time periods. The first 25 years of our lives are spent learning, the next 40 years is spent working and then tacked on the end is our retirement years. Stefan proposes taking out five of those years earmarked four our retirement and dispersing them over the course of our working years.

Stefan doesn’t take this time take off as vacation time, he uses this one year to have a break from regular business work and clients and reinvest the saved time into coming up with new innovative design projects.  Every seven years he explores a new region and this new landscape becomes a place to incubate new and innovative design projects, projects that in all likelihood would never have been conceived had Stefan spent his sabbatical in his New York studio amongst familiar surroundings.

Google and their famous 20%

This idea is what Google is famous for. Google famously allows its staff to use 20% of their time on whatever projects they want. It is essentially their personal time to incubate their own creative and innovative ideas. Most of what we use on Google today has been derived from this 20%

One the examples Stefan used that really stood out to me involved chef Ferran Adria. Ferran owns a restaurant north of Barcelona that is open only seven months of the year. The remaining months are spent with his kitchen staff experimenting with new dishes for the menu. Can you imagine how exquisite the food must taste when five months are spent each year experimenting with recipes perfecting the art of cooking?


Today’s action step

The idea of taking a sabbatical each year to explore new regions and rejuvenate my mind so I can develop new and creative ideas is tempting. Really tempting. I suspect though that my finances would dry up pretty soon and my sabbatical would not resemble Stefan’s at all.

I do think that that I can take the essence of Stefan’s sabbatical and inject that it into my own life. It’s actually really simple in theory. Set aside a weekend a month to do nothing but brainstorm new ideas. I know that this is poor-mans version of Stefans sabbatical but I think that having the intention put aside to incubate new ideas will be a catalyst for the ideas to come.

If you haven’t already done so watch Stefan’s Ted talk to check out the great designs he came up with whilst on sabbatical. Have you ever had a sabbatical? How did it go? Please share in the comments below.