What if you could get better results by taking time off work? Dan Sullivan explains how much free days matter for business leaders.
Since running your own business, could you ever go back to being an employee? Most entrepreneurs I meet consider themselves “unemployable”. They’re just too used to the freedom to ever go back to working for anyone else. And yet, many business owners don’t really experience all the freedom they could.
On the contrary, they stay at the office late into the evening, go in on the weekend “just for a few hours”, or take calls and messages while out with their family. In the end, they’ve simply given themselves a job, and as their own boss, they’re much more demanding of themselves than they ever would—or could—be of a staff member.
At the outset of starting a business, when there’s much to do and limited resources, these demands might be unavoidable. But as your business grows, this kind of work life becomes nothing more than a bad habit. What causes entrepreneurs to fall into this trap?
The challenge is that many entrepreneurs are still operating within a bureaucratic notion of time that belongs to the Industrial Revolution. Every day is the same, and they expect uniform, predictable, repeatable results from themselves. It’s a model more suited to producing standardised objects than doing creative work.
Previous generations at least had the idea of keeping one day “off limits” from work, but now there’s the added challenge of being constantly available around the clock for technological disruptions, which blurs the distinction between personal time and business time.
The longer this goes on, the more you may feel that your business has you. Your health can pay a price and your personal relationships can become strained, too.
To make the picture even more confusing, business is often fun: It’s rewarding to see your ideas become real, to make noticeable progress and reap the rewards of your efforts. The very phrase “time off” carries with it the implication of time being wasted.
I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about “work-life balance”. I agree with the idea that it’s essential to strike a healthy equilibrium between your business and personal lives. ButI’d go even further: in my experience, these two aspects of life actually reinforce and strengthen each other. If you want to be a great entrepreneur, you need to be really good at rejuvenating yourself. That’s why the foundation of the time system I teach my clients is the Free Day™.
A Free Day is a 24-hour period that contains no work-related activity—no number-crunching, no phone calls or emails, no reading industry journals. Not even conversations about work. If you’re somewhere else and you’re still thinking about the office, you might as well be at the office.
The purpose of a Free Day is to recharge your physical, mental, and emotional capabilities. The concept acknowledges that you can’t operate at 100 per cent indefinitely.
Every day is not the same. If you know you’re going to be heading into a period of high activity at work, take Free Days™ beforehand rather than ploughing through until you’re exhausted, reactive, and have no creative energy left. By treating Free Days as a precondition for productivity rather than as a reward, you can maintain a consistently high level of energy, creativity, and focus when you’re at work.
Free Days also give you time to cultivate the other dimensions of your life. Instead of waiting until retirement to enjoy your success, to expand your awareness and enjoyment of the world, you really can have it all now. All you need is the will to start exercising your entrepreneurial freedom.
And here’s another benefit of taking Free Days: your team will grow stronger. Andrew Burcher is a participant in the Strategic Coach® programme in London. He discovered this principle quite literally by accident: the first time he took a Free Day, he had a motorcycle accident and broke his right leg, which forced him to spend a lot of time away from the office. As he says:
“I assumed that my business would fail. I must be indispensable, surely. Not so: the members of my team, because of the tools that we’d given them in that six-month period beforehand, were fantastic. Now I’m able to run the business without a desk, with key members of the team doing key jobs, and I’ve got an enormous amount of enthusiasm for the job.”
As the old joke goes, “How can I miss you if you never go away?”
At first you might think your business or your industry is an exception, but in nearly 40 years of coaching entrepreneurs, I’ve seen this concept work across the board, and I’ve witnessed some truly moving moments, such as entrepreneurs rediscovering their families, or multiplying their capabilities, time, and money to the extent that they could realise their biggest, most meaningful lifetime goals.
How do you start? Take one Free Day. Book it beforehand and clearly communicate its importance to others. The right people will understand that you want to be fully present wherever you are, so that when you’re in front of your clients and customers, they will have your full attention. And when you’re with your spouse, family, or friends, you can be wholly available for them, too.
Another Strategic Coach® participant who’s a litigator will give out his business card when asked, but adds this warning: “Here's my personal number. But if you ever abuse it, you're dropped as a client.” Free Days are that important. The success of your entrepreneurial career truly depends on your ability to take them.
Oh, and did I mention that they’re fun? When you give yourself time that’s separate and free from work-related activities and obligations, you’ll find yourself approaching both your work and life with a vastly increased sense of energy, creativity, and optimism.