Managing Downtime


Days of Grace is an autobiographical work by the late Arthur Ashe, a U.S. tennis player, sports commentator and historian. Ashe died from AIDS at the age of 47, which he contracted as a result of a blood supply mix-up at a hospital lab. He was married and had a young daughter. He had finished writing a huge three-volume set on the history of the African-American athlete starting from the 1650s.

While working to complete Days of Grace and spending time with his wife and daughter, he was able to reflect upon the last few months of his life in a way that most people never do. These were the Days of Grace, when time slowed down and when each day was precious. Ashe said that he became profoundly thankful for each month, then each week and then each day he had left.

A Better Chance

Scheduling days of grace in the context of an effective business performance is not nearly as poignant, but it does serve a real purpose. By slowing down, clearing out the extraneous, sharpening your focus and becoming more in tune, on a higher level, as to what activities need to be handled, you have a better chance of succeeding than you would otherwise.

Contemplate the last time you were asked to tackle any project on your own or within a small group. Someone, probably your boss, was waiting for the results, which you needed to turn in on a deadline. What was your immediate reflexive action? For some people it is to clear the decks. They literally create space on their desks, conference tables or other workplaces.

Give yourself the opportunity to work without disruption. Assemble the resources you need. For the time being, let other pressing issues fall by the wayside. Give the task at hand sharp focus.

Slow Down and Win

Rushing through any task invariably results in downtime, errors and having to do things over again. The total "rush-through" time ends up equalling what it would have taken if you had proceeded more cautiously.

You've heard the old saw about not having enough time to do a job right the first time, yet having to make the time later to fix it. As I discuss in my book, Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped Up Society, one of the great paradoxes of our age is that, often, to flourish in our sped up society, sometimes the first and most critical step is to slow down:

  • to get your bearings,
  • to read the instructions,
  • to reflect, or
  • to rest.

If you have to, read instruction manuals, books, articles, reports or data sheets. Allocate twice the time that you instinctively would to the organization, reading and digestion of such materials.

Before sitting down to read or engage in any other information intake process, surround yourself with the tools that support your ability to capture the essence of what you are reading and apply it in the most judicious manner.

Find the Metaphor

Here is an exercise for whatever you've been asked to handle and whatever desired results are to be achieved: Is there something else in your career, your life or the world you can identify that is somewhat like what you have been assigned?

Has there been a previous project within your organization that you can examine and learn from? Did you work on something in a previous position, come across an article or case study, or know someone who managed a campaign that has some similarities to yours?

Going a step further, are there any processes in nature, politics or relationships that have elements that you can draw upon? Looking for a metaphor is not some esoteric, airy-fairy type of recommendation. After all, people tend to naturally do this anyway. We relate one or more things that we know to what we are presently trying to learn in order to make our learning task easier.

In the early days of computers, and then personal computers, manufacturers and developers used a metaphor of the human brain in both the design and explanation of how computers work. It wasn't a perfect match, but it was sufficient enough to give most people an idea as to what computers could do, how they operated and how to put them to work for you.

Giving yourself time and slack by scheduling days of grace increases the probability of seeing corollaries between what you have been assigned to manage and other things that you have come across in work or in life.

Pad Your Schedule

To the degree practical, give yourself extra time at the start of a new project. This is time not merely for reading, but for thinking, reflecting, scheduling and anticipating critical junctures in the campaign.

Too often, managers are thrown into a situation, often on short notice, and asked to perform miraculous results. Even in such instances, if you can bargain for some extra time up-front, insights, as well as genuine opportunities, emerge that might not have otherwise.

Copyright © Jeff Davidson

About the Author
Jeff Davidson

Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is the internationally recognized expert on work-life balance and holds the registered trademark from the USPTO as the "Work-Life Balance Expert"®. Delivered with passion, Jeff has offered his cutting edge, hands-on strategies for a balanced career and a balanced life to audiences worldwide. He is a five-time state winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration's "media advocate of the year" award. Jeff's breakthrough books and articles have made him a favorite, repeat interview subject of USA Today, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and the Career Weekly of the Wall Street Journal. Jeff can be reached via his web site at

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