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How to get more time off without losing productivity

Businessman sitting on a chair on the beach with his hands behind his head.

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A few years ago, Dwayne Bragonier felt he was becoming stale. He wasn't burned out or depressed, but he didn't seem to have the usual zest or ability to come up with pioneering ideas in his field. "I was losing balance," he reflects.

The Mississauga-based chartered accountant, along with a few technical experts and support staff he has hired, offers consulting advice to others in his profession on making the transition to a paperless office – carrying out their audits totally online.

Mr. Bragonier heeded a friend's advice to hook up with Dan Sullivan, who operates The Strategic Coach consultancy for entrepreneurs. Mr. Bragonier went in very cautiously, thinking, "He's too slick, he's too well-refined. I won't get caught up in the guru aspect and follow him slavishly. I'll take some of it and use it."

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In some respects, there isn't a lot to take – just three prime ideas that Mr. Bragonier now firmly embraces. Executives' work lives should be divided into focus days, when they focus solely on the activities that bring in the money; free days, when they do nothing business-related and just rejuvenate; and buffer days, when they deal with the rest of business life.

Two years after cautiously signing on, Mr. Bragonier has seen his revenues double, and he expects in the coming year – his busy season is just starting, and runs to the end of December – it will continue to explode, so that the final tally will be a tripling of business. In retrospect, he realized his practice was poised for growth. But his study with The Strategic Coach gave him the framework to make that happen.

In some ways, it surprises him, because the process he has been asked to follow is common sense. "Dan assisted me in seeing that if I was committed and focused on two aspects of my life – the focus days and free days – the rest will fall in place," he says.

But making the system work is not simple, even if it is common sense and based on three primary actions. His first discovery was that free days were extremely difficult, particularly for a guy with a home office. "For me not to sit down on my system or use my BlackBerry was very difficult. When I did take a break, I felt guilty. I had to force myself not to sit down at the computer," he recalls. The second discovery was that the strategy worked. He learned to take free days – even midweek sometimes – and it seemed to refresh him.

He's nowhere where he should be, however. In January, when we first talked, he thought he could hit 100 days off – less than his employees, he stressed. He failed, in part because his business was booming. But he is committed to taking every statutory holiday off next year, at least one day every week, and is planning a two-week vacation in February – one week has been the norm – with his wife.

His focus days also enabled him to be more productive, and he averages about two a week. He realized he was most effective for his business when noodling around, reading, playing with ideas, and looking for better ways to make his ideas understandable to accountants. And it worked better when he could do that conceptual work for longer periods of uninterrupted time. He also felt less guilty if nothing arose from a session, since he wasn't stealing the time from other more pressing activities, but acting within a system that highlighted this activity.

"This is one of the best investments you can make as an entrepreneur. It provides you with a new framework to live your whole life in," he says.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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