Can coaching help time management?
I love it when clients ask for a session on time management. Partly because it’s a good way to get some quick wins for them and their confidence. And partly because there are so many misconceptions about what it means to truly manage your time.
From what I’ve read, there are broadly two schools of thought. The first one is centred around efficiency and optimisation, and the second around meaning. We’ve heard many examples of the former. Everyone knows that Barak Obama always wore the same clothes so that he didn’t waste time deciding what to wear. There is no question that life hacks like this save time.
I spent the better part of the last ten years trying to become the most efficient person I could be. I cleared my inbox every day, read books while doing static exercises, and completed most tasks during the meetings in which they were set. I was proud of myself for pre-empting piles of work, and for being the opposite of a procrastinator. I was an anticipator. The person who didn’t need deadlines because I did everything as soon as I could, and if I was delayed it was because other people didn’t.
I was also often stressed. This was ironic, given that the reason I had built my efficiency empire was to prevent stress from occurring in the first place. I was stressed because my way of being was too rigid for spontaneity. I found myself engaged in interactions that I didn’t really want with no way of making them efficient. How can you efficiently listen to somebody telling you about all the gardening they’ve done during their week off? Or is it possible to efficiently attend a birthday party? Without sneaking off to the bathroom to check your phone every few minutes?
When I started dating my, now fiancé, I was faced with the choice: be hyper-productive or be happy. After all, it’s not really possible to maximise your productivity on a date. And so, bit by bit, I started to re-evaluate the little efficiency rules I had instituted in my life. I kept those that served me well (I still don’t really need deadlines), and I binned those that prevented me from being present to soak up the myriad of beautiful moments that make life worth living. Moments like holding hands with someone you love, looking at the stars in the night sky, and being engrossed in a deep conversation for hours. It isn’t possible to do any of this efficiently, and I’m glad about it.
I binned those that prevented me from being present to soak up the myriad of beautiful moments that make life worth living.
Last month, I was listening to journalist Oliver Burkeman on the Making Sense podcast, and he bravely articulated that we shouldn’t prioritise efficiency. And I think, generally speaking, he is right. After all it can be more efficient to reply to a couple emails than to play with one's children. Most people would claim that their children are more important to them than emails. Many would go even further and say that the only reason they bother with emails is to provide for their children. And yet the same people might spend almost no time with their kids. It’s a paradox, especially given that every moment we spend with people will someday be the last.
Burkeman put me to shame: "there is no point clearing your inbox", he says, "because the more emails you send, the more replies you get, and so the cycle continues."
There is one thing I disagree on, though. According to Burkeman, part of moving towards a more meaningful life is letting go of the idea that it is possible to be on top of things. He argues that, in any given moment, there are too many things that we can be productively doing. Therefore, prioritising the most meaningful inevitably involves letting things go a bit in other domains.
You might accuse me of being somewhat naïve, but I don’t think that’s true. I believe that the whole point of self-development (and coaching for that matter!) is being able not just to prioritise, but to actually feel the confidence in knowing what it is that you most want to do. And then doing it.
There are many people who might have a multitude of interests, but I would argue they are just that: interests. If you invest in developing the self-awareness that would take you down a path that you would be happy with, then you might find that there isn’t actually an extortionate number of things that you want to do in any given moment.
So it’s not impossible to be on top of things. It’s just that you need to decide exactly which things you want to be on top of. Not because you have a limited amount of time, but because you probably care about some things much more than others. And it might be the case that some of the things you are currently doing are the result of social pressure or FOMO.
In my coaching sessions, I guide clients towards a balanced way of managing their time. We develop and test efficiencies, but only for the purpose of freeing up time they previously didn’t even know they had. We delve into the meaning behind every constituent part of their day, and I challenge their assumptions to ascertain whether they are being intentional. We then create blocks of priorities in the order of most meaningful to least meaningful. That way, life isn’t too regimented, but you also never need to lose focus.
So yes, coaching can help time management. If you're looking to find a coach to help with this, reach out to me via my profile below.