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Overcoming panic, Guilt And Confusion, The Three Biggest Obstacles To Quality 

Why It Can Be Difficult To Give Yourself Free Time.

Many entrepreneurs feel discomfort and guilt when they’re away from work. For some, even the thought of being out of touch with their office is enough to trigger anxiety. Yet real, rejuvenating free time is essential, not only to life balance, but to greater productivity and creativity in your business.

There are many reasons why entrepreneurs find it difficult to take relaxing free time away from their businesses, but most of them come down to one simple principle: justification.

A few commonly held beliefs contribute to the need to justify taking time off. One is the notion that the purpose of life is work. This leads to the attitude that all time spent not working is essentially inferior. Another is the attitude that you need to work to the point of exhaustion and only then do you deserve free time. According to this line of thought, free time is only acceptable when fatigue becomes overwhelming.

Free Time Needs No Justification.

This justification model, in which free time is earned for long, hard work, is particularly seductive for entrepreneurs. However, people who work for long periods without a break inevitably eventually experience diminishing returns to their efforts. These unbroken stretches of work also come at a great cost to one’s quality of life: Relationships suffer, the state of one’s health declines, and enthusiasm drops away because there’s no focus on enjoying the results that have been produced.

People who subscribe to this model tend to be very hard on themselves and others. Anxiety and guilt are often accompanied by a sense of personal deficiency, or falling short of perfectionist goals. For these reasons, the “Justification Model” isn’t useful for anyone whose aim is building a growing business and an enjoyable, sustainable lifestyle. What’s preferable is an achievement-based model, where free time always comes first and is seen as a necessary precondition for high achievement.

The Cycle Of Creativity And Reaction.

A period of rejuvenating free time yields a period of high creativity, which usually lasts for two to three weeks. During this period, a rested mind can creatively respond to virtually any demand. Once this initial energy is expended, the mind shifts into a mechanical zone, in which creativity drops off, but achievement remains at a high level, particularly doing things one has already mastered. New challenges, however, may appear more problematic.

In the “Achievement Model,” once you’ve reached the end of this mechanical period, it’s time to stop working and take another period of free time. To persist in working past this point pushes you into the reactive zone. Here, problems turn into crises, there’s no creativity left to give, and fatigue overshadows every activity. Many entrepreneurs enter the reactive zone early in their careers and never leave. Their lives become about putting out fires and responding to whatever is most urgent in the moment. The demands of their businesses run their lives.

By using free time as a strategic tool in your planning, you can spend less time in the reactive zone. By using free time to maintain a high level of energy and creativity, you can produce better results than if you work all the time. Entrepreneurs often find it challenging to make this mental shift. Many appreciate the idea of free time, but never actually put it into practice for themselves.

Obstacles To Taking Free Time.

When you're focused on work you enjoy and are committed to, and you like the results you see, free time can seem like a non-productive distraction. Even if the idea of continually restoring oneself makes logical sense, emotions can well up that get in the way of taking Free Days™. The three most common types of emotional resistance are panic, guilt, and confusion.


The idea of leaving the office running without them makes some entrepreneurs panic. It’s too reckless to step away from the business. There’s too much to do. Things might fall apart, or an opportunity might slip by.

While stepping away might seem like it would cause a catastrophe, the entrepreneurs we work with continually report that in practice it actually has a simplifying effect. Suddenly it’s easier to make decisions, to see opportunities, and to come up with new ideas and solutions. Yes, your team may make mistakes while you’re away, but they’ll also learn how to deal with them on their own, and truthfully, mistakes happen while you’re there too. Depending on how you approach them, mistakes can be a step backward, or they can provide the raw material for a new, better way of doing things.
By giving your team the freedom and responsibility to deal with whatever comes up while you’re away, you’ll provide them with the opportunity to develop new levels of confidence, problem-solving capability, and independence. These capabilities will benefit you while you’re in the office too. If you wish your team members wouldn’t bother you with small things you think they should be able to deal with on their own, taking more free time may be a solution.
If you feel panic at the thought of leaving the office, try taking time off gradually. Start with just one day where you’re truly out of reach, then build up to longer stretches as your confidence and the capability of your team increases.


Many people attach virtue to hard work and productivity. Spending time that can’t immediately be justified as useful leaves some feeling guilty. Relaxation is robbed of its merit when it's thought of as “time off.” The very phrase suggests that time not working is empty and wasted. It's interesting to note that we don’t use the phrase “time on” — as if somehow this is our normal state of being.

Some entrepreneurs find it difficult to leave their team behind. They have misgivings about enjoying benefits the team members don’t.

You’ve created a certain level of freedom for yourself through the risks you’ve taken to establish your business and make it successful. Those freedoms belong to you, and you can choose to use them or not. But you and your team members are better served by your being fresh, present, confident, and creative in your work. You’ll also be in a better mood, which makes for better communication and relationships.

Your team members will appreciate having the opportunity to get things finished without you around. When you’re in the office, constantly innovating, always giving them ideas and projects that need to be implemented, they’re focused on your needs and can become overwhelmed. Seeing projects and tasks get completed is both satisfying and motivating, and often this can best be done when you’re not there.


Some entrepreneurs don’t know what to do with themselves if they’re not at work. Their identity has actually become so tied into their career that they experience free time as an uncomfortable void — which they escape by going back to work. Work becomes the default activity, reinforced by habit.

Not only do you have the right to take free time, it’s essential to your productivity and your full appreciation of life. Life balance is an art, and it takes some commitment to master it. The journey, though, is its own reward. The more experiences you enjoy outside of work, the broader and more inventive your thinking will be at work, and the richer your whole life will be.

If you don’t know where to begin in planning free time activities, you can try getting someone else to help you. Others are a great source of ideas for favourite free time activities and perfect holiday destinations. Just be sure that whatever you plan allows you to really get away and completely disengage from your business.

Developing The Free Day™ Habit.

The most rejuvenating free time is time taken completely away from your business, mentally and physically. In the Strategic Coach® we use the concept of the Free Day to reinforce this notion. A Free Day is a 24-hour period from midnight to midnight with no phone calls, no homework, no e-mails — no work-related thinking or activity. If you haven’t had a day like this in awhile, taking just one true Free Day is a great start.

There are always unexpected demands on your time, so it’s important not to negotiate free time in the moment. A good way to ensure that your free time is protected is to take it off the board long in advance. For instance, if you book time off at the beginning of the year and instruct whoever does your scheduling to protect that time, there’s less chance of having to justify your plans to yourself or others when the time comes.

Training Your Clients And Customers To Enjoy Better Service.

Just like your team members, your clients and customers might be used to having constant access to you. In certain areas, though, members of your team might be able to look after clients and customers better than you — and this is the best way to present this change: You’re not “passing them off,” but 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.

© 2007 The Strategic Coach
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