Friday, March 29, 2013

Why improved time management requires baby steps

Posted on Friday, March 29, 2013 by International Coach Federation

In our coaching work with clients, sometimes it's tough to resist the temptation to put them on the "fast track" to improvement. We believe that we already have the perfect solution and intend to give them the details all-at-once. Our hope is that a single intense session will fix the problem.

For simple issues, this approach works. However, helping your clients improve their time management skills is much more difficult. Here's why.


Time management skills, are for the most part, self taught. At some point in their teenage or young-adult years, in the face of demands and deadlines, your clients assembled a set of habits, practices and rituals. They used these elements to form a system that governed their daily lives from that point onwards.

By the time they arrive for their first coaching call with you, they are already unconsciously competent in the use of their system. Most will have forgotten its origin. They'll tell you that they "just do it."

As their coach, however, you need to understand that their homegrown solution is not a total failure even if it has obvious faults. Deeply embedded in their neuro-muscular memory, it's played a part in delivering every single positive result they have produced. Obviously, there are parts of it that work well.

Too many coaches in time management ignore this fact and treat clients as if they were kids. In the first session, they outline a brand new, complex system of habits and practices that needs to be implemented as a whole in order to make it work. However, most clients cannot implement a new system all-at-once. It's no wonder that the failure rate is high for time management training, according to the research.

A far better approach is to teach your client to take small steps. Where would these steps come from?

When I moved to live in Jamaica several years ago after many years of living in the U.S. I was baffled at first by my new inability to manage my time well in a hectic environment. It led me to look for a time management system that could flexibly deal with a major life change.

In the end, I didn't find what I wanted, but the other insights that came were interesting enough to start writing a blog. In my first few posts I outlined 11 ladders of distinct skills, each including rungs ranging from low/novice to high/expert. I discovered that all working professionals manage their time using these skills, but end up with different-looking systems with uneven skills: high rungs on some ladders, and low rungs on others.

This occurs because they are self-taught.

What I did wasn't special - it's something that the average coach could do with some legwork: take a complex behavior and break it down into mutually exclusive but collectively exhaustive practices. In time management, there are many books and programs that describe particular rungs in detail, but clients like to see the entire ladder in order to know what they have already learned, where they are today, and what they would like to accomplish in the future.

When they do this kind of self-diagnosis, they gain an instant comparison against best and worst practices. Many report that it's like looking in a mirror for the first time and being able to see simple opportunities for improvement on their own.

As coaches in time management, we need to be prepared with simple ways to teach clients how to take baby steps based on the principle of gradual but steady improvement. It's far better and safer than offering up one-size-fits-all prescriptions that over-promise a "fast track" of implausible improvement.

By Francis Wade. Francis is a pioneer in Time Management 2.0 at 2Time Labs, whose mission is to make time management easy for everyone, everywhere. He helps coaches, trainers and consultants work with time cluttered clients at http://mytimedesign.com and is the author of Bill's Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure.

1 comment:

  1. If we want to be more successful, we need to manage our time effectively. For that, we should some good time management software to manage our tasks and schedule our time.

    We use Replicon's time recording software ( http://www.replicon.com/olp/online-time-recording-software.aspx ) at work. This application was introduced at my office four months ago and we’re enjoying the benefits of making the change. We love our work now because many difficult and monotonous tasks have become so very easy

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