stefan_sagmeisterjpg.jpegJust back from TED Global, which was one of the few conferences I’ve attended that actually lived up to its billing. Even for a jaded dude like me, it was quite remarkable. Nearly all the talks were excellent. And Bunko winner Becky Blanton absolutely, totally, positively rocked the house in her 6 minutes of brilliance at TED University.

One of the talks that really stuck with me came from the amazing designer Stefan Sagmeister. He described a typical life timeline: The first 25 or so years are devoted to learning, the next 40 or so to working, and the final 25 to retirement.

Then he asked: Why not cut off 5 years from retirement and intersperse them into your working years?

So every seven years, Sagmeister closes his design shop, tells his clients he won’t be back for a year, and then goes off on a 365-day sabbatical.It sounds costly, I know. But he says the ideas he comes up with during the year “off” are often what provide the income for next seven years.

Cool. If I can swing it, I’d like to give it a try. But I’m going to change the name from “going on sabbatical” to “taking a Sagmeister.”

17 Responses to “Sabbaticals by Sagmeister”

  1. Jim Seybert says:

    There’s tremendous wisdom in this. The sabbatical actually has roots in the Old Testament. The Israelites were instructed to let their fields rest every seven years. This went for 49 years and in the 50th year, all debts were forgiven and wrongs made right.

    I serve on the governing board of an organization and we require our leadership team members to take a sabbatical at the end of their seventh year. They always come back with new perspectives. They often announce plans to leave, which allows us to bring in new ideas.

    Oh and BTW – I echo Daniel’s affirmation of the TED program. Amazing.

  2. BIll Moseley says:

    Tim Ferris, in 4 hour work week, makes the same suggestion. I think it’s a great idea.

  3. As I read all the blog posts and Tweets from TED Global, Sagmeister’s equation for sabbatical frequency was one of the standout ideas for me. It obviously works well for the design disciplines in particular, but more mainstream adoption certainly could follow.

    Progressive-thinking employers will see this as a way to retain the best talent, as well as enhance their organization’s innovation capacity. Maybe others will then be forced to add the option just to compete in the marketplace.

    I wonder if there is any research or if anyone tracks companies/others offering sabbatical benefits?

  4. Tim McCarthy says:

    While I absolutely agree a mandatory sabbatical to recharge the proverbial batteries is ideal for professions such as designers, I believe that the widespread application of sabbaticals isn’t feasible for more information-intensive professionals. The first one that came to my mind was anyone in any computer engineering related field. While artists, designers and other professions that have a greater right-minded concentration will greatly benefit stepping away from their day to day operations, a year unplugged (pun intended) from a constantly evolving industry such as technology will leave the employee behind the industry.

  5. Ryan Taft says:

    Great concept! I enjoy reading all of your books and your blog Dan. I know a lot of people who would definitely enjoy taking a Sagmeister. I think it’s a great idea and I hope more people decide to do it. I know I will. I recently started my own marketing company and it’ll definitely be added to my goals.

    Looking forward to the new book.

    Ryan Taft

  6. Ed Brenegar says:

    Isn’t that what you did when you went to Japan with the family?
    At least, I thought that was a very cool thing to do.

  7. Chris Smith says:

    If you haven’t seen Stefan’s book – Things I have Learned in My Life So Far…buy it…it’s beautiful, though provoking and the cover(s) is/are one of the coolest things ever…emotionally intelligent cover…..

  8. Paul C says:

    Always interesting to read about TED. When do you think TED will release the video of Becky Blanton’s popular address?

  9. Tim McCarthy says:

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention that….really looking forward to the new book!!!!

  10. Peggy says:

    I’m glad I stopped by today – a sabbitical is something I need to work into my current plan. It might not be 365 days, but I bet I can swing 4-6 weeks. I need to chew on this…

    Dan – thanks for this great idea!

  11. Thanks for posting about sabbaticals, Dan. We’re working to ensure sabbaticals are a part of every career progression. Jim Seybert is correct about the Old Testament roots, and academia adopted the concept in the early 1900s, beginning with Harvard; interestingly, the offering was to compete for talent with industry. Sabbaticals aren’t new to the business world – McDonald’s has offered them since the 1960s and Intel since the 1970s. Jeffrey Cufaude asked whether anyone is tracking sabbaticals – we’ve been tracking them for two years now. The trend is growing, and it’s definitely not just for the creative-types. Sabbaticals are popular in technology, law, and accounting. Some accounting firms believe so strongly in the benefits of sabbaticals that they make participation mandatory. Final point – sabbaticals don’t just benefit those who go on break but also those left behind; those doing “work coverage” have tremendous opportunities to step up in their career, by learning new skills, trying out new roles, etc. So companies that offer sabbaticals also benefit from a unique, informal talent development platform.

  12. Dan, this is post brought to mind the 3 life plans:

    1. Linear Life Plan:
    Where education is for the young, work is for the middle-aged, and leisure is for the elderly.

    2. Cyclic Life Plan:
    You educate for a period, and then you work for a period, and then you leisure (re-create) for a period. And the cycle continues throughout life.

    3. The Blended Life Plan:
    You may educate, work, and have leisure all in the same month—for the rest of your life.

    I seem to be living the blended life plan these days…


  13. Dan thanks for this great idea, i’ll add this in my goal

  14. Kirk Horsted says:

    Thanks, Dan, for helping preach the Gospel of Sabbatical. As Mr. Sagmesister suggests, once you try it, you never turn back. The benefits become obvious. The R&R rewards a tired soul while reviving curiosity. And, frankly, chasing a dream offers a fresh challenge and tons of fun. As Ms. Pagano points out, the trend IS growing. After all, people know there’s more to life than hard work; careers are no longer life-long and linear; and compassionate companies understand the value of balance—not to mention recruiting and retention. Mr. Cufaude asks about research. A scholarly, 190-page book by Daniel C. Kramer, “Workplace Sabbaticals: Bonus or Entitlement?” digs into the questions. He not only concludes that they work, but they could be mandated into law.

    I’ll lobby for that. My little creative consultancy (2 Heads) has managed three BreakAways (as we call them) in 19 years—ranging from 69 days to one year. We’ll happily work longer in our later years in exchange for some freedom and adventure now. Take a break. Get away. It may be the best career (and life) move you ever make.

    More? Please visit

  15. Ian McDonald says:

    Wow Dan…I just finished a 4 week sabbatical in July of this year (way too short). My first of many I hope to come. It was like a death in the family for the first three weeks (work decompression). I went through several peaks and deep valleys emotionally. I spent time on how Fear is a human factor that drives many of us to make poor life and career choices. The learning for me was that I have choices in my life – and that conforming to what is expected of me in the workplace doesn’t align with the path I want to follow. I think that raising this issue up is a blessing to those who will read it and DO it. Keep up your good works.


  16. Mike says:

    Professors can do this. Except, they are not on vacation. As part of any full time “tenured” position (rarer as universities have cut full time positions in favor of cheap adjunct hires), you have to apply for a sabbatical (and some don’t get it!). Those that do, have to do research on something which will aid later in their teaching or research for the next 7 years. It is not a vacation. Most sabbaticals only last a semester too. If a Spring sabbatical is taken, add on Winter break and Summer break and it will extend out 7.5 months at most.
    Sabbaticals are a great idea. But what the U.S. really needs are longer yearly vacations for all level of workers. 2 weeks is not enough. I think one month as in other Western democracies, has a similar affect on a smaller timeline scale as a sabbatical. It is also a pressure reliever.

  17. Yanjaa says:

    Yo. Read the “4-hour-workweek”. Sagmeister sounds great and all but that book better, IMHO.

    Liked “Drive” btw. Keep at it!

    /Yanjaa 😀