Resilient time management in research

How do I deal with uncertainty and setbacks? Why should I plan if I have to constantly change my plan during implementation? How do I manage to work so efficiently that I don’t keep falling behind schedule?


I am often asked questions like these in my workshops on time management. It is easier to answer these questions if we look at the concept of resilience.

Resilience describes the ability to deal with problems in a healthy way. People and organisations face changes, challenges and setbacks. If they allow themselves to be touched by crisis, come to terms with it and are then able to work as before, or even better: stronger, they have demonstrated resilience. The Bamboo Principle ® according to Ella Gabriele Amann describes it like this: Resilient people may well experience the storms of life as a defeat, just as the bamboo is crushed in a tropical storm. But just as the bamboo stands up again and continues to grow vigorously, resilient people also stand up again and develop.

Resilient persons can react flexibly from an inner sense of security. Resilient people have stable roots and are flexible at the same time. They can use their inner compass to react flexibly to challenges.

Resilience in time management

Research is complex. Different task packages and often also the working hours and goals of different employees need to be coordinated. Planning helps to maintain an overview. Planning means to take a step back and analyse: What have we already achieved? What were the results? What does that mean for our next steps?

The Resilience Circle Training according to the Bamboo Principle ® distinguishes eight areas of competence that characterise resilient people and organisations. They can serve as a guideline for resilient time management. I would like to emphasise three areas of competence that contain particularly important learning tasks for people in scientific research.

Acceptance & Reality Orientation

What standard of performance can I maintain in the long term? How much working time should I plan with? How can I make realistic plans?

These questions are relatively easy to answer empirically. Most people can do about five hours of mentally demanding work a day. You need regular breaks to regenerate: During the working day, during the week, during the year. The body sets natural limits. We would do well to know and accept our limits. People tend to hope that on the day their plans are realised, they will be superheroes who have thought of all the tasks, are highly efficient and have perfectly estimated how much time they need for their tasks. This is rarely the case. It is generally recommended to plan for only 60% of the time. Because new tasks will appear and we underestimate the duration of tasks. Many people are disappointed by planning because they find it difficult to accept their own limitations and the reality of working.

Being resilient means having realistic expectations of yourself and other people and recognising overload in good time. If this does not happen, flexibility is lost in the moment of crisis. There are fewer options available and we are limited in our creativity. To plan realistically means to accept that experiments can go wrong and that overworked people cannot concentrate on their work.

Future Focus, Visions & Values

Planning takes so much time. It’s better to just get started.

Many people feel so rushed by the work at hand that they don’t dare to take the step out of their daily routine and review and adjust their plans. In combination with the fact that research results cannot be predicted, they consider longer-term planning to be superfluous.

Investing time in planning is resilient because planning prevents crises and because people who plan recognise difficulties earlier. If you regularly analyse how a project is running and whether it is still on track, you will notice earlier that it is necessary to change course. To achieve this, it is important to set clear goals and develop a vision. Resilient people know their priorities and can apply them to their work. Their everyday life is not determined by deadlines because they manage to re-align their activities with their goals.

Self-Regulation & Self-Ccare

I have no time for breaks. How can I manage to work more?

Academic careers are highly competitive. Academica tends to value overwork. Work is prioritised over all other areas of life and takes up a great deal of time. Boundaries to other areas of life become blurred. Early career researchers in particular adopt this attitude in order to increase their chances of professional success. When they realise that such behaviour is harms them, many seek salvation in self-optimisation: Is there a way I can do more?

Those who deal with time in a resilient way value their physical and mental resources. Resilient people pay attention to their thoughts, feelings, behaviour and physical signs. Stress is perfectly fine from time to time, you can even enjoy it. But the balance is important: I should soon return from the stress zone to the area in which I am creative, flexible and adaptable. It is important to take signs of stress seriously and to plan for recovery. In the long term, this is also the key to greater productivity.

Dare to be more resilient in research

How can these ideas be applied in everyday life? Three ideas can be derived from the three areas of expertise.

  1. Find out how much free time (excluding meetings) you have in the week. Plan tasks for 50-60% of this time.
  2. Once a month, take a few hours to formulate clear goals. Reflect on the progress you have made in the past month. Schedule time to work on your goals in the next month.
  3. Listen to yourself on the way to work: how stressed or joyful am I today? Decide how many breaks you need today.

Photo top: Christiane Kasack; Photo centre: Chuttersnap on Unsplash

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Dr. Christiane Kasack

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