Preparing for my sabbatical

flat lay photography of camera, book, and bag

The noun meaning “a year’s absence granted to researchers” (originally one year in seven, to university professors) is from 1934, short for sabbatical year, etc., which was recorded by 1886 (the thing itself is attested from 1880, at Harvard), a term perhaps suggested by the sabbatical year (1590s) in Mosaic law, the seventh year, in which land was to remain untilled and non-foreign debtors and slaves released.

Online Etymology Dictionary

These days a sabbatical is rarely a year but is still used to indicate a time away from work, sometimes paid and sometimes otherwise (and when not, it’s usually referred to as a career break).

I’m fortunate that at Automattic, every 5 years, we get a 3 month, fully-paid sabbatical. And mine is now due.

When to go and what shall I do?

When to go?

Let’s answer this one first.

The countdown to our next one doesn’t start until we complete any outstanding sabbatical, so the incentive is clearly to get us to take it sooner, rather than later. My 5 years was at the end of January and I’ve decided to start my sabbatical at the end of May.

Why May? Because the final 6 weeks of it will overlap with the UK school holidays (well, more specifically the school my youngest daughter and wife go to).

By doing it so that it ends this way, it means I get the maximum of good weather in the UK, as well as making it as early as possible.

What do do?

Time passes quickly when you’re wasting it.

This has been the hardest decision and, you know, I’m still deciding – expect the final time off to look a little different. I’ve also been noting what others have done as well, so I can go back for inspiration.

Finally, money is a thing here that I can’t forget about. Not working doesn’t generate extra money – I don’t lose out, but working at home isn’t costly. So, anything I spend more than I would do during this time is additional – I have to be careful of finances here.

So, right now, here’s my thinking.


One piece of advice from my Lead was to bookend the time with vacation. My plan was to take myself away at the beginning and then have a family holiday, abroad (now that it’s a possibility), at the end.

But the more I thought of the former idea, the more I realised that, actually, travelling alone is not actually something I’d enjoy, despite it sounding like a great idea. I love being on my own, but only in the knowledge that I won’t be for long. What I’m considering instead are…

  • Single day trips. Maybe visit friends further away than I’d normally travel or just those I’ve not seen for a while (old school friends, for example). Maybe I’ll grab some kind of rail card that will last me the 3 months and make it easier to get about.
  • Family. Particularly my eldest daughter – she’s just married, just moved into a new house and her husband is often at work. I’ll maybe look at spending a few days with her (she doesn’t know this yet!)


Boring, yes, but there are jobs that need doing and quite a few that I simply haven’t gotten around to due to scale or just because I couldn’t be bothered.

Naturally, I’m disorganised and have a terrible memory, so I use apps and sites that help me record things I need to do and get everything a bit more organised. For example, I use Todoist to jot down all the jobs that need doing, whether a one-off or regularly. And there are some jobs on there that haven’t moved for, literally, years. Not many, though, so one thing I’d like to do is clear these down. Here’s the tl;dr of these jobs…

  • Lots of small scale decorating. Not rooms, but just ad-hoc pipes and bits of metalwork around the garden.
  • The shed. This has been put off for reasons of “epicness of scale”. I have a large shed and it’s a mess. In there are lots of tools, lots of ways to organise those tools, but they’ve never been paired together. I need to empty the shed, put all the organisation in and then return the contents. This is likely to take me weeks, but it’s something I really want to do. To give you an idea of how ridiculous it is, I recently bought a sealant gun. Nothing odd about that, except for the fact that I think there’s at least 2 or 3 already in the shed – I just couldn’t find them, so I ended up buying another. Sigh.
  • The bottom of the garden. This needs sorting. Thankfully, the shed is here too so I can combine both jobs.


Taking care of yourself should not be the last thing you do after everything and taking care of everyone else.

  • I’m going to get a gym pass and go regularly. It may not be in the gym itself, as I know it will also give me access to the pool and I love swimming (despite not being that good at it).
  • The bike will come out of the shed and I will use it – at the very least, to go to the gym (see above). I’d love to get used to using it regularly.


  • I have a set of electronic drums and have been trying to teach myself from a book. It’s gone… okay. But I’m struggling a bit beyond the basics. Maybe this is a great time to have some intensive drums lessons.
  • I also fancy the idea of a photography course, so I can actually take my DSLR camera off of the automatic settings.

Anything Else

  • Writing a book. Seriously. It’s a popular thing for people during a sabbatical to turn to writing and I may do the same.
  • Cook. Sssh, my wife doesn’t know this yet (as she does the cooking 99% of the time) but I want to spend some time to learn to cook again (I used to 20+ years ago).

What not do to!

And here’s what I won’t do during my sabbatical…

  • Do anything work related. I’ll uninstall work apps from my phone during this time.

Don’t worry about work – it goes on without you.

  • Do anything that’s computer related. And by that, I’m not going to spend my sabbatical writing code, for example, even if it’s not work related. Use of a computer to accomplish another task is fine, but I want to stay away as much as I can.

As a colleague put it better…

Be present for the family like never before. This means, putting the phone down during family time, removing work email/Slack from my devices and being present to hang and play 

Talk to me!

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