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How to Make a Difference as a Time Management Coach

How to Make a Difference as a Time Management Coach

    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 August 6, 2020

    Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

    Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

    Bristol is the most congested city in England. Whenever I have to work at the office, I ride there, like most of us do. Furthermore, I always make sure to go at off hours; otherwise, the roads are jam-packed with cars, buses, bikes, even pedestrians. Why is that? Because everyone is working a traditional 9 to 5 work day.

    Where did the “9 to 5” Come From?

    It all started back in 1946. The United States government implemented the 40 hour work week for all federal employees, and all companies adopted the practice afterwards. That’s 67 years with the same schedule. Let’s think about all the things that have changed in the 67 years:

    • We went to the moon, and astronauts now live in space on the ISS.

    • Computers used to take up entire rooms and took hours to make a single calculation. Now we have more powerful computers in our purses and back pockets with our smartphones.

    • Lots of employees can now telecommute to the office from hundreds, and even thousands of miles away.

    In 1946 a 9-5 job made sense because we had time after 5pm for a social life, a family life. Now we’re constantly connected to other people and the office, with the Internet, email on our smartphones, and hashtags in our movies and television shows. There is no downtime anymore.

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    Different Folks, Different Strokes

    Enjoying your downtime is an important part of life. It recharges your batteries and lets you be more productive. Allowing people to balance life and work can provide them with much needed perspective and motivation to see the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve.

    Some people are just more productive when they’re working at their optimal time of day, after feeling well rested and personally fulfilled.  For some that can be  from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m; for others, it could be  2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

    People have their own rhythms and routines. It would be great if we could sync our work schedule to match. Simply put, the imposed 8-hour work day can be a creativity and morale killer for the average person in today’s world.

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    Productivity and Trust Killer

    Fostering creativity among employees is not always an easy endeavor, but perhaps a good place to start is by simply not tying their tasks and goals to a fixed time period. Let them work on their to-do list at their own pace, and chances are, you’ll get the best out of your employee who feels empowered instead of babysat.

    That’s not to say that you should  allow your team to run wild and do whatever they want, but restricting them to a 9 to 5 time frame can quickly demoralize people. Set parameters and deadlines, and let them work at their own creative best with the understanding that their work is crucial to the functioning of the entire team.

    Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur who previously worked in broadcasting, noted to Inc that from her experience, “treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way.” The principle here is to have your employees work to get things done, not to just follow the hands on the clock.

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    A Flexible Remote Working Policy

    Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously recalled all her remote workers, saying she wanted to improve innovation and collaboration, but was that the right decision? We’ve all said that we’re often more productive in a half day working from home than a full day working in the office, right? So why not let your employees work remotely from home?

    There are definitely varying schools of thought on remote working. Some believe that innovation and collaboration can only happen in a boardroom with markers, whiteboards and post-it notes and of course, this can be true for some. But do a few great brainstorms trump a team that feels a little less stressed and a little more free?

    Those who champion remote working often note that these employees are not counting the clock, worried about getting home, cooking dinner or rushing through errands post-work. No one works their 9-5 straight without breaks here and there.  Allowing some time for remote working means employees can handle some non-work related tasks and feel more accomplished throughout the day. Also, sometimes we all need to have a taste of working in our pajamas, right?

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    It’ll be interesting to see how many traditional companies and industries start giving their employees more freedom with their work schedule. And how many end up rescinding their policies like Yahoo did.

    What are your thoughts of the traditional 9-5 schedule and what are you doing to help foster your team’s productivity and creativity? Hit the comments and let us know.

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