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Switching off

Better time management through active downtime

Some interesting headlines have emerged this year. In May, ABB’s successful CEO Joe Hogan resigned, citing personal reasons. In the same month, Peter Voser gave up his post as CEO of the British-Dutch energy corporation Royal Dutch Shell for similar reasons and in July the chairman of Raiffeisen Group, Pierin Vincenz, announced that he will take a two-month break in autumn – a highly unusual move for an executive. Even in small and medium-sized businesses, it’s becoming increasing common to hear about managing directors taking extended breaks or who are at risk of burn-out.

These days, the expectation is that we should always be contactable and it’s easy to get lost in the operational stresses of everyday life. The benefits of modern communication technology and the possibilities presented by mobile working can be used to make day-to-day work more active and less stressful. But often the opposite is true: the boundaries between work and private life are increasingly blurred and more and more employees suffer from stress and permanent fatigue. If this situation becomes on-going, it can have a suffocating effect and cause long-term illnesses, such as stomach ulcers, burn-out, heart attacks, depression and even result in suicide. Although a break may provide temporary relief, if we don’t change our approach to work all that remains is to take radical action, such as abandoning executive responsibility (as described above) or withdrawing into the private sphere – which only very few of us want or are able to do, even if we are prepared to make sacrifices.

This raises the question of whether a more aware approach to time management could make day-to-day work less stressful in order that that the situation does not escalate and require employees to take time out, quit or change careers. Time management refers to the goal-oriented use of work processes to organise yourself and your work environment and make the best possible use of your time. There’s certainly no shortage of books and seminars that provide tips about time management and personal techniques to improve efficiency. The following points can also be found in most time management publications and should help you to make better use of your time:

Make specific plans for each day.

Make realistic estimates about how long each task will take.

Make allowances for the unexpected (about 40% of your day).

Prioritise your tasks.

Take into account your lifestyle and circadian rhythm.

Do whatever is necessary to ensure an ideal start/end to the day.

Establish your own style of working.

Evaluate your achievements at the end of each day.

Make sure you plan at least one thing each day that you look forward to.

Allocate yourself enough breaks and time when you can work without interruptions (‘quiet time’).

The last two points in particular are vital for maintaining a healthy work/life balance. Make sure that even your busiest days always have at least one emotional highpoint. During your ‘quiet time’, try to make sure that no-one can contact you (this includes customers, co-workers and family). Turn off your phone or put it on silent, don’t read or write any emails, close your office door – or even leave the office.

Enter these ‘quiet times’ into your schedule and inform those around you. That’s the only way to really make the most of this relaxing, productive time. ‘Quiet time’ also provides the following benefits:

  • You will have more time for your important, strategic tasks.
  • You will have more time for yourself and your thoughts.
  • You will feel less pressured and be more balanced for the rest of the day.
  • You will increase your productivity and efficiency.
  • You will increase the quality of your work and your general quality of life.

Make ‘quiet time’ a permanent part of your daily routine. Plan fixed breaks in your routine (e.g. lunch, work breaks, ‘quiet time’, power nap, etc.). Take enough time for self-reflection each day. This will help you clear your head, identify what’s most important and escape the stresses of daily life. At least one day a week, you should avoid doing anything work-related. Instead, spend time with your family or friends, or do something that you enjoy and which helps you to unwind. Turn off your mobile phone when you’re on holiday for maximum rest and relaxation. Let people contact you only in absolute emergencies. Don’t bring any documents from the office with you. That way, you won’t be tempted to look at them – and you won’t have a guilty conscience about not looking at them.

Your personal development in terms of time management will be successful only if you combine your motivation, knowledge and ability in order to break your habits. There are three techniques for achieving this:

Change it! 

Change what can be changed. Constantly ask yourself: what can I do to improve this situation? Don’t wait for others to make the first move. You need to use your head and take the initiative.

Leave it!

Leave unsatisfying situations that you are unable to change, even if this may have drastic consequences (e.g. quitting your job, leaving your partner, cutting off contact with certain family members or friends, giving up voluntary positions). 

Love it!

If the first two strategies don’t work due to some internal or external factor, try to make peace with your situation. Put the situation in a positive light and start accepting the way things are. This will help reduce your stress levels.

Practical tip: Before you can change your time management habits, you need an active and positive attitude. Don’t wait for the situation to change by itself. Take action today with small (or big) steps! If you always leave everything to the last minute, you might end up in a situation where only radical measures can help – if indeed a solution can be found at all!

Zu den Autoren:

Patrik Scherler, Dr. oec. HSG, ist Dozent für Betriebswirtschaftslehre an der School of Management and Law (ZHaW) in Winterthur und Inhaber der auf Coaching, Consulting und Connecting spezialisierten BENROX AG mit Sitz in Meilen/Zürich. Er ist Betreuer diverser Unternehmerforen, ERFA-Gruppen und Beiräte und organisiert Strategie- und Positio­nierungs­workshops.

Claudia Frei, dipl. Betriebsökonomin FH ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Zentrum für innovative Didaktik (ZiD) an der der School of Management and Law (ZHaW) in Winterthur und Mitautorin des Buches „Irrtum Zeitmanagement“, welches im Herbst diesen Jahres erscheint.

Verwendete Quellen und weiterführende Literatur:                              

  • Nussbaum, C. (2012). Organisieren Sie noch oder leben Sie schon? Zeitmanagement für kreative Chaoten. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag GmbH.
  • Perslog GmbH (Hrsg.). (2004). Zeitmanagement-Profil. Remchingen: persolog GmbH Verlag für Managementsysteme.
  • Seiwert, L. J. (2013). Zeit ist Leben. Leben ist Zeit. Die Probleme mit der Zeit lösen. o.O: Aristion Verlag.
  • Scherler, P. & Teta, A. (Erscheint im Herbst 2013). Irrtum Zeitmanagement. Zürich: Versus Verlag.