What I’ve learned after taking a four-month sabbatical from work

Colin Wren
7 min readFeb 5, 2023
Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

In October 2022 I started a sabbatical from work. My employer at the time (I’ve since left that job and start a new one next week) had a policy that allowed those with three years of service (I had six) to take up to three months off unpaid, I had hoped to have done this in 2021 but due to project needs I had to push this back to the end of 2022.

I completed the paperwork in January 2022 and planned to invest my sabbatical time in building on the work I was doing at that time on Reciprocal.dev. I had also planned on a month long holiday to Japan in November to mark my girlfriend and I’s 15 year anniversary, these plans fell through due to VISA requirements at the time when I was booking flights so we settled on Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

During 2022 a lot of events happened that shaped the sabbatical; The development on Reciprocal.dev dried up as myself & my co-founder had to park working on it to focus on our day job and I attempted to buy a flat. I ended up pulling out of the purchase of the flat which meant that I started my sabbatical without the financial overhead and I no longer had a product to build.

This left me with a bit of an open plan so I decided to focus my efforts in cleaning up aspects of my life I neglected while I chased the entrepreneurial dream such as my flat, my health and my mental health.

Here’s some things I learned during my time off:

I have ADHD

When the pandemic hit in 2020 I found myself struggling at work, my day job became really demanding and meeting-heavy and I was juggling my day job with building my first app, which led to me being unable to pay attention. A colleague suggested that I talk to my GP about ADHD and in 2021 I finally received a letter saying I was on the NHS waiting list for a diagnosis.

While on my sabbatical I took the time to call the Leeds Adult ADHD Service and asked them if I was likely to be seen during my time off as the holiday I had planned in November would have caused an issue. They told me that they’d only just got to the end of the 2020 referrals so I wasn’t going to be seen for a while, I decided then to research getting a diagnosis done privately.

After some research I decided that the cost was worth being able to know if I had ADHD while I had the time to process it and take the time to decide on how I want to manage it. The turnaround was really quick, I booked the appointment on a Thursday, had the assessment on Monday and during that assessment I was told that I met the criteria for ADHD.

If I’m honest, even with all the free time I’ve had, I don’t think I’ve really processed the diagnosis but I’ve started seeing a therapist and I’ve made a plan to chase up on treatments once I have some more money to fund that.

The importance of an organised environment

Just before the pandemic hit, in a moment of pure clarvoyance I invested in building myself a proper home office with an powered standing desk and a very comfortable chair.

When we suddenly found ourselves indoors for a couple of years I was very prepared but because I decided to use that time to build up businesses outside of work I stopped taking the time to declutter that area frequently. During the pandemic I had bought a number of things that had either replaced something else or became redundant and I just piled it up in the corner of the room.

When I started my sabbatical I worked my way across the flat, ruthlessly donating or selling items that weren’t needed and now the flat is far more energising and feels larger and makes me and my girlfriend happier (which is important as we’ve just renewed our lease for another year).

When I return to work I’ll be setting up a schedule to carry out that decluttering exercise every couple of months to ensure that the flat keeps that energising factor.

Hustle culture is bullshit

I’m no stranger to the ‘hustle’. In my life I’ve had to work both a full time day job and work multiple hours after work to get what I needed. I did this to get myself through university, I did this building an app for a local government department in order to get myself out of debt and in 2020 I decided to do this again to try and make something that would make enough money for me to buy a house.

I had originally planned to spend my sabbatical continuing to ‘hustle’ away but because of having to take time away from working on Reciprocal.dev I had time to reflect on what this entrepreneurial stint had given me. Ultimately it gave me a better perspective on product development and the value that programming and technology has in that process but it didn’t get me anywhere near my goal of buying a house (if anything it took me further away from it) and it negatively impacted my physical and mental health.

During this reflection I came to realise that the ‘hustle’ mentality also robs you of enjoying things in your life. It conditions you to see everything as a potential product or revenue stream and makes it harder to actually experience life events.

Additionally I came to realise that the first two times I ‘hustled’ I was exchanging my labour for something concrete, a degree or a lump of money, but being an ‘entrepreneur’ means exchanging labour for a possibility. I think this works well when you’re in a priveleged position that you can buy the skills you don’t possess, but in order to succeed you need to not only possess the skills to execute your idea but also to market it which requires substantial financing if you’re looking to compete with funded companies like I was.

Going forth I’m not going to ‘hustle’ away, I’m going to work on things that bring me enjoyment and I’m going to build them for me to use. If those things I build happen to be useful for others then that’s a plus.

It’s important to not just collect experiences

With social media and the way it conditions you to see experiences in life as a means of building social capital it’s become hard to take stock of the things that you’ve done.

When decluttering my flat I came across a number of artifacts from my life; Newspaper articles I’d been mentioned in, ID cards from jobs, wristbands from Pokemon Go events I’d been to and tickets from trips I’d taken. These momentos were just sitting there, unorganised and hard to locate and I realised that I’ve just been experiencing things and never really taking the time to document these in a way outside of a couple of pictures on Twitter.

Given how temporal and algorithmicly driven sites such as Twitter and Facebook are they just aren’t a good way to celebrate your experiences, they sell you on the idea that they are but they condition you to have more experiences but not to experience more.

I’m currently working through building a scrapbook of my experiences as this medium allows me to create pages that celebrate the things that I have momentos for and I can print out pictures to incorporate into these.

How I’ll make the most out of post-sabbatical life

I start my new job next week which means I’ll lose some of the freedom I’ve been enjoying but I’m keen to apply the things I’ve learned during my time off.

Wake up at 5am

During my time off my sleeping pattern became really messy, with me becoming essentially nocturnal for a few weeks. I finally broke that cycle by staying up throughout the day and crashing an hour just after dinner which had the positive of me waking up at 5am.

I’ve never been a morning person, preferring to carve out time to do things I care about after working through all the stuff the day throws at me which often meant working 9pm — 2am and spending my day being distracted by what I was going to do in that time.

When I woke up at 5am I came to realise that I could still have the same amount of time to do the things I cared about but because I got these out of the way early I could then spend the rest of the day focusing on the other stuff and not being distracted.

I’d like to form the habit of waking up at 5am so that I can start my new job being able to put my full focus on that new role.

Take time to declutter every three months

In order to keep the energising feel of the flat after I’ve decluttered it I’ll need to keep reviewing what items are needed which means I’ll need to set up a schedule. I think having a review every three months should allow me to remove any clutter before it starts to drain that energy.

Make time for exercise

It seems like an obvious thing but having the freedom to head out on a 3 hour walk on a whim made me realise how little I was exercising while working from home.

My girlfriend and I have formed a habit of shopping in town every day which I’ll be looking to continue and while my new job isn’t too far from home I will be looking to work in the office in order to keep active.

I’m also looking to join a boxing gym as I used to box and enjoyed that.

Work to live

I’m going to limit the time I spend working on side projects to the weekend so that I can spend the week focusing on my day job, exercising and socialising.

When I do work on side projects, those side projects will be something that I enjoy and I won’t be working on them with the hope of making money, instead they will be something that helps me or is an artistic expression.



Colin Wren

Currently building reciprocal.dev. Interested in building shared understanding, Automated Testing, Dev practises, Metal, Chiptune. All views my own.