Imagine having a prime seat at a major tennis final, your head following the ball back and forth, yet with your brain back at the office mulling over some piece of unfinished business. This fractured state is normal for many entrepreneurs. It’s also why they get stuck at a certain level of success.
If you want your business to grow, you have to take time away from it. I know, this may sound like heresy: “If I leave, everything will fall apart!” Perhaps it feels responsible to always keep some part of your mind on the business, but my experience is the exact opposite: If you’re always on call and never take time to rejuvenate yourself, you become less and less creative and grow increasingly reactive.
One of the first things I teach my coaching clients is the principle of the Free Day—a 24-hour period that contains no work-related thinking, communication or activity. Like exercise, Free Days are something you have to do continually if you really want to excel, and the best entrepreneurs I’ve seen are like Olympic athletes when it comes to taking great Free Days.
You might imagine that taking time away from your business is like hitting the “pause” button on the action. Here’s a different context for thinking about it: You are the most important resource in your business. When you give your brain a chance to recharge and rejuvenate itself, you gain renewed energy and a fresh outlook that allows you to see opportunities and solutions that would never have occurred to you in a reactive, burnt-out frame of mind.
When you leave, your team members get stronger, too, as they get the chance to make decisions, solve problems and take action without constantly turning to you for guidance or approval. Your absence gives them an opportunity to shine.
Will they make mistakes? Probably. But this is how they learn and grow stronger. So it’s important to give them permission to make these mistakes, and to be open about your own, too. What matters is how you capture the lessons in these experiences—which will teach you how to do better the next time.
There’s an exponential benefit to this: As your team’s capability grows, you can achieve more while also experiencing true freedom in your business – freedom from doing the things you don’t want to do, and freedom to do all the things you find most rewarding.
So here are three quick tips for taking successful Free Days:
1. Communicate your intention beforehand.
Book your Free Days in advance, and make them non-negotiable. Let your team members know they’re not to contact you, and let your clientele know who’ll be taking care of them in your absence.
2. Take a true Free Day.
For at least 24 hours, totally disengage from your business. Don’t call the office, don’t check your work email, don’t read any industry-related material. Don’t take work home with you – either in your briefcase or your brain. Devote this time to the other important things in your life.
3. Get your mind and your body in the same place.
Despite the common wish, you really can’t be in two places at once – and the attempt leaves you neither here nor there. Whatever you decide to do on your Free Day, be completely present and trust that you’ll be better off for it. This new habit may be uncomfortable at first, but cultivating it will give you two all-important abilities: to stay constantly creative, and to enjoy your success at every step of the way.
This summer, the top athletes in the world competed in London, but what game will you be playing? Take ownership of that game, and, like those athletes, learn how to make rest and rejuvenation part of your strategy for reaching the peak of your talents.
The entrepreneurs I’ve worked with who’ve mastered the skill of Free Days have a tangible quality about them: The dreadful seriousness lifts, and it feels like they really are playing in every aspect of their lives.
Dan Sullivan is the founder of Strategic Coach, an international organisation for entrepreneurs.