For the last twenty years, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with time management, reading nearly everything I can find on the topic. By now, it’s rare that I find something that seems genuinely new. And it’s even rarer still when it’s something new that actually works.
Over the past year, I’ve heard several times about Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach, a business-development program for entrepreneurs. Most of Sullivan’s material seems better suited to solo entrepreneurs, or to entrepreneurs with small companies that grow out of consulting-style practices, like financial advisors or small financial advisory firms. And, frankly, it didn’t much impress me.
However, Sullivan does have a unique time management approach, which he calls the Entrepreneurial Time Management System. (Here’s one of several summaries.)
In short, the system involves breaking your week into three kinds of days: Free days, Focus days and Buffer days.
Free days are just that: days free from work. From midnight to midnight, there’s no business thinking or doing. No checking email, no managing crises, no work at all. While the first step is to make each weekend an inviolate pair of free days, Sullivan himself apparently shoots for 150 free days a year. Which, by my math, means he’s off every weekend, and takes a full week away two out of every three months. On free days, I power down my laptop and leave it in a drawer, turn off email notifications on my phone, and generally try to enjoy life.
Focus days, in turn, are those where you spend at least 80% of your time on things that meaningfully push your business forward. Email and other interruptions are still kept to a minimum, with your time instead in areas of your ‘personal genius’, the things that you do best that make the greatest contribution to your company’s bottom line. If I were running a gym, for example, I might focus on developing new programs, pushing new marketing initiatives, or interacting with clients.
Finally, there are Buffer days – your chance to get current on email and all the myriad small tasks (like accounting or staff training) that otherwise gum up the works and keep you from focusing uninterruptedly on the big-chunk work that really matters. By fire-walling that kind of work on Focus days (which seem to run on ‘maker’ time, and involve long stretches of, well, focus), you can then feel good about getting basically none of that big-picture work done on Buffer days, instead batching and banging through the detritus of your to-do list.
In fact, I’ve actually taken to keeping three different to-do lists, one for each kind of day. Museum exhibit I want to see: free day list. New content I need to develop: focus. Switching health insurance providers, consolidating old tax material files and sorting the contents of the overflowing junk drawer: all buffer.
Currently, I make Monday, Wednesday and Friday Focus days, and Buffer on Tuesday and Thursday. That leaves Saturday and Sunday Free, with the goal of taking at least a long weekend or two built by appending Friday (and potentially even Thursday) Free days a few times a month. (Conversely, a bunch of people seem to Buffer on Monday and Friday, with three Focus days from Tuesday through Thursday; I may shortly try that out.)
I’ve been following the approach for a few months, and have been most impressed thus far. Definitely worth a test run.