Warning: This post may change your life.
Whoever told you that taking extended breaks is a luxury for the rich and retired – it’s simply not true. In fact, I believe it to be an essential ingredient to happier living.
I’ll admit though, tackling the logistical, financial, and professional challenges that arise from taking three months (or more) of your life back, is easier said than done.
It requires good goal setting, experimenting, as well as a lot of dedication. It's easy to get this stuff wrong, so do continue reading if you're serious about making your getaway happen.
In this post, I detail my personal approach to goal setting. I’m currently applying it daily, in an effort to go on a three-month road trip across the Mediterranean this July, where the plan is to get back into paragliding. If you want follow the story, make sure to like my Facebook page, Playing With Clouds. I'm using it as an adventure diary.
Now onto the good stuff.
Why take a mini-retirement this summer?
Taking extended breaks from work and from your usual day to day hustle, contrary to what many believe, is an admirable achievement. These experiences get you doing something different, allow you to reconnect with your core values more easily, and give you space to discover. Together these act as a catalyst for personal development.
Mini-retirements have allowed me to explore new interests and build something of a “career”. If I hadn’t given myself the time, I doubt I would have been able to leave my past jobs so easily, and it’s through quitting those jobs that I now do something I’m very passionate about.
Here’s an example of the type of career change that I’m talking about – taken directly from my LinkedIn.
Still not convinced? Here’s another way of looking at it. Lets imagine the scenario where, for whatever reason, you could never retire. How would you organize your life differently? Exactly. Saving the “good-life” until “retirement” is risky business and a waste of perfectly good health.
But why this summer? Why so soon?
Short deadlines require immediate action, and immediate action builds momentum. Shorter timeframes also make goal achievement easier to visualize, which will motivate you through the challenges along the way.
Understanding goal setting
If I could give you one piece of advice when crafting goals, it would be this – don’t choose money as the goal. In my experience whenever I, or others, have set a financial objective as a goal, without a clear reason for wanting the money, the result has always been the same. Lack of motivation. Inaction. Zero progress.
Instead, it’s better to set a goal that excites you just by thinking about it. For me the idea of paragliding in some of the best flying sites across the Mediterranean, all summer long, is enough to keep me awake at night.
To set a goal that will keep you moving forward and motivate you during the hardships, finish these three sentences.
If successful, in 3 months I will;
Define your target monthly income (TMI) Now that you have a strong reason to go on your mini-retirement, it’s time to calculate how much that experience will cost, and then work out the TMI that you’ll need in order to make it happen. Why is this important? For two reasons.
 Cash flow holds you accountable. It’s very rare that I meet someone who sets a goal and game plan, and then executes that plan without making a major change in strategy along the way – the world is an uncertain place, and we are deceptively good at convincing ourselves that we’re making progress when we’re really just running around in circles. You will need a metric to help measure if you are truly making progress or not. I found that income is usually the deciding factor for making most people’s mini-retirements happen, so I suggest using it as your measure of progress.
 Cash flow keeps you motivated. This is best illustrated through a recent hiking trip I went on. After making it half way up the mountain and not being able to see the peak getting any closer, I almost gave up for the day. Remembering that my adventure watch had an altimeter, I decided to break the hike into smaller, manageable, 100m climbs. Being able to see the progress just by looking at my watch, despite the peak not looking like it was getting closer, was extremely motivating. It provided positive feedback every time I climbed a few metres. Just as the watch and increasing altitude kept me motivated, use your bank balance and cash flow in the same way.
Getting the right shit done: theory of constraints & domino effect
Developing the right focus is hard. It’s too easy to work on the easiest, but less rewarding challenges first. Don’t fall into this trap! Instead, spend time choosing what to work on more wisely – it will accelerate your progress in the long run.
Here are the two theories that I personally find very helpful when choosing what problems to work on.
Theory of constraints recognises that goal achievement is usually limited by a very small number of constraints. This theory provides a focusing process as a tool to help effective goal setters identify the one constraint that is preventing them from making progress.
Domino effect is when you use the resulted outcome (momentum, resources, etc) from one event (falling domino), to trigger another. Once you have broken down your goals into objectives and into subsequent actionable to-do lists, applying domino effect is about asking the question, what action can I take that will have the biggest impact on the other things on my to-do list.
By working on that one thing that’s holding you back from achieving the next big milestone, or that one thing that will have the biggest impact on your other objectives, you can be more confident that you're focusing on the right challenges.
Assuming that your getaway pivots on having enough money, here are five questions to help you identify the first thing to work on:
- How much do you need to earn a month to make your trip happen?
- How much are you currently making?
- How could you earn the rest with the resources (skills, assets, knowledge, network) you currently have? (name 5)
- What is the one thing that can generate the most income for you right now?
- What is the one thing that’s stopping you from generating that income?
How to create effective todo lists and monitor your performance
Here is where the rubber really meets the road – taking action. Unfortunately, it’s also very easy to fuck this up and completely lose steam, so please pay attention. Personally, I use a whiteboard for this because I can hang it next to my work desk which means I’m constantly being reminded of where my focus should be. You can always use a computer of course, but make sure that it’s something you look at throughout the day.
There’s two parts to this exercise:
- Cash flow countdown
- Time based to do lists
Here’s how they will both help you kick ass.
The cash flow countdown is a series of boxes where you will display this month’s financial objective, your progress, and the days left. This helps you to more easily see how well you are doing, and if you’re prioritizing correctly.
The second part of the board is where you write down your monthly objectives, weekly milestones, and probably the most important part, the “today I will do list”. The first two are self explanatory, so I’ll just add a few comments on the last exercise.
The today I will exercise helps you ensure that you don’t multitask, and forces you to work on 1-4 high impact tasks per day – no more. It’s best practice to sit down every evening and write down those 4 things that you’d like to get finished the next day – always ensuring that they will help you nail your weekly milestones, which in turn should be highly aligned with your monthly objectives.
Here’s what my white board looked like at the time of writing this sentence:
Closing words – what are you waiting for?
How often we fantasise about going on a one year sabbatical, taking a few months off to learn a new language, or taking time off to simply discover who we really are, demonstrates that on a fundamental level, we value adventure. Yet despite this thirst for experience, we often confine ourselves to the restrictions of what is commonly referred to as the rat race.
I’m glad that everyday I see more and more people waking up to the disappointing reality of the 9-5, and doing something about it.
To really grow as a person will often require one or more epiphanies. By removing yourself from your day to day routine, you will begin to think differently, which makes reaching an epiphany a lot more likely.
Yes you will face challenges, but as long as you set a mini-retirement as your goal, and actively prioritise it, the rest will take care of itself.
So to end this post with a helpful reminder, if you are serious about taking an extended break this summer, here’s the 4 steps you should take:
- Define your goal – something that gets you excited
- Break it down into smaller objectives – things that need to happen to permit the time away
- Actively focus on working on the right things – those actions that produce the biggest gains
- Tell your boss where to go if he/she forbids you to leave – template resignation email
If I could guarantee your success, how would you want to spend your summer? Let me know in the comments below