Taking Time To Task: Your Calendar and Your Second Career
By Seth Cohen
You generally don’t get to be senior management in a global fortune 500 company without being incredibly hard working. I was no exception. When I worked for UBS for example, I managed a large team. One day, HR came to me and asked why my direct reports seemed more stressed than most. This was news to me. A the time, I was focused on our performance — stress levels weren’t high on my list of priorities. It turned out that my team was reticent to schedule PTO. It appeared (to them) that I was working all the time and they felt an unspoken pressure to keep up with my pace.
Perspective vs Reality
Of course, their view of my 24/7 work day was in part illusory. I was traveling for business and working all over the globe. Sometimes the email that came in at midnight was just a function of a different time zone. But still, their perception that I hardly ever turned off was correct. I never stopped worrying about work. And I almost never unplugged. I felt like I was stuck on what I call the “business travelator” — that moving walkway in an airport — and I was being propelled forward and never really able to stop.
My story is not unique. It will sound familiar for most of us who have worked in high-level corporate positions. But when I started Eleven Canterbury, I wanted to do things differently. And as I began to take more control over my schedule, I realized that the practices I put in place were also applicable to the experts who were coming to me and asking for advice on how to embark on a second career.
I turn off the phone and stop checking email every evening now. I don’t check on work until the next morning. I also try to unplug at dinner or anytime I’m with family and friends. It doesn’t always work but it’s important to try. The goal is to turn off your mind to work daily. Turn off the news. Put down your smartphone. Instead, read a book, listen to music and/or just enjoy the moment you are in and the people you are with. The truth is your business will not fail if you disengage for scheduled periods of time every day. Plus, it’s amazing how energizing these small moments of downtime can be.
Don’t Give Your Time To People Who Steal Your Energy
We have a “no energy suckers policy” at Eleven Canterbury. We work with over 1,000 experts and when I meet new candidates for the first time, I don’t only look at their credentials or background, I am also looking for what I call their intangibles including their attitude, their reputation, and their general business presence. I want to work with people I like. I want to work with people who bring energy and enthusiasm to Eleven Canterbury’s table. That is critical for me and for my clients, too. Reducing this stress makes a huge difference in your day — both in terms of emotional well-being and time management. After all, prima donnas, troublemakers, and overtly political people don’t just steal your energy, they steal your time and divert your focus.
Take A Vacation
When you’re in your second career you’re also in control of your vacation schedule. But now, taking vacations is a choice as opposed to when you were at a company and it was a corporate guideline. While that sounds great, some people feel anxious about taking time off because they believe they need to spend every second of their day building their new business. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. Giving yourself time to relax is critical.
I try to schedule two types of vacation — downtime at our beach house and travel. Both give me energy. I’ve been to over 80 countries and I find that traveling is one of the most exciting ways to stay fresh. Whether I’m trekking in Machu Picchu (as shown above) or stopping to see friends in Zurich, traveling gives me a new perspective on global issues, new ideas for my business and even expand my culinary palette. Downtime at the beach house renews me and my business in a different way. It allows me to meet colleagues and business partners in a beautiful setting which inspires creativity and reinforces relationships. Even for something as small as a remote meeting–taking that call outside from the deck can inspire interesting business ideas. And of course, I can choose where I work because I own my schedule.
Owning your own time allows you to be spontaneous. For example, last March, my wife and I went to Ireland. We were in Dublin over St. Patrick’s Day and due to bad weather, we were forced to spend a couple extra days in Ireland. The old Seth would have said, “We have to get back. My business needs me yesterday.” But for the “new Seth” this was a gift. We rented a car and went to Cork. We loved it. And guess what, my business survived.
Control Your Availability
I can be flexible with my time because we have a great team in place. They support our clients when I am not available. There’s a difference between unplugging and disappearing! You still need to keep your business going when you’re off the clock. This means making sure you have reliable coverage and clearly communicating when you want to be contacted. Smartphones allow you to be reached any time anywhere. But that doesn’t mean you should be on call 24/7. In some cases, you may only want people reaching out to you when it is important. You should be very clear to yourself and your team what “important” means. After all, your second career should be about choosing the opportunities that provide you with the most fulfillment. And you don’t want to miss a potential plum engagement when that arises.
It’s Your Business. And Your Life
If you prioritize work over everything in your second career, you will only move from one rat race to another. Most of the experts I meet and who are invited to join my network are not looking to do that. Setting boundaries for when you do and don’t work every day and throughout the year by controlling your calendar sounds simple. It is in theory but sometimes it’s a little harder to practice. But when you step off the “business travelator” you step into a richer, more fulfilling life.
Seth Cohen is the Managing Partner of Eleven Canterbury. He was a member of the Group Managing Board and Head of Group Offshoring at UBS AG.