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:

  1. Have your client sit with their written goals and objectives handy.
  2. Invite your client to complete an inventory of all their unfinished actions/tasks.
  3. 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.
  4. Invite your client to get together at home and in the office all the physical things that need doing.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.