Sabbatical plans

In just under 2 weeks I will be heading into a 3-month long sabbatical. This is an incredible gift that everyone working at Automattic gets every 5 years. I took my time taking it, but as it approaches I am very ready for this opportunity.

Plans have a way of changing

When I first began planning my sabbatical it was a while ago, it feels almost like a different me in a different world. My original route was to use it to springboard into nomadic living. I planned to travel somewhere remote, not take a laptop and recharge, consider where in the world to settle. The universe though it seems had a bit of a different view of how my life and sabbatical would go.

The past year and a bit has seen a lot of changes in my life and perspective as a result. Travel began to be less of an option for myself and my partner due to health limitations. Loud messages were becoming increasingly clear that nomadic life for a while just isn’t possible. I booked my sabbatical with reduced plans and an acceptance mindset. What had begun as hazy big nomadic dreams had distilled, little did I know the universe had another card to play.

When the world changes, you have to adapt

Not a single person I don’t believe hasn’t been impacted in some way by Covid-19. Whilst my work hasn’t changed, the world has and what we can do as a result narrowed. This is an interesting time to take a sabbatical, but as I approach it I realise for me it’s the right time.

My plans for this time had already adapted, which means adaption really even more wasn’t that problematic. The limit on travelling turns out to be a gift as I can’t wistfully think of the sabbatical I once wanted, it wouldn’t have been possible either.

The first real break

This sabbatical is not just the first time since I began working full time that I will have taken such a break, which is a couple of decades now. It’s the first time I’ve taken a significant break from WordPress as a project in a very long time.

Even before my current role in Automattic, I was a contributor for many years in my spare time. Before even WordPress, I was an avid contributor to other open source projects and communities. One thing I plan during this sabbatical is a break completely from WordPress contribution. Whilst it’s an incredible project for me as it’s now my full time role, this gives me an opportunity to take time away and come back with a refuelled perspective.

Sabbartical

So, what am I planning to do when I remove work Slack, email and begin on June 10th my sabbatical? I’ve jokingly begun referring to it as my ‘sabbartical’, because I plan to see what if I can I create if focus fully on my art. I studied art and after trying to make it as a full-time artist, fell into design and out of a passion for art over the years. It still runs through me but as the years have rolled on I have created far less art and feel I’ve moved pretty far from my soul there. I want to see what happens when I focus fully on it again, this feels like a great opportunity to do just that.

As all my plans have changed, I began to think about how I could create an art space for this. I had planned to rent a studio space, but even that fell through due to lockdown, so now my office is going to become my art space. I have even begun changing the space, adapting it from work to create a tiny, but needed space for growing artistically again. I haven’t had a studio in decades, so this is a huge step.

Journalling the experience

I want to take this opportunity to write and create art every day. During art school you’d fill sketchbooks for each term, each project working on. I am bringing those back for my sabbatical, these will chart my journey in sketches. I hope by rekindling my sketchbook practice to ignite something I used to hold so dear.

As far as writing goes, I have brought a journal to use and hopefully continue to use. After being digital for so long and that being my work world, I am making a conscious decision to daily write in an offline journal. A great deal of what I am going to focus on during this sabbatical will be offline, although some art created will likely be digital and I do plan to hold myself accountable by posting my art.

What else?

As the time has rapidly approached there are a few others things I plan to do apart from make art every day. Here is a starter list I am using as a framework to plan around. I’ll note that for me planning is important for this as I function better with a structure.

  • Yoga and meditation every morning. I have a practice of this already so it’s about continuing and really focusing on keeping this going without work.
  • Read every day for at least 30 minutes. I have quite a reading list planned and want to write about each one to hold myself to reading.
  • Complete at least 4 masterclasses.
  • Practice guitar at least 10 minutes every day. Starting small, building up into a habit.
  • Blog at least once a week. I miss writing so want to fix that and I certainly have a list of things to write about I never got around to.

Above all else giving myself time to be

Most importantly, I want to give myself time each day to just be. I’ll be taking a break from a lot of communities, even those not directly related to work. I want to focus on my world a bit, see what happens with less sound in it. This will include using lists on Twitter and allowing myself to disconnect more than I have ever done.

Being able to take time like this at a time like this, it’s a gift and I am incredibly grateful. We are all processing so much and I want to use this to process my own situation, the world situation and be gentle on myself. My big ideas have distilled, but I am now aware they are what they need to be for me right now.

Every experience right now is personal and every reaction your own

What everyone is experiencing right now isn’t normal, let’s get that straight from the start. There isn’t a rule book in our generations for how to handle this, no template, no guide. How anyone handles the experience is personal. There comes in recognising that respect to not apply pop psychology or misunderstood concepts. To not judge, to not shame and to certainly not tell anyone how to cope.

In reality, there is grief right now. Mourning for the life we don’t live now. A sense of confinement, that brings a loss of power and a fear of the unknown. Mix in a large splash of paranoia, sprinkles of fear and you’ve got quite a cocktail running through our brains right now. Amygdalas are singing the tune of panic and primal instincts are kicking in.

Grief isn’t easily defined

There is often a misconception when talking about grief that leads people to bring up the ‘stages of grief’ experiment as a framework. To context, that experiment was done in a very particular situation. The Kübler-Ross model was done looking at terminally ill patients. It also is often thought of as linear, this isn’t fact and Kübler herself regretted listing in later life.

It’s comforting to think there is a framework, a theory that can fit and bring coping. The reality is that’s just not the case. Grief doesn’t play by exact rules, it fits each person differently. At best you can think of the model as an indicator that grief can be processed, not a schedule and certainly not a guide on how to get through.

Boredom has a purpose

Boredom gets a bad rep, it’s thought of as negative and something culturally across the world to avoid. Keep active, don’t be passive, a busy mind is a happy mind. There’s often a confusion between states too, being still isn’t boredom, being paralysed with the emotions of a situation isn’t boredom. In fact, not knowing what to do isn’t actually boredom if that’s because power is taken from you.

Just like anything we experience there’s a purpose to the state of being bored. Maybe it’s a simple reminder to pause. Perhaps it’s a spark to kick you into action, it doesn’t have to be. Each person also experiences boredom differently, some never do and some do a lot. Just like any state it has a purpose and often that’s a personal one. Accepting a state of not doing is totally ok, similarly if you just can’t be comfortable there, find just enough activity to soothe.

Every situation is different

In all of this it’s often hard to see outside our bubble. To see what others might be experiencing. Empathy allows us to contextualise our own situation, in many ways we compare through that and process. When you can’t escape the confines of your bubble, that’s a whole lot harder. If you interactions are just inside, relating and realisation are limited.

Every person has a different situation. Some have children they are balancing throughout this, trying to keep a sense of stability in a sea of storms. Others are caring for people at home when services are unable to come out and support. Some have lost people during this. Many are isolated, the digital screen their only human touch. The life behind the avatar is so much deeper and important to remember right now in any interaction.

Play is processing

Children act out situations in their life and process through play. There are mountains of studies on the psychology of play. There’s solid evidence that choosing right now to immerse in a game is actually healthy. You are escaping but still active. Your subconscious is going to be processing things.

Depending on the type of game you will be getting different benefits. For example, if you are playing a building or farming game there’s a sense of control. Spending your evenings chasing butterflies and creating the perfect island in Animal Crossing is incredibly healthy right now for your mental balance.

Similarly, reliving a game of more comforting times like Final Fantasy VII remake, there’s good in that to flood your brain with happy memory chemicals. If those aren’t your thing, your brain will be quite recharged by vanquishing dragons, beating up some pixels or becoming a virtual heroine for a while.

Micro-controls soothe

There is a reason so many are turning to home crafts right now. From baking to knitting, gardening to jam making – each brings a sense of control over the situation for a while. Cleaning is also something brings that order, that hit of achievement.

There’s a need for home right now in the space you exist – it’s worth noting that doesn’t have to be a ‘four-walled home’ as much as the feel of it right now. Home is a mental state, not a physical space.

This all though needs a note of caution, if you right now can’t do anything that’s totally ok. The key is micro-controls, not to try and control everything. It might be your micro-control is just making sure you eat well. It might be it’s putting the cap on the toothpaste. Whatever it is, that’s personal and valid.

Simply don’t judge

Every single person is going to process the situation differently and that is very ok. Some are able to experience this in privilege and others are just trying to ride through the high waves of this storm and not drown. Every experience truly is personal and we are all at different stages of this. Perhaps, our paths will cross with others as the experience ebbs and flows, but we are on our own route. Our little ship might have a few others onboard it, but even if you are in the same physical space, the experience varies.

The simplest thing and most important thing we can do right now is not judge. Not assume another’s headspace or experience. Approach every situation and interaction with as much empathy as you have right then. It might be at that time you don’t have much, that is also fine, sometimes you have to save up to be kind to yourself. Now is the time for slow reactions, not fast takes. To not shame or compare. A time to remember each human has a different experience and that’s an incredible part of this existence.

The art of playlists

I am a child of the cassette generation; I grew up sharing tapes, crowding around a player to get the best fade, the perfect mix. Titles stuck on with glue or scratched with ink over whiteout. Compiled with hormone visions and a need to express emotions, only music could. Tapes were crafted for moods, for moments in time captured in their fragile reels. My walkman a permanent attachment to my head in all it’s ever reducing forms as the years passed.

Perhaps this is why playlists have always fascinated me. I moved from tapes to CDs – the same care but in the broader space. Then from that moving onto iTunes and curating based on digital tracks foraged or brought with the care of a collector. With all this history and passion for playlists, Spotify is a playground for me. It’s where I get to have limitless options for curating that perfect mix.

I am not alone in this; others have a playlist for every occasion and those that might just come up. Some happen all of a sudden and others grow over the years. Perhaps they are around a genre of music, maybe an experience, it doesn’t matter because they are always a ritual, process of enjoyment.

A playlist to bounce along to:

One to have a moment:

One to just let it go:

Playlists I come back to and curate with the care of a musical bonsai tree. Carefully pruning and growing into the shape, sometimes a form I wasn’t planning at the start. They are a personal art form that has been an expression since tapes and shows no sign of waning no matter what platform.

I also love hearing other’s playlists. They are insights into their souls, captured in lists. Giving and taking emotional currency in the marketplace of playlists is a beauty in itself. Even the ones shared by AI weekly can often open worlds and adventures in sound. Spotify’s discover weekly and release radar take me on journeys I jump with both feet into that deep often strange pool. Playlists indeed are art, and I am here for all their forms.

Annual recharge

I refer to my end of year time off as annual recharge because it’s just that for me. I thought it could be nice to share what for me this process looks like after having just done it again. It does adapt each year but this is the current format for me.

Everyone recharges differently

A recharge for me comes with a process I do every end of the year: clear, prioritise and schedule. I think it’s important to note that not everyone is the same. My ‘turning off’ is doing this process, by doing it I also cope much better with the cognitive load of work. I don’t expect everyone though to find this as soothing as I do.

Clear

  • All subscriptions: this year it saw me cancel Dropbox. I was only really using it for photos so wasn’t worth keeping as moved those to Google Photos and hard drive.
  • Archive the past year: Evernote, Simplenote, Toby, Todoist, Instapaper (clear all of that down).
  • Go through everything own and clear out what I don’t want anymore (or haven’t used for over 6 months). I do this part of the process regularly every season as try and limit items I own.
  • Digitise any paper have. I use Evernote to scan.
  • Go through clothes.
  • The clearing out often ends up in going to a donation centre specifically with clothes.
  • Trade-in any products or games don’t use anymore. This year saw me trading in an old Kindle, external hard drives, numerous USB sticks (fairly sure they are breeding) and 2 games.
  • Remove apps don’t use across all devices.
  • Set up new wallpaper: something cathartic about this and for the first month I set to the theme for the year.
  • Clear down any old tasks into categories.
  • Remove Spotify playlists don’t use and clear out starred/likes. I have a folder of ‘starred’ and move everything out from there into playlists.
  • Inbox properly zero.
  • Audit all domains have. This was a new addition to my process this year.
  • Clear down any draft posts.
  • Check my goals from last year and see if I met them. I do regularly check these along the way but I do one last ‘thanking’ of them as a closeout.

As I clear reflection often happens, which leads me into the next phase.

Prioritise

  • Set a theme of the year. I do this every year and this one is balance. I’ve done a lot of stretching myself last year and now it’s time to bring back the balance both in what I do and how I spend my time.
  • Define what I want to accomplish this year. I set goals for myself. I have the following format:
    • 6 things I want to stop and 6 to start.
    • 6 things I want to learn and 6 to make a habit.
  • Order all tasks into priorities.
  • Setup a new journal: I use GoodNotes for this.
  • Organise all device screens, consider the order of them.

Schedule

  • Outline schedule for the day: I use a calendar just for schedule and set up a personal one apart from one for work.
  • Set up any dates I know for the year ahead: for example travel or holidays.
  • Set up timers for getting up and sleep time.
  • Set new affirmations and checkins in Aloe Bud.
  • Set up a new playlist for the first month, this is usually from starred tracks to boost me into things I forgot I liked.

Form habits when on holiday

Start habits while on break: a key to keeping them if enter the year with the set. A couple of new ones I set up this year:

  • Reading in the morning: for 10 minutes before getting into work.
  • Putting my laptop in the office after 8 pm, so I have to work on an iPad. I can do a lot via iPad so this is more about shifting brain than limiting work I can do.
  • Writing for at least 15 minutes a day.

I realise as said at the start this is quite a process, it is something I do gradually over the two weeks I take off, but it helps me enter the new year mentally clear and supported by having closed out the past one.

Reflections on a year

I used to write every year my reflections on the year like a whole lot of people. It was my bow I tied on the season as I packaged it up and moved into the next. Time passed and I dropped this habit, this year though I feel the need to in a little way close what has been quite a year.

I don’t want to go act by act through what happened this year, instead I want to share some lessons it’s taught me. This is me writing them down as reminders to a future self.

You only have one head so don’t balance too many hats on it

This is a really deep lesson I learnt this year. I am incredibly lucky to not have never had burnout but I think this year was closest I came to it. It’s not something I want to try to achieve and usually have strong practices in place to ensure it doesn’t. In trying to do a lot of things both in work and life, I managed to spend some of this year in a bit of daze. With the ending of one project and move to a more focused role, I can start this New Year defining my boundaries again.

Assuming positive intent is essential

Beyond just assuming positive intent, giving myself time to not just react to any interaction is crucial. It is incredibly easy to just assumption yourself into a corner, but taking time means you can see the human over simply react.

Everyone is a work in progress

This relates a little to the above lesson. Accepting that nobody is set in stone and ‘done’. This both means most are open to change and learning, but also that you can’t be so hard on yourself if you stumble. Giving anyone time to just make mistakes means an opportunity to learn. Apologies exist in language so you can use them if you truly mean them and have learnt from the mistake made.

Goals free you to grow

For a long time I’ve had an awkward acceptance of being someone that felt they could always do better, driven themselves incredibly hard to achieve. This came after spending far too long rejecting I ever had any ambitions of any form. Whilst I still firmly believe in taking life as it flows, I close out the year with probably the clearest professional goals I’ve had in a long time. This is empowering and is already helping me dial out the noise, focus on what really matters to getting me there. I am still open for course changes, but having as a North Star frees me to follow it or take a detour, it’s my choice.

Coaching provides clarity

This year coaching really helped me focus and context a lot that went on. It’s something if you have the opportunity to do I would highly encourage. Through coaching I have come to realise what is important to me and focus on achieving that. I was also able to reflect on my interactions and look to grow.

Passion projects are to be embraced

As the year progressed I stopped working on any of my passion projects. It was probably inevitable due to the pace of the project I was focusing on, yet it meant I wasn’t recharging as much creativity as usual. I grew to miss those things I just did over the things I needed to do.

Meditation is always helping, even if you don’t see it

This year was one where I really focused on meditating every day outside of the meditation I do within my yoga practice. This had a powerful impact on my mental state when I really needed it. I admit I didn’t always do every day, however, those were rare and really noticed, which made me want to experience them even less.

Onward

As the year closes I know in 2019 I will learn more lessons and have others underlined I already knew. The end of this year has been a lot to handle but I close it out knowing there’s a strength to be gained from everything I experience. Sometimes I have to really look deep into that event to find it, but it is there. I am grateful for every single person I got to meet, continue to hang out with and collaborate with this year.

Knitting as meditation

One of the big things I have focused on this year is doing more offline things. As a result I have rediscovered knitting. Whilst this has helped in logging me off its also had an unexpected benefit. I’ve found that by knitting a little at night my brain churns through things and unclogs itself.

I’ve always been convinced where my brain is concerned it is a case of letting me in on the thinking somewhere near the end, than an active thinker. I tend to get stuff swirling around brain and after it does the rounds of my neurons, at some undetermined point it pops up with an actionable. This has its benefits and drawbacks. I tend to most of the time be in a 70% pondering state. Doesn’t help focus and adds to my already natural state of permadistraction.

I’ve experimented with meditation. The most I’ve ever managed to keep up is tied to my yoga practice. I find sitting still akin to torture. Hatha yoga is about as passive as my brain can handle. I’m that fidgety kid at heart, not doing makes me almost have to distract myself even with an itch.

My brain I have come to learn over the years doesn’t like to be rushed. It isn’t fond of on the stop thinking, nor a fan of rapid fire questions. Words and me aren’t always friends when time is poor. As a result my thinking times tend to be on the dawdling side. I’ll get there but be a while before anything worth sharing brews.

For me finding a way of depondering my brain and getting those thoughts out in a timely manner is a great benefit. I don’t want to force myself or rush the process though, that never ends well for me. I’ve discovered for me, knitting is oddly a perfect meditation tool.

When I knit my mind whirls into action. I get wave upon wave of thoughts and this ebbs and flows as things come into focus. Often after knitting I will find I write notes, enter to do tasks or in one shot write a blog post like this.

Perhaps it comes down to both the logging off and the action. This may be why sitting still meditation and me never were a good fit. A few years ago I started using beads on my wrist to calm myself in groups. It works really well, but as a side effect helps me muster my brain a bit in the difficult one on one quick fire times. Knitting is a little like that, I’m doing something so my brain is able to free wheel.

Whatever the reason though, I’m enjoying the ability to sort my thoughts out each day. I’m finding it increases my productivity too. A clogged distracted brain is not so useful. In conjunction with the nightly task list dumping I do, I’m getting more out there than stuck in my head.