A balancing act: How prioritisation and self-management can boost your career
Alumni / 21 December 2023
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Bachelor in Business Administration Class of 2016
Hendrik is a Frankfurt School alumnus from the Bachelor in Business Administration (BSc) programme, class of 2016. He is currently working for Germany's largest Asset Manager, DWS. As part of their client coverage division, Hendrik heads the Chief Operating Office in their Home Market Region (Germany, Austria & CEE). Additionally, he is a board member of Deutsche Treuinvest Stiftung. Before joining DWS, he worked for The Boston Consulting Group, focusing on international projects in the Financial Services Sector and Consumer Industry. Hendrik is a CFA Charterholder and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Management from ESMT Berlin.

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In today’s working environment, steadily building up your skills and regularly taking on new challenges is more important than ever. You’ll soon find yourself lagging behind if you settle into your comfort zone. At least, that’s the theory, as promulgated in books and lectures – but what does this mean in actual practice? And how do you successfully retain your inner balance?

Is it all really “Top Priority”?

In the fast-moving world of business, you need more than just solid professional qualifications; well-developed soft skills – communication skills plus the ability to work in a team are the most essential. Indeed, these skills appear in almost every job application and CV that ends up on my desk.

But for anyone hoping to successfully step outside their comfort zone and tackle new challenges, other skills may be at least (and perhaps even more) important. And if I were to condense these skills down to a single key dimension, it would be this: the ability to prioritise!

In every role I’ve played in my professional career, I’ve had enough work to keep me busy 24 hours a day. Not so very different from my life as a student, when I had such a pile of literature to read that I could easily have stayed locked in the library for months at a time. In each case, the art lies in setting the right priorities and carefully weighing up how best to apportion your time so it will have the greatest impact.

Here, it is not so much about the method you use – because let’s be clear, 80:20 and other such models are simply buzzwords – as about identifying which tasks you need to deal with as high priorities and which you can safely deprioritise. Sooner or later, managers without this ability will fail.

Strategic consulting as a boot camp for soft skills?

After I completed my BSc in Business Administration at Frankfurt School, I was drawn into the world of strategic consulting. During my time with The Boston Consulting Group, I had the opportunity to focus on precisely this “dimension”. In an environment where tasks must be completed in hours rather than days, time management and prioritisation are critical. Or, to put it more graphically, the better you prioritise, the more sleep you get!

This experience in strategic consulting played a key part in my future career. After moving over to asset management, I found myself facing new challenges. After my first year and again after my second, I was also given challenging opportunities to take on new roles within the company.

Having the courage to change and trust in your own skills

Trust played a vital role in all this. I trust in my own abilities, trust in my (future) line manager, and am curious enough to seize the opportunities I am presented with. Naturally enough, I couldn’t be sure I was making the right decision or taking the best next step.

But what I did know was that I was good at structuring my work, able to prioritise, and curious about new topics. All three elements can help you navigate the “deep end” without drowning – more, they can help you grow in response to new challenges. Initially, you must deal with new situations, colleagues, and tasks. In such situations, being able to prioritise is a priceless skill for keeping multiple balls in the air at once! And if you’re supported by a strong team, you’re in the best possible position to succeed.

Self-management as cornerstone

Over the long term, a successful career requires a well-calibrated work-life balance. And while balance implies a more or less 50:50 split, the exact split is almost irrelevant. In my experience, everyone has a different view of this “balance” – this view may change at different times in your life. This is precisely where the art of self-management – a specific form of prioritisation – comes into play.

I find my inner balance by taking part in long-distance triathlons, an Ironman, for which you need not just physical but also mental discipline. My ability to prioritise has proved invaluable, not only in succeeding in my job but also in allowing me to create enough space for my personal passions, such as triathlon.

At first glance, combining a demanding career with intense training for a demanding sport may seem paradoxical. But precisely, the clear structure and discipline I’ve acquired in my professional life make it easy for me to focus on the key issues at work or when training – while also having the courage to drop specific elements if necessary.

One discipline supports the other, and together, they represent a balanced lifestyle that embraces both professional success and personal fulfilment. For me, it is a triathlon. For others, it is spending time with their children, doing yoga, or travelling. In each case, prioritising is the key to all-round success and enjoyment.

In today’s business world, soft skills are more than a “nice to have” – they’re a key to success. Combined with a willingness to tackle new challenges, plus the courage to step out of one’s comfort zone, they not only open doors to new career opportunities but also enable you to lead a fulfilled life outside the office. Or, in other words, trust yourself to (de)prioritise!