How to Put Together Effective Time Management Training

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently, a training designer from an engineering company contacted me to ask: “Do you have any tips for designing a time management training session?” I gave her a few, and pointed her in the direction of the 2Time Labs website, but with it’s 500+ posts, it was bit like outing a match with a fire-hose. She didn’t have 5 years to put the intervention together, she had 5 days.

Since then, I have decided that I should be more helpful, condensing some of my answers into a single post that can help anyone in a similar position, particularly if they haven’t written a book or published 500 articles.

Learning Outcomes (the company’s)
Before you start your research it’s a good idea to figure out what success looks like to your “client.” Companies don’t ask for stuff, individuals do, and if your boss is the one holding your feet to the fire find out what goals he/she has in mind. Then, work to meet the expectations, and if necessary, to lower them. Use updated, recent data to show them that magical cures are unlikely.

One thing they may not say, but believe me… It’s there: “Please don’t embarrass me with a session that wastes people time with stuff they already know that generates a bunch of complaints that make me look bad.” This unspoken outcome your boss has buried in his/her subconscious is often the most important. Move it to the top of your list.

Here are some of the things they might actually tell you they want, if you ask the right questions.

1. “Something Short”
If your company expects a one hour session over lunch, plan to deliver a pithy combination of tips, tricks and shortcuts. If you can do a short survey before, figure out what people know, and put in some stuff that captures the imagination by focusing on what might be new. Focus on contemporary topics like life balance and smartphone abuse that have generated a surprising number of interesting statistics. Lead your audience to use this teaser as motivation to get more training. Don’t expect to change more than the occasional participant’s behavior.

2. “Take an Easy Shortcut – Copy a Solution from a Program/ Book”
In this case you are literally copying the content from a published book, or even an existing program. Gaining the appropriate permission from the owners is a must; you don’t want to violate copyright law.

What you can expect from this approach is a single set of behaviors defined in great detail – down to the name of the folders to keep. They are easy to put in a  lecture format, because all you’re doing is telling people what they should be doing in excruciating, unalterable detail.

If you get lucky, you’ll find that your employees already are using similar behaviors, making the learning curve a short one. In most cases, however, expect them to have an uphill battle to change their behaviors… But in every case, you can improve the odds of success with some after-program support.

Take this shortcut if you must, but fully expect a high number of outright failures.

3. Do the Right Thing: Redefine Success

With enough time to prepare, plus at least an  8 hour training day accompanied with  mid-term post-training support, you can put a big dent in your learner’s performance. Just don’t expect them all to be looking and acting the same at the end, like a host of happy Oompa Loompas.

Instead, hold as your intended outcome a future in which each person is continually upgrading their individual methods at a realistic speed. To achieve this, your training needs to start in a different place.

Assume that you’re going to start with a mix of skill levels and  you need to engage beginners as well as experts in worthwhile learning activity. Start by giving each person a self-assessment (while showing them how to repeat this task in the future.)

Then, help them determine whether or not they need an immediate upgrade based on their current workload. Trust them to know whether the stuff falling through the cracks is episodic, or symptomatic.

With a decent diagnostic tool, and the teaching that’s required to use it well, they should be able to see the performance gaps  themselves. When they instinctively rush to close them with unrealistic promises, show them how to make a change plan that’s built on baby-steps rather than divine intervention.

While you’re at it, reveal the secret  of how to “Change Anything” using a holistic habit-change plan. Teach them how to make sure they succeed with the right support.

At the end of your training day, don’t expect instant changes. Instead, have each person leave with a plan to grow their capacity over time to a level that they desire, with a high degree of motivation.

It’s likely that they will make some immediate changes, but don’t expect them to all make the same ones. Offer the kind of post-class support that bears fruit in months rather than days, and convince your boss that true and permanent behavior change is more desirable than a bag of fun-filled tips and tricks.

He/she may notice that you get lower scores on the post-class smiley-sheets, but you should feel confident that you did the right thing. So did your company when it made the decision to put you on this very challenging assignment.

If you happen to be the person programming the training (as opposed to the one actually delivering it in a classroom) you may want to read my article How to Program a Time-Based Productivity Intervention.

N.B. For more detailed information on the approach I have laid out above, get a copy of my book: Perfect Time-Based Productivity which outlines the steps you can follow, plus the forms you can use in your training. Also, if you would like to purchase a copy of my personal training materials (slides, videos, simulations) plus gain access to live class recordings, contact me at