Why You Should Take All of Your Vacation Days

New York designer Stefan Sagmeister has become famous for his TED Talk about his groundbreaking approach to workflow: Around every seven years, he closes his office and takes an entire year off. We sat down with him to get his perspective on why we should all book those vacation days now.

Where did the idea for your first sabbatical come from?
The impulse for the first sabbatical had many fathers, including an older, prominent designer who visited my studio and brought with him fantastic experiments he self-mockingly called “exit art,” meaning art he’d made as he exited the workforce. I felt like it was such a shame that he only got to do this sort of work at the age of 60. “Exit art” would have a much bigger impact on someone’s work if the concept was interspersed at regular intervals throughout their life. I conducted the first sabbatical year when I was 38, the second at 46 and the third at 54.

What were some of the immediate benefits you noticed?
I could make sure that my work remained a calling and didn’t deteriorate into a mere job. Looking back on our studio’s work from the past 25 years, most of the things that I’m now proud of came out of the thinking done during those sabbaticals.

Why do you think that is? Is it because you’ve switched off?
I have no desire to switch off from work during the sabbaticals. Actually, I tend to work more hours than in a regular year! We just don’t do any client work. I look for something meaningful to design, which during our second sabbatical resulted in The Happy Film. It forced me into doing a whole lot of research and experiments within that field.

Is experimentation the key concept here?
I think so. Ferran Adrià, considered by many to be the best chef in the world, closed El Bulli for six months every year while keeping a full kitchen staff in order to experiment. That’s 50 percent of his time allotted to experimentation, compared to my paltry 12.5 percent.

For those who don’t have the luxury of taking a whole year off, what are some shorter-term measures you’d recommend?
I think the time frame is less important than the commitment you make to spending time doing what you’re truly interested in, and just giving yourself space to try stuff out. Every person whose work I admire incorporates a version of this, whether it’s every afternoon, one day a week or a couple of days every month. I’ve seen almost every version out there conducted in companies big and small. I’ve now talked to dozens of people who took a sabbatical – rich and poor, singles and families. Everyone thought it was among the best things they had ever done in their lives.