Right timing

Every minute counts

As Mark Twain put it, “Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after.” That may be true for some professions – but for others, perfect timing is absolutely crucial. Every minute counts. And in some cases, every second.

(Image: RallyZone)

Matthias Walkner
Motorcycle racer and rally world champion
Salzburg, Austria

As a motocross rider, I find myself in incredibly beautiful, remote places that can't normally be accessed on foot or by car. That, in my view, is what makes my profession so unique. You aren't really aware of the other competitors during races. Instead, the clock is your main opponent, the rival you need to beat. I'm constantly navigating, trying to find the best way through deserts and other places where there are no roads, no signposts and very few landmarks or reference points. During the Dakar Rally I was in sixth position when I came upon a dried-up riverbed. As I understood it, I needed to go straight ahead, across a river that was about 1.3 kilometers wide. But the five riders ahead of me, including an Argentinian familiar with the area, had turned off and taken another route. It soon dawned on me that this was a really important moment in the race. By riding across the river, I might be able to save 20 minutes and maybe even win the event. Alternatively, I might lose ground and drop even further behind. I had to make up my mind quickly – within just a second or two. I "took the plunge" and risked continuing straight ahead. For the next 90 minutes I had no idea whether my gamble would pay off. Intuitively I had the feeling that I had picked the right route. But I had no way of knowing where the other riders were – they could have been way ahead of me, out of sight. Finally, shortly before the finish line in Córdoba, I passed through another dried-out riverbed – and there were no tread or tire marks in sight. At that point I realized I had taken the lead. The happy ending: in 2018 I became the first Austrian to win Dakar in the motorbike category – completing the course in 43 hours, six minutes and one second.

(Image: Private)

Uwe Heinze
Hanover, Germany

Some people might call me a chauffeur, but the term "artiste's aide" would actually be more accurate. Because I shepherd conductors, soloists and other singers from the world of classical music on their tours across Europe. In addition to driving them from place to place, I also field all kinds of minor issues, making sure – for example – that they get what they want to drink and eat. I've had all kinds of celebrities in the back of my limousine, people like Andris Nelsons and Anne-Sophie Mutter. I obviously need to calculate journey times accurately to ensure that my guests arrive at events on time. If I plan too cautiously, we might get to the hotel before the room is available, in which case you end up having to kill time. And if we cut it too fine, we might find the entire ensemble waiting on stage to rehearse or – worse – a packed-out concert hall champing at the bit. That can be stressful, not least as I am always held responsible for arriving on schedule, even if the artiste is late and delays our departure. Independent of the time available, I always drive at the pace my passenger prefers – some like it faster than others. In the 27 years I've been plying the roads, the congestion has gotten worse and worse. As in Paris recently, when there was no way forward and no way back. When things like that happen, I call the tour manager and report the delay. The most important thing is that I maintain my composure. Otherwise the artiste will start getting nervous – and that's definitely a no-go. I have known lots of artistes for years, so they have come to trust me. And they are willing to forgive and forget if we are a few minutes late.

(Image: Private)

Luisa Kalina
Team Leader General Cargo
Gebrüder Weiss Passau

When I'm on an early shift, my working day starts at 7 a.m. I begin by reviewing the previous day's general cargo. What was delivered? What was dispatched? Were there any hitches? At the same time, I need to start preparing the current day's outbound shipments. What are we expecting? Which freight needs to be loaded onto which truck? Do we have enough capacity? And while I'm doing all this, the phone is ringing off the hook and a string of emails is landing in my inbox –inquiries, orders, complaints, damage reports, and mails about internal issues, too. I have to allocate the scheduled consignments we receive during the day to the correct delivery routes. Put simply, I have to keep on top of things during a shift like that. The challenges you face are never the same, there's always something new. Take one typical situation: a driver has to wait longer than expected to pick up goods from Customer A. So he can't make it to Customers B and C in time. In that case, I have to intervene. Can he collect a consignment from Customer D during the delay? Or does it make more sense to call Customer A and ask if the loading can be speeded up? Or should we ask a different driver to stop by Customer A on his return journey? And if we're talking about a scheduled shipment, can the driver make it back to the warehouse before the connecting run leaves? We live in the age where efficiency is a must and goods need to be delivered "just in time." But you get used to responding instantly to problems, coping with the stress and maintaining your cool. Ultimately, keeping customers satisfied is paramount and, needless to say, minimizing costs is a factor as well. For the most part in my field of work, there is more than one possible solution to a conundrum. Being pragmatic and identifying a fast fix is what counts. And that's exactly what I like about my job.

(Image: Private)

Claus Erhard
Freight Handling Manager
Gebrüder Weiss Wolfurt

When I tell people I work in transhipment, they probably imagine a large structure with pallets and products stacked up to the roof. But at the hub I manage with my team, the cargo is transferred from one truck to another. It has all kinds of goods, the only exceptions being animals and explosives. By 3 a.m. we are already unloading the day's first truck so our drivers can deliver the goods here in the Vorarlberg region. At the same time, they pick up other shipments destined for recipients across Austria and Switzerland. The trucks meet at a half-way point, switch their loaded trailers, and then return to their bases with the new consignments. Every step is timed to perfection until the very last truck leaves our site at around 7 p.m. – and sometimes even later. You have the impression that the whole process has been choreographed. The supply chains need to operate without a single hitch; every minute really does count. And even if we have a full complement of staff and I have planned everything conservatively, something unexpected can still throw a wrench in the works. And, in a worst-case scenario, spark chaos: a domino effect that disrupts the rest of the day's schedule. For example, if a driver calls in sick, or traffic is extremely congested somewhere. Then, of course, things really do get stressful. In those situations, I liaise with the shift supervisor and dispatcher and we try to find a solution locally. After all, we are all tied to a schedule and want to do everything we can to deliver on the dot as agreed.

(Image: Private)

Anja Grewe
Conference Interpreter
Hamburg, Germany

Some 90% of my work as a conference interpreter is simultaneous. That means that the interpreting takes place at exactly the same time, which automatically puts us under pressure. When I’m sitting in the booth and turn on my mike, it still makes my heart race. You need to comprehend what’s said at lightning speed, listen and talk at the same time. I obviously prepare extensively beforehand: I learn the vocabulary and study relevant presentations, speakers’ notes and videos. Sometimes the subjects are quite specific: for example, you can spend whole days talking about diabetic feet. Preparation takes up the majority of my time. But during the conference itself I need to anticipate where the speakers are headed. I map out my sentences in my head. I have to concentrate like crazy. And because the job is so strenuous, we simultaneous interpreters work in teams of at least two, and trade off every 20-30 minutes. But I can’t and don’t know everything. If somebody suddenly veers off-topic and I don’t know a certain term or the right word doesn’t occur to me instantaneously, my partner helps out and looks up the word. Or I quickly google it myself as soon as I’ve wrapped up the point. You can actually practice that. Despite the high levels of stress, I really enjoy my job. All the insights into different industries and companies, being on site with the participants – it’s basically life-long learning and super intriguing. If all goes well, I’m enabling people to communicate without a hitch, and I enjoy that.

(Image: Private)

Leon Ebeling
Trainee emergency paramedic
Stuttgart, Germany

We're only allowed to switch on our blue lights when making our way to patients in critical condition. The regulations in Germany are clear on this. They also define how much time we have to reach patients once we have been notified. After the emergency signal has been activated at our headquarters, we have 60 seconds to be in our vehicles and on our way. After that we have another 14 minutes to reach the patient. If it's a high-demand incident, e.g. with multiple casualties, we sometimes take longer than 15 minutes. However, in that case, staff from a fire truck or non-emergency ambulance can perform first aid and make sure that patients get help within the timeframe specified.

We're allowed to ignore speed limits in emergencies, of course. But we rarely drive more than 20 kilometers an hour faster, given the dangers it entails for us and other road users. And we don't end up racing through the streets on every call. Just how fast we drive depends on the given circumstances. If patients' lives are in jeopardy as a result of a stroke or heart attack etc., or they need resuscitating, then we obviously need to move fast because every second literally counts. In general, though, the rule is that we should drive as quickly as is safely possible – not just as fast as we can. We need to muster all our concentration and can't afford to slip up. For that same reason, we don't run when we arrive. People start making mistakes when they rush. What with our safety shoes, the emergency packs on our backs and other equipment in tow, we are normally loaded down anyway – and couldn’t easily run even if we wanted to.

Share article

All articles