Don Draper and the Value of Free Days

From the very first episode I was hooked on Mad Men. I loved the clothes, the sense of style, and the great story lines. Being a Kellogg School of Management alumnus, I definitely have a soft spot for anything regarding marketing. So this show, which revolved around the drama of a marketing agency, was perfect for me in so many ways.

I have been traveling a lot lately and thankfully due to the invention of the DVR, I never have to miss my favorite shows. I was filled with great anticipation and sadness when I sat down during Memorial Day weekend to watch this beloved series wrap up and come to an end. I had planned to watch the last 4 episodes back to back and host my very own Mad Men marathon.

I was not surprised to discover that once again, Don Draper was dropping out. It wasn’t his first time during this series, so I was anxious to see where it would lead this time. The thing about when Don goes MIA he really goes MIA.

Today with technology it is much harder to really truly disconnect from work. It really struck me watching these last few episodes of Mad Men how different our lives are now with the amount of instant access we have twenty four hours a day through all the technology that surrounds us on a daily basis.

As a long time student of the Strategic Coach™ program, I have learned since our very first session the importance of “Free Days™”. The goal of a Free Day is that for a period of twenty four hours you truly and completely disconnect from your work life. Now saying this, understanding this, and putting it into practice are very different things. I have to admit I love my smartphone. I do probably 75% of my job now on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3. I love that thing and I would be lost without it, but the belief is that Free Days are in fact a necessary precondition for periods of high achievement. When you take quality time away from your business, you come back with a new perspective. You find that you’re incredibly creative, and full of fresh ideas and innovations. You quickly find solutions to long-standing problems, realize more efficient ways to run your business, and innovate new client solutions. When you’re tired, you stop creating, taking risks, communicating, and delegating. Taking regular Free Days helps to keep you constantly refreshed, creative, and energized. Smart thinkers are well-rested—they have the brain power to think differently. Free Days make sure the “best you” shows up every day. Most of the time when Don went MIA he spent the first few days sleeping. He would become well rested and then an experience or a conversation would lead to insights that created "ah ha" moments.

I have found that there is another strategic byproduct of taking free days, it helps to grow your team. When I am not around for them to ask for help, it forces them to rely on their best judgement and skill sets. They are forced to have to figure things out and make decisions without me. I normally find that the group has come up with a better and more creative solution than if I had been involved.

I realized in watching the last few episode how great Don was at taking free days throughout the whole series. Obviously it would have been better if he had actually taken them on a more regular basis, but at least he had the self-awareness to know when he really just had to disconnect and get away. What I really envied was that he did it with no regrets, no guilt, and no worries for the agency.

I can honestly say, I took a page out of Don Drapers book as I enjoyed my recent summer vacation in Maui. My goal was to truly disconnect and fully enjoy my free days. Although, I didn't fully disconnect, I got recharged and enjoyed several good books. (Oh how I enjoy reading!) I knew that time away was important to allow my team to develop and I returned with ideas that will grow my company and myself. It may be less exciting than teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony, but it’s enough for me.

How do you plan to spend your free days this summer?