The Magic of the Free Day

A Free Day™ is a 24-hour period free from all work-related thinking, communication, and activity. In all my years of coaching entrepreneurs, Free Days™ are the change they most often thank me for helping them make. They help you stay creative at work, keep you physically and mentally healthy, and deepen your relationships with the people in your life who matter most.

Even if you know all this and agree with it, when you’re under pressure or facing unexpected upheaval, you might start thinking of Free Days as a luxury that’s hard to justify. That’s why it’s important to regularly reinforce the Free Day habit, consistently protecting them and taking them, because Free Days are the last thing you should give up in tough times.

When people “fall off the wagon” and begin losing the productivity gains they’ve made, it usually starts with compromising their personal free time. It may start innocuously with, “I’ll just get this one thing done,” then gradually slide into a state of living in a “Reactive Zone” where each new thing becomes even more complicated because they have no new energy for dealing with it.

The flip side of this experience is using Free Days to make sure as much of your work time as possible is spent in the “Creative Zone” where things seem easier, your relationships are more enjoyable and helpful, you’ve got lots of new ideas, your actions are effective, and you’re doing all this without creating new messes.

The three biggest obstacles to taking Free Days are panic, guilt, and confusion:

  • Panic: “I’ll take Free Days when this is all over.”
  • Guilt: “How can I take a vacation when my team has to work?”
  • Confusion: “What will I do if I’m not at work?”

Let’s look at each of these three:

“I’ll take Free Days when this is all over.”

Of course, it’s never over – there’s always something you could be doing for your business. The most successful entrepreneurs, however, evolve out of being “Rugged Individuals” who do everything themselves, and learn to delegate, empower others, and focus on doing what they do best.

These skills become even more important when emergencies happen. Besides, when you go too long without taking Free Days, everything starts to seem like an emergency. Driving this feeling of panic is the notion that, should you step away, there would be a complete catastrophe. In our experience, though, stepping back creates simplicity.

“How can I take a vacation when my team has to work?”

By starting your own business and raising it to its current level of success, you’ve taken risks and poured a lot of yourself into the company. Your team members (who get weekends, annual leave, and statutory holidays off) haven’t made this kind of investment, so it’s perfectly appropriate if you’re rewarded differently. And if you really want to be of service to your team members, remember that you’re far more valuable to them when you’re fully rejuvenated and present.

Entrepreneurs ask us, “How can I get my team to work on their own, without having to constantly come to me?” Leave from time to time, that’s how! When you’re not there, your team members get a chance to catch up and to learn how to make decisions and take action independent of you.

“What will I do if I’m not at work?”

This is the biggest obstacle for many entrepreneurs. Work is rewarding–you’re good at it. You get things for being good at it. The rewards in other parts of your life might be less tangible or measurable, and you might not be as good at them. Consistently going back to work–either physically or mentally–can quickly become a habit.

My experience from working with thousands of entrepreneurs is that one-dimensional people are vulnerable to losses in other areas of their life, such as deteriorations in their marriage or health. And paying exclusive attention to work isn’t even a good business strategy, since business ultimately becomes the only thing you know. Creativity always involves an element of novelty.

No matter how much you love your work, there are always other realms in life that can give you opportunities to use your capabilities. And what’s all this success you’re building actually for if not to provide you with a rich life? Free Days are an investment in your future happiness and productivity that you won’t regret.

Strategies for taking great Free Days.

It takes some practice to get the hang of Free Days, and, like diet and exercise, they need to be an active part of your life, not just something you know would be good for you. Luckily, the practice is its own reward!

Here are some strategies that really work:

1) Schedule your Free Days in advance.

As you look over the time ahead, try to schedule Free Days just before periods when you know you’ll need to be your most productive. Think of it this way: one vacation, one breakthrough; two vacations, two breakthroughs; and on and on.

By booking your Free Days in advance, or even putting someone else in charge of your Free Days, you save yourself from having to justify or negotiate them with others–or yourself–at the time.

2) Do what you really want to do.

Don’t make your Free Days just a different set of obligations, spending the whole day doing things for everyone but you. You might be rejuvenated by spending time on your own, or by being surrounded by other people. You may enjoy high-energy activities or quiet time. For some, a natural environment is a soothing break from our technological civilization.

Whatever you choose, it’s important that it’s consistent with who you are and what you need. If you’re planning Free Days with friends or family members, involving them in the planning will ensure that you come up with something everyone enjoys.

If you’re stuck for Free Day ideas, check in with your lifetime goals, and see if there’s anything you can do that will move you closer to them. Or you might want to start small and achieve something you’ve been meaning to get to for a long time.

3) Let your team members help you.

Your team members can see when you’re tired, even if you haven’t noticed yourself falling into that state. When it seems like they’re not understanding you or that they’re just not “getting it,” that’s a sign that you need Free Days–and they have a vested interest in helping you take them! Their results depend on your creativity, for one. And you can be sure they prefer working with the rested and rejuvenated version of you.

4) Train your clientele.

There are two ways you can wean your clients and customers off having constant access to you. First, help them understand that Free Days mean that when they do get to be with you, you will always be fully charged and present with them.

Second, in certain areas, your team members have specific talents that actually enable them to take better care of these clients and customers than you can. So, in presenting this change, you can reassure your clientele that you’re leaving them in the hands of a specialist. If they’re properly introduced to this concept and the transition is smooth, their experience of your business can actually improve:

Getting less of you personally can be an opportunity for them to get more of the value they come to you for.

Do one thing.

If you don’t already have a Free Day strategy in place, just start where you are and do one thing–book a single Free Day, brainstorm about locations or activities for your free time, or have a conversation with your spouse or friends about something you could do together. All that matters is that you do something, however small, to start developing the Free Day habit.

The most successful entrepreneurs manage to achieve a balance between their personal and professional lives. If you consider that balance an important part of your lifetime goals, Free Days can provide a crucial strategic tool for making sure you attain it, and that you enjoy all the freedom your success affords you.

[Ed. Note. Dan Sullivan is the president and co-founder of Strategic Coach®, a global organization that has helped tens of thousands of entrepreneurs grow their businesses exponentially while enjoying an exceptional quality of life. He is the author of more than 30 publications on the subject of entrepreneurship.]

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