7 Lessons from Taking Time Off as a Creative Founder

taking time off as a creative founder

There’s a chance you designed your business to have more freedom and space in your schedule. To flex your creativity and achieve your ambitions on your terms. After all, having control over your own hours while building a career that compliments your life – versus competing with it – is pretty great. 

When I made the leap into full-time entrepreneurship, I knew I wanted to build a business that aligned with my priorities and values. Not to mention one that could go in whatever direction the military sends us – whether near (Colorado) or far (Germany).  

So what happens when you’re going full speed ahead on your personal career path, only to be met with a situation or season that calls for slowing down?

Because you have the choice to do so. Again, you’re in control! 

Maybe you’re moving or wanting time away to grow and pour into your family.

Or something in your life requires your immediate presence and undivided attention.

Or you’ve been stretching yourself too thin and have reached complete and utter burnout. 

It happens. 

You may not even check any of the boxes above. But the idea of taking time off as a creative founder (aka a sabbatical) intrigues you, which is just as good. Whatever your reason, fair warning: the details I’m about to share have a good chance of swaying you even more towards a welcome pause. 

Lessons from Taking Time Off as a Creative Founder

Before you say, “Tara, taking an extended amount of time off doesn’t seem realistic,” hear me out. I’ve had those thoughts, too. Fears about whether or not my business would crumble the minute I stepped away have kept me up some nights. I’ve probably stressed more than the next person about what would happen when I took a leave of absence.

But after planning my maternity leave in 2021, and navigating two military moves since opening Olive Fox Design, I’ve learned my fair share of sabbatical-taking lessons. And I’d like to share them with you. 

While it may be unknown territory for you right now, it’s 100% possible to confidently slam your computer shut and experience the business sabbatical you deserve — with strategic and intentional planning, of course. 😉 (Would you expect anything less from me?)

Just picture what that kind of white space can offer you. 

As you begin to visualize the possibilities ahead, here are some gentle reminders.

1. Prioritizing yourself and your family isn’t selfish. 

Your business exists because you have a passion to pursue and a deep desire to serve your people. But sometimes, that kind of drive and commitment can lead you to lose sight of the reason(s) why you started your business in the first place: the flexibility. The energy. Alignment with the lifestyle you want to live. 

When and if dread starts to creep into your work, you’re in a perpetual state of stress, you feel uninspired creatively, or you’ve given and given to your clients and you’re realizing there’s not much left for yourself and your loved ones  – it may be a sign that your priorities need to be brought back into focus. AKA, it’s a good time to take a creative sabbatical.

To mentally prepare for time off, I first had to reaffirm that prioritizing myself and my family was anything but selfish. In fact, it’s essential to the longevity of my business – no matter what hurdles or pivots I’ll face down the road. 

While it can be easy to overlook personal needs until our energy is depleted or we’ve pushed ourselves to a state of exhaustion (or even illness), remember this: success doesn’t mean sacrificing our well-being.

I don’t know about you, but I want to wake up feeling invigorated and eager to take on another day. Not constantly overwhelmed. 

Taking purposeful time away can provide the opportunity to cut through the noise, get clear on what you want and need, pour back into yourself and the people you love, and return to the path of a life-centered business.

2. Boundaries are non-negotiable.

Have you ever taken on so many projects back to back that you feel there’s no time to come up for air? Or you’re continually sacrificing time with family and friends during the evenings and weekends to meet deadlines? 

You’re not the only one. 

That’s all the more reason to step away. To get clarity and dial in on your margins. Take time to identify what you want to say yes (or no) to. Define your non-negotiables. This is where my data-driven nature has fun. I like to take inventory and analyze how I’m filling my time. If there’s anything that no longer feels aligned with my goals and priorities (ex. services, deliverables, processes), I give myself permission to let go. 

Also, this relates to your actual sabbatical time. Will you put up an email autoresponder but check your inbox once a week to see how things are going? Will you set aside time to be creative – just because? Or do you want to shut off that part of your brain completely?

Boundaries – all around – will protect your energy so you can still pursue your goals alongside well-deserved breaks.  

3. Communication is key. 

taking time off as a creative founder

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout my entrepreneurial journey is the importance of communication. When I knew the dates we were going to move (well, as much as the military hinted to us), I had to draft plans and lay out the expectations for being away. All while simultaneously upholding my non-negotiable boundaries. That looked like intentional conversations with my family, clients, collaborators, email subscribers, and followers.

Crafting clear and thoughtful communication pieces – from social posts to emails, and everything in between – will manage expectations and continue to support and serve your community while maintaining trust with those you’ve formed relationships with. 

The people who have your best interests at heart will fully understand and appreciate you for taking this time to yourself. We all need it at some point or another! 

4. Support is necessary. 

You’ve probably read James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. There are so many good nuggets to be discovered, but this one has to be my favorite: 

“Surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. You’ll rise together.” 

If you want to take a creative sabbatical or fully incorporate intentional time away into your yearly calendar, find the people who will support and inspire you.

Start by sharing your desire to take a pause with your partner, friend, trusted collaborator, or close family member. Ask them for their thoughts and ideas as you’re navigating the planning process. And invite them to hold you accountable for achieving your goal of putting your true break from work into motion. You can even give them suggestions on how to support you leading up to, during, and after your sabbatical. 

Another idea is to chat with fellow entrepreneurs who have done the same, like my copywriter friend Carrie, who wrote about her experience here. As you can see, sabbaticals are not uncommon. Don’t be afraid to invite those within your industry into a conversation about what time away can look like. You may discover new practices to implement for yourself or a newfound friend to confide in along the way. 

You’re also always welcome to pop into my inbox with questions on where to start. I’ll be there rooting for you! 

5. Exploring your surroundings is good for the soul. 

taking time off as a creative founder

Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated or uninspired, I turn to nature. There’s something about spending time outdoors that refuels creativity, lowers stress, and offers restoration. 

A chance to take a deep breath.

Hiking’s my thing. What’s yours? 

No matter your “outside of the office” activity of choice, there’s something to be said about traveling or simply exploring your neighborhood surroundings. So be sure to pencil in some time to do that during your sabbatical. 

When you do, there’s a good chance you’ll find that inviting that change of scenery reignited your sense of purpose and provided you with fresh perspectives. 

6. The work will be there when you return. 

One of the biggest mindset shifts I had to overcome was worrying that opportunities would disappear once the “out of office” message went up. And I’d fall behind. But as it turned out, the projects, emails, conversations – they were all waiting for me. 

As you prepare for a sabbatical (I’ll share my methods on how to plan one below), complete any open tasks you know will cause you anxiety during that period. For everything else, consider pushing it to another month. Quarter. Year. Whatever you desire. 

And if you absolutely have to work or check in with certain people, return to your boundaries and decide how often you’ll log in and communicate. Otherwise, take a *deep breath* and trust – believe – the work will be there when you return. 

7. You are not your business. 

taking time off as a creative founder

Your business is not your identity. Your work doesn’t define who you are. 

Who needs this reminder often? I know I do. 

Your business is a completely separate being. A great one at that. 

But for me, somewhere between launching a business, serving clients, and dedicating myself to my productivity, I clung to the idea that my character – my success – was rooted in my work. And while my business is a significant part of who I am, it doesn’t define my entire self-worth. This lesson allowed me not to overthink (as much) and remember just how important it is to make time for myself. Not just my “business” self. 

Taking intentional breaks can empower you to embrace your individual identity beyond any title you hold or business you own.


How to Take Your Creative Sabbatical 

Are you even more in favor of taking a sabbatical as a creative business owner?

Glad to hear it! 

My job here isn’t quite done, though. Next, it’s time to figure out how you’ll successfully initiate your time away using some simple yet strategic steps I’ve executed over the years. 

These practices allowed me to disconnect from my work, be present with my family while doing it, and keep my business in working condition – without the stress. 

Let’s dig in!

Visualize what you want your creative sabbatical to look like. 

If you’ve been around for a while, you know that direction is one of my core principles. To lead with a high-level strategy that keeps your overall goals in focus.

So, to fully prepare for a creative sabbatical, you need to start with getting clear on your vision. You decide what you want the time away to look like and let go of the rest. Integrate your priorities and non-negotiable boundaries here.

For me, I knew I wanted my most recent time offline to be filled with unhurried mornings with our son, walks into town to scout out local coffee shops, and takeout on the floor of our new home until household goods arrive (even that can be an adventure!). 

To visualize your sabbatical, ask yourself some of these questions: 

  1. What’s the reason for wanting this creative break? 
  2. What will my days away from work look like? How do I want to fill my time?
  3. What do I need to say “no” to in order to protect my time and energy? 
  4. What needs to be accomplished to have that intentional space?  

Get in the right mindset.

Now that you’ve mapped out the basics, address any limiting beliefs holding you back. The last thing you want to feel while you’re logged off is that you don’t deserve a break or that you’re a failure to need one in the first place. 

This is when I like to remind myself that my worth isn’t tied to my business and that there will always be new opportunities. I’m just making space for the best ones to take shape.

So, I invite you to go back to your vision and allow those details to ground you in your why whenever those doubts creep in.  

Budget time + resources. 

Make a list of everything you have to do in your business beforehand. Ideally, this will take place 3-6 months in advance, if you have the capacity to do so.

Do you have upcoming launches, projects, collaborations, or clients already booked on the calendar that will need to be completed? 

Do you consistently write new blog posts, send an email newsletter, or upload weekly podcast episodes? And do you want to keep any of that going? 

Open up a Google Sheet and brain dump everything you can think of, along with projected deadlines – from draft to completion. 

Once you’ve taken inventory of the responsibilities that can’t wait until your return, decide what you need to allocate to each task. Budget your time and resources so your top projects are complete leading up to your absence. 

Maybe this looks like hiring someone to write your website’s monthly blog post for the next quarter (one less thing to worry about!). Or delegating your inbox and all social media content to a VA. 

This is the space where you need to be very realistic with your time and money. You don’t want to overload yourself or over-commit before there’s even a chance to enjoy your leave. 

Make a plan.

Once you’ve trimmed down your to-do list and named your focus projects, use reverse-engineering to create a timeline of everything to be carried out. This will be your roadmap of sorts for completing your tasks. 

If you’re a service provider like me, start by informing your clients of your absence. Remember, communication is key! Ensure they know when you are and are not available if they need to reach you, and any information relevant to their project. 

Decide how you want to continue delivering any content to your audience. Automation is your friend. Autoresponder emails like your “Out of Office” (OOO) message and welcome email sequences are great tools to use if you want to keep things running smoothly – even while you’re out. This way, any new person who opts in or sends a message is still supported and served.

Another way to stay consistent while signed off is to pre-schedule and automate social media posts. Make it easy by batching and scheduling your Instagram posts using Planoly.

Lastly, be sure to tie up any loose ends. Give yourself enough time to check in with any of your systems, answer questions, and refine any content scheduled to go out. 

Ease back into your work. 

Before you confidently log off, ask yourself how you want to ease back into your work. To be honest, wrenches can be thrown into the best of plans. For example, sometimes, I have no clue how long I’ll need to get settled and back into the swing of things post-military move.  

That’s why it’s paramount to provide room for flexibility when considering jumping back into work. 

Assess what obligations you want to return to in the first month you’re back and where you might want more bandwidth. For example, leave your OOO message up a few days, a week even, after your return. Be honest and let people know you’re easing back into things and designating a particular day of the week to respond to non-urgent requests. Or, if most of your inbox inquiries are related to booking a discovery call, include a link to your limited availability calendar in the message. 

Remember, this is your creative sabbatical, and you get to decide how you want to make your comeback (and what you want to return to!). 

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As you can see, preparing for taking time off as a creative founder (aka a creative sabbatical) requires strategic planning. While it may not be the easiest task, committing to it – for yourself – is absolutely worth it. 

Take these lessons, practices, and tools to design a customized plan that works for you and the respite you crave. Oh, and don’t worry about it being perfect. Easier said than done, I know. But I challenge you to center the experience on gathering insights into your own journey and how you want to show up in your business post-refresh and ready to hit the ground running. 

Here’s to building a brand and business that doesn’t require you to work on and in it every minute. 

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Inside The Article

Hi! I’m Tara

Your Creative Advisor

There’s so much visual noise out there. And I believe the way through it is to be smarter, not louder. At Olive Fox, I lean heavily into my analytical nature and creative core to bring you intentional branding guided by in-depth strategy. Yes, I used to think being a certified public accountant was the career for me. Turns out it wasn’t. But design definitely is.

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