If you are tired of being besieged by endless paparazzi shots of Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolie on movie sets or jetting off with their kids to exotic locales for vacations, maybe you should pay more attention -- because their lifestyle could be yours.
Movie stars and entertainers have a life of work and leisure that seems far more demarcated and balanced than the rest of us. It's not just the money they have. It's the framework they operate in. And Dan Sullivan says it could be yours, if you happen to be an entrepreneur and are willing to forsake your present operating style.
I have heard of Mr. Sullivan over the years, usually from financial advisors heaping praise on him for helping them unlock more days free from work than they ever thought imaginable while their income didn't dip but soared. He bills himself as The Strategic Coach, and I instinctively recoiled at such a bold marketing claim, but there was no denying the enthusiasm and results his acolytes were touting.
A farm boy from Ohio, he studied drama for two years, ran entertainment programs for the U.S. military in South Korea after being drafted during the Vietnam War era, and then returned to university at St. John's College, a unique institution where students simply study the Great Books. A chance meeting in 1971 with the creative director of Baker Lovick when he was visiting a friend in Toronto led to a job offer with the BBDO Canada advertising house. The big corporate accounts were already assigned, so he was handed some smaller ones, and he found it more interesting to have long conversations with the entrepreneurs who were his clients than to develop their advertising. So in 1974 he became an entrepreneur himself, leaving BBDO to work as a coach with owner-operators of their own business.
In trying to organize himself, he developed the framework he now shares with others. It's based on the schedules of actors, sports stars, and other entertainers, whose life is divided into show time, the short but intense moments of performance; rehearsal time, when they prepare for their performance; and free time, when, voluntarily or not, they don't work and can refresh.
That's very different from the rest of us, who operate on a model based on the Industrial Revolution's need for factory workers to appear at scheduled times in the office to keep the machines humming. Entrepreneurs, of course, often work gargantuan hours, extending beyond the normal work week of the rest of us, with early mornings, late evenings, and full work weekends.
But Mr. Sullivan insists they change when they sign up for his programs. He asks them to take the 365 days in a year, and divide it, like entertainers, in three:
· Focus Days: These are ultimate performance days, when they do the work that brings in the bacon. As part of his system, they must determine their own "unique ability," what it is they are best at, and divest other work to colleagues, hired because their unique ability is to do that work. For a financial advisor, a focus day is usually spent with clients, their highest-productivity work. On a focus day, you don't mix in other kinds of work.
· Buffer Days: These are the backstage days, when you prepare – writing reports, answering e-mail, and talking with staff. You can relax a bit, because the hunt isn't on these days. You can also bunch all your administrative trivia, just as on focus days you bundle together your moneymaking activities. He insists that leads you to be more effective – each hour that you continue to do something, within reason, results in higher productivity as you get in the groove.
· Free Days: No work. That means exactly what he says: No work. You can't call your office. Your office can't call you. No peeking at e-mail. No web browsing, unless it's purely for pleasure.
Many owner-operators fight the system, of course, even though they come to him in pain, knowing they need help. "For a lot of them, it's very hard," he notes. Particularly free days. But he asks them to be modest, with only five to 10 in the first 90 days. By three years, they will be up to 100 and in 10 years usually 120 – 150 free days a year.
That's actually less than many factory workers, of course, but it's a long way from where they came. "Families love it. Spouse and children are the biggest supporters of the program," he says. He has a collection of letters and cards from children, thanking him for giving them their father back.
And the entrepreneurs don't lose any money. In fact, while they increase their free time – totally free time – he says their income goes up because they focus more, create a system of specialization in their office, and have greater energy from those rejuvenation days.
But if you work in a large corporation, don't bother to call Mr. Sullivan, because you aren't in control of your time so you can't apply the system. Even if you're the CEO. He recently turned one down, pointing out the CEO couldn't even commit to be at the four one-day sessions that are the centerpiece of the coaching program. "If an emergency comes up, you have to respond to it and can't be at my meeting. You don't control your time," Mr. Sullivan said.
But if you do control your time, you can follow Brad and Angelina into a new way of life.