Time out: how to take a step back from work

Dec 18, 2019

3 mins

Time out: how to take a step back from work
Nora Léon

Communications & content manager

It’s 9.30am. Ahmed studies his to-do list. “That’s funny,” he says sarcastically, “only 27 things to do this morning.” He lets out a huge sigh. Behind this sigh lies his big project this month, a communication plan for a product launch that he doesn’t have a single minute to focus on. Also behind this sigh is the stress and the worry that he won’t get it done, and the frustration of not being able to prioritise his important tasks. The more Ahmed thinks about it, the more he feels helpless and on edge. “It’s not going to work out,” the annoying voice in his head tells him over and over again.

Ahmed can’t keep this up, can he? We have all felt overwhelmed or got stuck on something at some point in our careers. That’s usually the moment when you dive in headfirst and take on 12-hour days to do it all. The end result? Work that’s lower quality, and above all, less creative.

Yet when you feel cornered, hurried and discouraged, that’s exactly when you should hit the brakes. Taking a step back means stepping to one side for a while. Here are a few tools to help you get there and come out even more inspired.

Step 1: Cut back and slow down

The objective here is to create a space that allows you to take a step back. Impossible? Not at all, anyone can do it, even a Fortune 500 CEO. Everything depends on deciding how to invest your time at work. So how can you reduce your to-do list?

  • Prioritise. Use the Eisenhower method to choose what is urgent and important, and press pause on everything else for a moment.
  • Delegate. Ask a colleague for help with a time-consuming file to free up some time. You can return the favour another day.
  • Say no. Don’t take on any extra projects or help out a colleague at the last minute, you’re already trying to keep your head above water!

Once you’re feeling less overwhelmed, you must then slow down. Stepping back is all about freeing up time. Don’t they say that boredom sparks creativity? The objective is therefore to use this new-found free time to plan relaxing activities while you find new inspiration and get back into a positive dynamic.

Step 2: Ask for help

Have you ever noticed how often you feel all alone in your negative spiral? Getting the perspective of our peers often stops this negativity because it helps us to see things in a different light. Try the following:

  • Call a team brainstorming session. “Hey Annie, I’m stuck on project XY. Have you got 15 minutes to talk about it?” This simple technique is underused, yet it can yield convincing results.
  • Work in pairs. By bringing a second person in on the project, it can move forward more easily because working in pairs can be motivating. Work with someone on your team, or alternatively, someone from another team who can bring a fresh perspective.
  • Organise inter-team sprints. Agatha is a content manager. She cut back on podcast creation and then asked her editors and colleagues who weren’t content specialists for help. Groups organised around themed discussions brought new creative energy.
  • Have lunch with peers from other companies. We don’t all do the same job the same way everywhere: our counterparts can inspire us. Another useful experience? Shadow them. Watch them work for a few hours to learn their techniques and then add them to your repertoire.
  • Ask your clients questions. When you’re stuck in a rut with a product, what could be better than refocusing on user feedback? For this, a focus group of maybe seven or eight clients can provide constructive feedback that is both useful and motivating.
  • Speak with your mentor. In need of some motivation and sound advice? Someone experienced in their field, who knows you well and respects you, can help to bring some clarity.

Step 3: Feed your creativity

This extra free time can be put to good use to help you feel inspired again. While this is extremely personal, these ideas will set you on the right path.

  • Bet on culture. Some companies offer their employees a budget or discount for the cinema, museums or the theatre—and with good reason. A pool of creativity leaves employees feeling happy and innovative.
  • Get out. A conference organised by an investment fund or a newspaper? A workshop focusing on your line of work held by another company? A Ted Talk that you would like to see? Any excuse is good if it gets your creativity flowing.
  • Read. Be inspired by newspaper or blog articles, a specialist study, a professional guide or literature. Any of these will help your ideas grow.
  • Learn. Perhaps you’re stuck because you lack a necessary skill to bring this project to completion. Sign up for an online course to complete your skillset.

There are many tools available to help you take a step back from your work, but one thing is certain. It takes effort to look at the big picture, reduce your stress levels and make your project more innovative. Use them wisely and you’ll improve your wellbeing at work—and increase your pride in a job well done.

Translated by Kalin Linsberg

Photo: WTTJ

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