In the previous two posts we discussed principles, and psychological factors in time management. In this article, we explore organisational factors relating to this subject.

Organising Goals

Having worked with a client on their motivation, it is important that the client take action and implement their new found sense of purpose so they don’t lapse back into apathy and inactivity. The first step of helping someone to become more organised is helping them to see how they can start to take actions towards their goals. This is done by breaking goals down into objectives and then planning out the steps necessary to reach those objectives. 

Apart from the actual completion of the goals there are two advantages to the coaching process in relation to completing goals:

  1. A person who is accomplishing tasks related to their long term goals and ideals increases the level of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins give a sense of well-being and elation. The person receives an intrinsic reward for progressing towards their goals and therefore increases their need to accomplish tasks (Tracy, 2004).
  2. Pushing towards goals may bring about an increased awareness of the individual’s limitations, doubts, fears and other reactions. With a coach on standby ready to help deal with what is coming up, the potential for growth is very high.

Dealing with Everyday Life

Allen (2001) explains that the essence of time management is completing decisions and determining action steps about the things that capture our psychological and physical space. To cope with everyday demands, Allen has suggested a processing sequence of work and tasks:

  1. Collect all situations, projects and tasks that need to be done, including those that keep flowing in on a regular basis.
  2. Process them and work out what actions need to be taken.
  3. Organize the resultant tasks and projects.
  4. Review them and look at options for action.
  5. Do what has been decided.

Allen’s approach can be described as ‘from the ground up’. He feels that there are still too many people who cannot, despite all their best intentions, thrive on a goal oriented approach to time management. In fact, he believes that setting lofty goals may impose more need for change on people and therefore more demands on their daily schedule.

Certainly, coaches need to be alert for clients chasing unrealistic goals or clients not being content with what they have. However, goal setting is seen as a forte in coaching for helping drive clients through their barriers and strive towards an end result.

Morgenstern (2005) has developed a simple approach to sorting out the things that need to be completed. This is known as the “WADE” formula.

  • Write it down
  • Add it up- estimate how long it will take
  • Decide what to do about these items. This can include the 4 Ds of time management- Delete, Delay, Delegate or
  • Diminish into smaller tasks.
  • Execute the plan of action decided on.

It may help a client to visualise how they process their incoming work. This system incorporates the 4 Ds of time management – Delete, Delay, Delegate or Diminish into smaller tasks. The Diminish stage is where something is seen to require more than two minutes to be completed and is added to a “Plans and Projects” stage where it is broken down into manageable steps.

Sorting out tasks with constant reference to goals and ideals is a key to time management from a counselling perspective. There are perhaps various ways of going about this. An approach (The Life Organisation Exercise) is suggested below:

  • Have your client sit with their written goals and objectives handy.
  • Invite your client to complete an inventory of all their unfinished actions/tasks. Have them write down everything they can think of. Write one item for every two or three lines on a page; in other words have them leave space to add notes.
  • Invite your client to get together at home and in the office all the physical things that need doing.
  • Work with them to assess what time these actions will take and incorporate this in their lists. While completing this task they can be grouping items into categories. For example: home, office, children, car, etc.
  • Invite your client to compare this list against their goals and see if the time they will take is justified. They might also see whether or not the actions are justified at all.
  • Apply the four Ds: Delete, Delay, Delegate or Diminish into smaller tasks.

The tasks that maintain priority should be allocated places in the diary or calendar system used by the client. Don’t be surprised if a client starts to go through some fatigue and/or emotions while completing an exercise such as this. Note that your presence with them while they do this exercise is one of the reasons it will work as it will help them work through some mental barriers as they confront a whole mass of incomplete, unfinished business in their life.

Some clients may try to ‘escape’ the exercise. They will come up with various things that demand their attention, and reasons why they can’t sit down and get through it. Without being unkind, guide your client through to completion of this or a similar exercise.

Please note: This is a suggested routine; you may have a variation of this and the client may prefer to sketch plans using diagrams and colour. The important thing is to get the person through what they might not otherwise get through so that they start to get on top of the barriers to personal organisation.

Other Organising Principles

Clients who are more organised towards the achievement of their goals are likely to be more responsive to attempts to help them organise their daily activities. Once this is completed, a multitude of ideas and systems can be employed to better organize the use of time. Some of the common principles and ideas for organising principles for time management are discussed:

Systems and Checklists: Some aspects of life are repetitive, such as getting ready in the morning for the day’s activities. It is beneficial to develop a system for these activities such as using a checklist that can be referred to. Leaving a house in the morning is one of those notorious occasions that slow people down; they have to stop and think if they have forgotten anything and often lose time going back into the house.

Prepare For Tomorrow, Today: Trying to plan a day on that day is prone to failure as the day’s activities take over and the plan is never finished. This leads to a never ending cycle of a person reacting to each day’s events and never asserting planning control.

Dealing with Overload: The overloaded client may require specific help to reorganize their life. The first step is to invite them to identify all the roles they carry out in their life and write them down. Gradually they will mentally separate out the different roles after which they can start to sort and prioritise them.

They will also start to see why they have allowed themselves to become overloaded and start to mentally delegate some of their roles to others. Of course, all other time saving ideas are relevant to someone who is overloaded.

One commonly successful strategy with overloaded clients is to get them to use one planner for their whole life, rather than run separate diaries for work and personal life. This helps them to get their activities aligned and optimize their time. Also, teaching clients how to gradually organize their way out of the work is beneficial rather than teaching them how to re-organise their overloaded life.

As mentioned earlier, coaches should be on the lookout for people who are caught up in some sort of martyrdom or who somehow receive payoffs from doing more than their share, such as dealing with a sense of guilt for some other inadequacy. Also, the ‘workaholic’ may be addressed in this section that may need to focus on balance in their life and possibly deal with things they may be avoiding in their personal life.

Travel time: As so much time in life is spent travelling, it makes sense that people could make better use of this time. Drivers could use this time listening to educative CDs or MP3s. Commuters on public transport can read and write. These are valuable sections of time and because travel is so frequent, several hours of valuable activity can be added to the week.

Again, some may feel that they are already strained with the amount they are trying to fit into the week; however someone who is back in tune with their goals and purposes in life is going to be that much more motivated to utilise their time more efficiently.

Procrastination from an Organisational Viewpoint: The idea of breaking goals into objectives, then plans, then further breaking those plans down into smaller activities, is one way of working with procrastination. Once someone can see that a series of tasks are quite simple and doable, they will not only get on with them but there will be a corresponding rise in morale as they realise that they are progressing towards important, long-term goals.

Clutter: Much is made in time management training of the need to sort out a client’s ‘clutter’. The trick is to decide whether tasks or roles are absorbing a person’s attention or is the ‘clutter’ avoidance from major things that should be addressed.

Diaries and Planners: There are many types of diaries and planners out there; however it is recommended that a diary with a ring binder is used so that it can be added to as the need arises. One way of setting this out is to have one section of the binder the ‘daily planner’ and another section for goals, objectives and general plans so that the client can easily cross reference their daily activities with their long term goals.

Electronic organisers are highly recommended for this same reason as they can hold a lot of information allowing the client to revisit and add to their long-term goals. Many also contain useful alarms and automatic reminders (particularly modern mobile phones).

Once the time appointments are completed; the general ‘to do’ list can then be attempted. Planning a day the day before, and also planning from a general weekly or even monthly ‘to do’ list, allows for grouping similar activities together and thereby saving time.


• Allen, D. (2001). How to get things done. Australia: Penguin Books.
• Morgenstern, J. (2005). Time management from the inside out. Australia: Hodder.

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