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How to Make a Difference as a Time Management Coach

How to Make a Difference as a Time Management Coach
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    Many managers and coaches feel an immediate burden when they review an employee or client’s performance and think to themselves, “They need some better time management skills.” As they review their limited options, they quickly conclude that none of them fits their needs and none of them are likely to work. The fact is, in order to make a lasting difference, they need to go beyond the options that currently exist and create a much larger context for the employee to succeed.

    Let’s start by looking at the options that you have as a time management coach.

    Toss Them a Bunch of Tips

    This approach is the simplest. Just observe the employee closely, and when you can find a pearl of wisdom that applies to an observed shortcoming, toss it their way. For example, “Hey Andrea, ever hear of a To-Do list?” Some look for websites like Lifehack with lots of relevant tips and forward posts in the hope that the employee/client will be able to go ahead and “just do it.”

    This rarely works because the skill of “time management” is a complex one that’s made up of a number of intricate habits, practices and rituals assembled over several years. It isn’t the kind of skill that’s improved much by shortcuts, tips and tricks; there are no miraculous, instantaneous results. Instead, successful improvements come from shifting ingrained patterns of behavior in a systematic way over time. It helps to know this before you attempt the first coaching session.

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    Buy Them a Book

    A better option than “tossing tips” is to buy them a good time management book. At the moment however, all the well-known authors say essentially the same thing:

    “Follow the methods in this book exactly as I have laid them out and you’ll be successful.”

    The problem is that very few professionals are actually able to achieve this goal. If you compare notes with others who have read the same time management book, you quickly realize that you both have cherry-picked ideas from here and there, to the point where your individual systems may bear little resemblance to each other. This is actually a good thing, but it means that when you buy your employee your favorite productivity book, don’t expect him/her to end up doing things the way you do.

    This is due, in part, to human nature. There can never be any one-size-fits-all approach to anything but the most simple of habit patterns. When it comes to complex patterns, we are just too different from each other in too many ways to use a single approach effectively. Instead, we all need custom methods that suit our individual goals and idiosyncrasies.

    Furthermore, when you consider the impact of new technology, it’s hard to imagine how an author could claim to have stumbled upon the ultimate solution.

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    Dezhi Wu’s research also shows that we have different needs at different points in our careers. In her book, “Temporal Structures in Individual Time Management”, she has found that college students manage their time better than their professors and administrators. One reason might be that they are forced to deal with more information and therefore develop fresh systems that are able to cope with more inputs. Unfortunately, her research implies that once today’s students become tomorrow’s professors and administrators, they too will be surpassed in time management skill by their students – probably because they, like the rest of us, rest on their laurels and stop coming up with fresh new methods to deal with technology shifts and life changes.

    In short, don’t expect your employee or client to use the book the way you did.

    Send Them to a Program

    In my first year of employment at AT&T, some of my colleagues attended a time management program based on a popular daily planner. They all came away with shiny new 3-ring binders with custom refills and I remember what one attendee told me:

    “The binder was the best part. All the other stuff they tried to teach us was nonsense.”

    Most programs take the same one-size-fits-all approach that books take, which is a drawback, but the benefit comes when participants learn the truth from each other – they aren’t going to be doing “all this stuff” anytime soon. While this may run contrary to the expectations of the time management coach, participants take comfort in confirming their suspicion that each person plans to do their own thing. It reinforces the fact that what professionals need is not another prescription to be blindly followed, but skilled training in how to put together their own custom system.

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    What’s annoying is that the time management coaches seem oblivious to this fact. They might mention that “no-one actually uses all this stuff”, but they give little help in assisting trainees in learning the more challenging skill of self-designing a custom system. They are on their own.

    They also ignore the most recent research on habit change, which regular readers of Stepcase Lifehack will recognize readily. Changing habits, practices and rituals is often slow, painstaking work that requires setting up a savvy set of supports. The best approach is to take small steps, focusing on a few at a time.

    In the program, what’s inevitable is that your employee will be handed a slew of great ideas to implement…all at once, with no hint of the fact that they need a support system.

    The lack of help in focusing on a few habits within a good support system dooms most participants to failure, It’s no accident that many graduates of these programs revert to their old, familiar practices after only a few days.

    A New Mentality

    As a manager, you can make up for these shortcomings. Knowing that they exist is a big plus and they can be introduced into conversations quite early in the game with a time management coach. Understanding the bigger picture frees you both to narrow your focus down to a handful of habits or practices to work on. You should also show clients or employees how to upgrade whenever the need arises and teach them to expect this to happen several times in their careers.

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    Fortunately, recent research shows that your unique relationship with your trainee is often the best form of support and you can leverage this fact to hold the employee or client accountable for taking the small steps that can eventually add up to a huge improvement.

    Employees and clients who are armed with these insights are then free to find ideas from the Internet, books and programs in order to discover the latest improvement opportunities. Instead of struggling, they can take charge of driving their own improvements, using you as their guide.

    (Photo credit: Silver Whistle Next to Play via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Francis Wade

    Author, Management Consultant

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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