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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 April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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