A Simple Way to Recharge Your Life

There’s an interesting talk at TED by Stefan Sagmeister titled The Power of Time Off. In the talk, Sagmeister shared his experience of how he takes one full year off every seven years to recharge his creative life. During the sabbatical year, he closes his design company and doesn’t accept any design request. It might seem strange to take one full year for sabbatical, but he argued that it gives him more than what it costs.
There are at least three things he gets from his sabbatical years:

  1. He gets fresh ideas for his creative work. Referring to one sabbatical year of his, he said that all the ideas in the following seven years came out from that one year.
  2. It benefits him financially. Though he didn’t accept any request for one year, the improved quality of his work allowed him to ask for higher prices in the following years. He could eventually make more money than what he lost.
  3. It made his work a calling again. This is my favorite of the three. In the talk, Sagmeister talked about three levels of work: job (when you do your work just for money), career (when you pursue advancement and promotion), and calling (when you do your work simply because it’s fulfilling). Even if your work is something you love to do, the daily routine could make it a job. Sagmeister said that taking a sabbatical year makes his work a calling again.

As you can see, these three things solve three common problems that many people have at work:

  • Lack of creative ideas.
  • Lack of financial improvement.
  • Lack of purpose and fulfillment. This one affects not just your work, but also your life in general.

If you had any of these problems, here is a simple way to recharge your life: take time off. Of course, it doesn’t have to be one full year since most people (including me) can’t afford it without any serious consequences. But taking even short periods of time off is useful. Here’s what I suggest you to do:

  1. Take time off every day. You should set aside time in your day where you can be away from your routine. Cut your communication with the outside world for a while. Use the time to get a sense of clarity of your life and work. Reconnect with your life purpose and look at the big picture of your life. Are you on the right track? Are you doing the right things? You can do this by meditating, praying, walking in the garden, or any way you like. The important thing is that you to reflect on your life with a clear mind. You don’t have to spend much time on it. Half an hour is enough, in my experience. Doing this helps you live your daily life with clarity.
  2. Take a few days off every now and then. During that time, try not to do your routine that might introduce noise into your life. For me that means not connecting to the Internet. Though it’s not necessary, going out of town could be helpful. I can attest from personal experience that such time is really rewarding. I often see my life and work from a new perspective. I can see the forest rather than the trees. This, of course, will happen only if you spend time to reflect on your life and work.

It reminds me of the story of two woodcutters. One of them sawed down the trees all the time without ever sharpening his saw. The other person spent time to sharpen his saw and only then did he saw down the trees. Which one do you think would cut more trees at the end?
Don’t let the busyness of your life lead you to the wrong direction. Allocate time to reconnect with your purpose and calling. Allocate time to see the big picture of your life. Taking time off helps you stay sharp.
Photo by notsogoodphotography


  1. there are two ways i mostly favor in recharging life.
    i immerse myself in sports and only care about sports, do sports, enjoy sports for that moment. this way i clean all the distractions away and totally empty my mind. when i finished the sports, i feel totally refreshed and fully geared up to right jump back in my reality.
    i also like to walk in nature and let my mind wander idly. i play with whatever thought pops into my mind, i welcome the natural flow of illumination from nature. for me, it’s a super relaxing way to gain clarity again on my life.

  2. Very well said. I take a ‘forced break’ every 5-6 yrs because of burn out. There are a lot of skills/interests (which are a strong part of your personality) that go dormant because you are too busy running after the clock. Taking a break not only relaxes you, but also helps you get back in touch with your real self. It is very important to slow down once in a while to enjoy simpler pleasures of life.
    (Take a break! – Blog)

  3. Couldn’t agree more, and it is likely why I change jobs every 3 – 5 years on average. Becoming stale is a crime to the individual and the employer. Have long held the belief that long long long term employees (in the same role) are not always in a corporation’s best interest. It may work for some, but for others I have to believe that they are either milking the system or merely dying in a job rather than living.

  4. This is an interesting concept but it is so needed. Many people will take a week vacation off from work and it’s barely enough to free the mind of the “job” that they’ve become accustomed too. Whether I make money off what I love to do, there are times when money is the drive but when I do it on my own terms it becomes a learning experience for me. Great post, thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Donald,
    I heard about this TED site, but I hadn’t been able to visit it. I liked it.
    Allocate time to reconnect with purpose and calling. This is something I really, really need to do. It is a great advise. But in my case it is a must do!
    People: don’t be like me that wait several months to take a few days off. It is not good for the reasons Donald described, and it is not good for health either.

  6. Great post and such an important point. We can get so caught up in everyday life, that we disconnect from what really matters and what we need to always be focusing on. I think it is helpful to figure out what works for you and find a way to reconnect and recharge. We have to then stay consistently focused on ensuring it happens and prioritizing it in our life. Great post and great suggestions.

  7. Sandy,
    Those are good ideas. I like them πŸ™‚

    There are a lot of skills/interests (which are a strong part of your personality) that go dormant because you are too busy running after the clock.

    I agree. You might overuse some of your skills/interests and underuse some others. Taking a break will help you restore the balance.

    dying in a job rather than living.

    That’s a terrible situation to be in. But I’m afraid that many people live in such a situation.
    Yes, it could be difficult to disconnect from busyness. A bit scary, isn’t it?
    Reconnecting with purpose and calling is something we must all do from time to time. It’s easy to get lost in busyness, at least in my case πŸ™‚

    I think it is helpful to figure out what works for you…

    This is essential because what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you. You should find something that fits your style and preferences.

  8. For those who read the Bible, or who are familiar with the Jewish Torah, this was an ancient principle in Israel commanded by YHWH. The Sabbath is holy, meaning one day of every seven is set aside for rest. Also, the year of Jubilee would be a year when the farms in the land were to remain dormant, unfarmed, so that the nutrients could be replenished. What a beautiful picture. Thanks for sharing this fantastic article!!

  9. I’m a fan of time off … I need my ups and downs. I like when they are called “renewal rituals” and I think everybody needs to know their own best ways to recharge.

  10. Great idea, but needs practice.

  11. Steve,
    You’re right, those are ancient principles there.
    “Renewal rituals”… I like the term too! It sounds much better than “taking time off.”
    Yes, especially because it’s often difficult to unplug our mind from the busyness of life.

  12. I can always tell when I’m in deep need of timeoff. The ideas don’t flow, it is harder to make choices and decisions, and I feel stuck. Even though I know better than to work until I get to this place, I occasionally find myself here again.
    Even getting a full round of sleep helps me tremendously, but I also like to get away from my routine environment.
    Thank you for this reminder to take time off, whatever amount it might be.

  13. Hey Donald,
    I love the concept of taking time off so that your work becomes your calling. I find the same thing happens for many of my goals as well – when I get overwhelmed and take a break, I come back reinvigorated, and with much more intensity than before the break
    Whether it’s a come days, weeks, or months – in the long run I suspect the reflection and increased intensity and passion make up for it
    At least, that’s what I hope – for the months I take off, those are definitely more fun than slogging away when I’m not motivated πŸ˜‰

  14. Flora,

    Even though I know better than to work until I get to this place…

    That’s a good strategy. Preventing is always better than fixing or curing.

    for the months I take off, those are definitely more fun than slogging away when I’m not motivated

    Yes πŸ™‚ And there’s a big, big difference in productivity when you’re motivated. So taking time off is definitely worth it.

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