Writing by Peter Hilton

My 2023 three-month sabbatical

Three months of things to do instead of applying for a job 2023-08-01 #career

Frank McKenna

  1. 2004 sabbatical
  2. 2014 sabbatical
  3. 2023 sabbatical ←
  4. Sabbatical consultant interview

I started this year by leaving my job, and since my last sabbatical was years ago, I decided to take three months off work. Inevitably, I’ve ended up with plenty of things to keep me busy.

Read a lot of books

I first resolved to catch up on reading, and have made good progress on my unread bookcase. Since the start of the year, I’ve read 42 books: three quarters fiction, and one quarter non-fiction, some long, some short. Reading every day feels more decadent than it should, while choosing a book over television feels more intellectual than it should. Instead, normalising reading a lot, and including plenty of trashy thrillers and nerdy science fiction, has helped me relax.

Home improvements

Builders spent the first two months of this year’s sabbatical on a home improvements project. While I would have preferred to use time off work to travel, I avoided a lot of stress by not having to work amidst power tool noise, dust, rearranged furniture, and an endless stream of consequential decisions to make. Fortunately, the project went better than most IT projects, but its complexity still reminded me about the cost of cognitive load and the value of focus. I also learned to value other people’s expertise.

Company research

I spent my most productive hours researching potential future employers, and quickly found more product start-ups that tick my boxes than I expected. Several sources contributed, such as product directories and investor portfolios, and LinkedIn and their own company websites yielded data for subsequent triage.

My sabbatical has given me time to figure out what kind of product I want to work with, and what kind of company I want to work for. I’ve also had time to follow product releases and social media over a longer period, which gives a richer sense of what companies care about.

Product research

Trying companies’ products reveals the next level of detail, and I wrote reviews of a few of them: Delibr, Qatalog, Collato, and Cycle. I also wrote about n8n, Next Matter, and a collection of other tools’ workflow commoditisation.

It turns out that posting a lot of product feedback in a team’s Slack typically gets you a conversation with the product manager, especially with a niche B2B product. Writing about products, and sharing feedback with their teams contributes to networking.


Product research and travel have introduced me to new people, providing both introductions and the opportunity to meet several start-up founders and product leaders in person. But unlike networking during my 2014 sabbatical in London, which focused on meeting new people, I’ve recently spent more time catching up with people already in my network, for lunch, coffee, or an online chat.

Talking to a lot of people in different parts of the tech industry has updated my understanding of what’s going on this year. While some things never change, the job market fluctuates, and new trends emerge.


Networking has now paid off unexpectedly. One coffee conversation led to a short-term consulting assignment that interrupted my sabbatical after three months, with some product operations work in June and August. At the time of writing, I don’t know if, how, or when my sabbatical will continue. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

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