Using Adult Learning Principles in Time Management Training

As a coach, consultant, trainer or professional organizer in time management, it’s useful to return to adult learning principles now and then, if only as a refresher.

Some time ago, I wrote a post over at the 2Time Labs website in which I laid out a Pedagogy for Time Management. (A pedagogy is a teaching method.)

I’m in the process of developing an assessment that can be used to assess your consulting, teaching, coaching or organizing skills as they are applied to your work with clients. In doing so, I have been revisiting the principles of adult learning because I believe that they apply quite well to the work we do.

Here’s a great website that I found describing these principles and the precise behaviors used to support the top principles:

Take a look and ask yourself how you can use these principles to increase your effectiveness and impact. If you’re in a hurry, here they are, as described by Malcolm Knowles.

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

As you dig into each of these principles you’ll see how easy it is to step over them while working with clients. Some would argue, for example, that there is no need to understand what the client or trainee is doing today, and that they always need to start over from scratch.

According to Knowles, that would be a big mistake.

P.S. Click here to watch the related video: Time Management Consultants – Why Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts No Longer Work.

Why Should a Time Management Coach Use Baby Steps?

It’s no accident that I’m leading a Post-Conference Workshop at the ICD conference in Chicago called “Baby Steps – Radically Reducing Your Clients’ Time Clutter.” The name comes from an overt attempt on our part here at 2Time Labs to bring modern thinking that’s backed by research to the way time management is taught or coached.

Most time management teaching follows the “tell them and leave them” approach. Learning the content is deemed to be the most important activity, and the materials are presented in a way that dumps a lot of new ideas on the learner or coachee.

The results are typically poor, according to research by by Therese Macan. For the most part, people end up doing whatever they were doing before the course began.

Before the work of Albert Bandura, managers and coaches would focus on building in elaborate systems of carrots and sticks in order to get the trainee to exhibit the right behavior. Bandura showed that much more is happening in the typical learning environment than simple external stimuli, and that one way to help the learner to change is to

  1. break down the change into small steps
  2. help them grow confidence in mastering increasingly more tasks
  3. showing them models that are successful

In other words, use baby steps.

The problem with the popular approaches to teaching time management is that the materials are presented in massive chunks. This leads the trainee to think that they are a failure when, a month later, they realize that they have implemented little or nothing new.

The solution that we have taken based on our experience of seeing a lot of failures is that a coach/consultant / trainer / professional organizer should help build what Bandura calls “self-efficacy” (a sense of confidence in your ability) in two ways:

  1. teaching clients how to re-design their time management systems starting from their current set-up in a way that uses baby steps; alternating new learning with immediate design activity to build the trainee’s sense of mastery
  2. helping clients to make plans for implementation that are based on small steps to be taken over time, and offering supportive mechanisms so that they can see role models in action, and get help when confidence dips
Our experience and our hope is that this approach builds self-efficacy in ways that increase the odds of the learner’s success. This means that you, the trainer/coach can not only experience greater success via making a bigger difference, but you can also build your business or career.



Your Main Problems and Questions

As it stands, there doesn’t exist any certification whatsoever for coaches and consultants in time management, or time clutter.

There are a number of reasons for this state of affairs, and if you have a moment you might check out my 2Time Labs website to see why there is also a lack of research, and not a single university has a department devoted to the subject.

This has also led to a lack of training for helping professionals in this field who end up being stuck without a single, unified source of expertise. I have started making a list of the problems and questions that coaches, consultants, trainers and professional organizers often repeat in their frustration at the lack of resources that exist today.

Biggest Problems
1. I don’t know where to start
2. I don’t have anything to sell clients
3. I don’t know what to do
4. The stuff I have doesn’t work
5. My clients forget everything I teach them
6. I don’t have enough time to make a big difference

Most Common Questions
1. How do I make the lessons I teach my clients stick?
2. How do I convert my current clients in other areas to time management clients?
3. What processes do I need to follow?
4. What content do I use?
5. How do I find new clients?
6. How can get trained?
7. How can I get certified?
8. Why can’t I just give them a book?
9. Why don’t my tips, tricks and shortcuts work?

I have been leading productivity programs for almost twenty years, and I can’t say that I don’t face these problems, or have stopped working on these questions. I do know, however, that as Time Management 2.0 evolved and worked its way into my coaching and training, I have had less of these problems and been able to move onto the causes of these questions.

Have I left off anything obvious from these lists, from your perspective? Please do let me know by leaving a comment below.

The Ideal Lessons for Our Clients

When clients come to us for help, they usually don’t have an idea of the best path to take. As professional consultants / coaches, it’s our job to direct them to the right process, and best possible set of results.

If we had the idea environment, we could help our clients to learn these lessons via interactive games. They’d teach themselves, and we’d just be expert guides. What we have is a choice of two alternatives.

In Time Management 1.0 the focus is on fixed prescriptions, and the major lesson to be learned is:  “Here are the ideal set of fixed habit patterns everyone you to follow.”

In Time Management 2.0, the lessons are more subtle, and therefore more difficult to deliver.

Lesson 1 – You are currently using a unique system made up of habits, practices and technology.

Lesson 2 – You have come to me because your system is failing you in some way.  What are the symptoms?

Lesson 3 – Your current system is a self-invention from young adulthood.

Lesson 4 – Let’s gain a deep understanding / profile of your own system’s successes and failures.

Lesson 5 – Let’s set some new standards for your system to acccomplish.

Lesson 6 – Let’s find the steps you need to take to fill the gap between the system that you have and the one you want.

Lesson 7 – Let’s sequence these steps in time so that you have a feasible plan.

Lesson 8 – Let’s assemble a fool-proof support system.

Lesson 9 – Let’s track the success and failures of your support system over time.

Lesson 10 – Let’s evaluate and incorporate new technologies, tools, theories, research etc.

At the end, under these ideal conditions, we’d have a client who is fully capable of upgrading their time management system whenever they decide they need to do so, or want to take advantage of some new innovation. We’d better move on to the next level as coaches / consultants, or we could easily run out of ways to be useful to them.