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So much to do, so little time! What needs to change?

Updated: May 15, 2022

One of the most common themes that come up in my coaching practice is time management. So many people struggling with too much to do and too little time. People often ask me how I managed to write a dissertation whilst working as a management consultant and coach, whilst raising 4 children during a pandemic: 'How did you find the time?'. Was it some kind of magic? No of course not.

The self-help book industry absolutely booms in this area for a reason. A quick google, and I have a link 'The best 100 time management books of all time'. There must be thousands of time management books out there. There are also thousands of courses you can attend.

So why is time management so difficult and how can coaching help?

Everyone has their unique reasons for why time management is an issue for them, based on their backgrounds, beliefs, and biases. Therefore there IS no one solution, one book, one course or best way to manage time. No one answer fits all. And after all, as my teenage daughter is so fond of telling me, 'time is a social construct'.

To bring this to life, I will give you some examples from my coaching practice of people who have come to me asking for help in managing their time, and what we uncovered as their barriers to time management. All names have been changed.

My first example is John who was struggling to find the time to help a charity he was volunteering as a trustee for. He complained that there were so many emails that came in, and that he never seemed to have time to read them. He was getting frustrated and feeling incredibly guilty that he was not doing his bit, and not adding value.

A course or a self help book or well-meaning friend, might have encouraged him to block time in his diary and prioritise. However he had already tried this tactic and hadn't had much luck. In his very first coaching session, there was a lightbulb moment. It wasn't time that was the problem, it was that he wasn't clear on his purpose. What was he looking for or needing to pay attention to in all these emails? What were they expecting of him? Just one conversation with the Chair, and he was on a roll. He no longer struggled to find the time, he knew exactly what he needed to do with the time that he had. Knowing the purpose of your time, unlocks its potential. Sounds simple but often difficult to see when you don't have time to think about it.

Rachel wanted more time to think strategically. She was a new leader and felt she spent all her time firefighting. She was overwhelmed with to do lists and tasks. It turned out that she loved the dopamine hit of ticking something off on her to do list, and it was something she was finding difficult to let go of in return for spending time on this huge nebulous thing called strategy. She decided to harness her love of that dopamine hit to help herself. Instead of a big task called strategy, she broke this down into small steps. Soon she had time, because she chose to have it.

An example that resonated with me was Charlie, whose value of 'Freedom' caused internal tension when planning. He hated plans because he didn't want to be restricted. He preferred to be spontaneous. But as a result he was making little progress in building his business, and was struggling to find time to do the boring but necessary things that needed to be done to make his business successful (such as marketing!). By reframing a plan as a foundation which allowed freedom to happen, rather than a prison that took away choices, he was able to start planning without the negative connotations.

I have many other real life examples of different root causes for time management issues: Peter was allowing feelings of being an imposter to drive long hours that had no value and ate into personal time, leading dangerously towards burnout. George, kept saying he didn't have time to do exercise, when he hadn't even thought of moving a training session to the afternoon instead of the morning (he's exercised in the morning since he was a student), or of moving it to another day instead of just cancelling it - an example of black and white thinking. Sarah, needed to let go of perfection and embrace being 'good enough' so that she could fit the most important things in her day. Jane, couldn't see past the time it takes to delegate, didn't want to relinquish control, and therefore wasn't realising the long term benefits on her capacity.

Often just thinking about what you're saying no to if you say yes to something else, is enough to trigger an awareness of what needs to change in order for you to manage 'time' or choose what to do with it.

So what is causing your struggle with time management? Are you a perfectionist? Are you procrastinating? Do you need to reframe? What assumptions are you holding on to?

To find out, you need the most precious time of all, time to think. And that's where coaching comes in. Safe, confidential, non-judgemental thinking time, and a new lens to see things through.

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