Philipp had been working at Deloitte for several years, when he received the promotion he had worked so hard for. People around him rejoiced over the success, but his own feeling of accomplishment never followed. So, he decided to take a step back and gain a fresh perspective by taking a six-month break. Today, the decision has changed his approach to both work and personal life.

Philipp Schwörer moved to Denmark from Germany to study at Copenhagen Business School and joined Deloitte Consulting soon after. He quickly realised that he was in the right place, constantly facing complex and exciting challenges that pushed him to look for new ways to solve problems.

Feeling challenged and stressed from time to time was a part of the game for him. But the recent pandemic intensified that feeling by further blurring the lines between work and life:

“We are constantly connected to work with our smartphones, checking e-mails first thing in the morning and last thing before going to bed. At the same time, we are constantly pressured to do things faster and more efficiently. I was chasing goal after goal without being satisfied with my achievements, giving me no time to sit back and question what I was running after. I needed to slow down and disconnect.”

Philipp knew it would take more than a two-week holiday to make sense of how he got stuck in this race with no finish line. He approached his manager and requested a sabbatical, explaining that he needed time to travel, reflect on his career, and check some things off his bucket list.

The sweetness of slowing down

With the out-of-office e-mail written excluding any possibility of being contacted, Philipp and his partner packed their bags and headed out into the unknown in hopes of creating new experiences and time for reflection.

Taking a six-month sabbatical and travelling allowed Philipp to do something he had not done in a very long time: Slowing down. Having an empty to-do list provided the space needed for new ideas to reach the surface and for noticing thoughts he had not heard over the noise of hectic consultant days.

After years of looking for ways to improve efficiency for his clients and himself, his biggest realisation was that sometimes the most efficient thing to do is to take a step back and create time for reflection. It was not until he fully rested that he realised that he was so focused on his work and career that he had neglected his well-being. He learned to appreciate the simplicity of life by taking one step at a time and by not feeling pressured to move at a breakneck pace.

“We need a whole new mindset, away from the traditional perception of success and status, where things like health, relationships and environment are regarded as subordinate. What if, instead of rushing, we slowed down and savoured life? This would help us break free from the linear way of thinking and allow our minds to wander and explore new ideas and possibilities.”

The sabbatical principle

Taking sabbaticals has mostly been associated with young adults exploring the world after finishing their studies. However, Philipp emphasises that adults can benefit just as much from distancing themselves from the everyday.

Philipp is a supporter of how a famous designer Stefan Sagmeister explains a typical life timeline. The first 25 years in a person’s life are devoted to learning, the next 40 to working and the final 25 to retirement. Then he asks: Why not cut off five years from retirement and intersperse them into your working years? That would mean you can take a sabbatical every seven years to allow time for reflection and creativity.

Philipp's sabbatical was a turning point for him allowing him to gain a new perspective on his life and to achieve the balance he wanted:

“Slowing down and creating time for reflection is easy when you are travelling for six months, but I asked myself: Is it possible in our superfast world and demanding jobs? Does being slow mean low efficiency and productivity? No – it is about balance! Slowing down is not about being lazy. Slowing down means taking time for silence, observing, reflection, time for caring and friendships in everyday situations. Would all this destroy the effectiveness of one's work? No, on the contrary, it would strengthen it.”

Balancing work and free time

Based on his experience and reflections, Philipp has gathered a few pieces of advice for balancing work and free time:

  1. Focus on your personal goals and achieve them at a pace that suits you.
  2. Allow time during the day to do nothing. Let your mind slow down and wander wherever it wants.
  3. Take full ownership of your own time and set boundaries to protect it. Get enough sleep – it is vital in slowing down your brain and allowing it to reset.
  4. Take control of your phone, do not allow it to control you. Turn off notifications and put it away so you are not tempted to look at work emails during focus sessions, free time and holidays.

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