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Are Our Time Management Clients Stupid?

In my preparation for the ICD Conference in Chicago this week, I had to make a conscious decision (due to time constraints) to exclude my opinion that we consultants often assume that our clients aren’t all that smart.

How do I know we do that?

Take a group of your average clients and ask them to put together a list of the top 10 tips they would give a young professional on the topic of time management or time clutter. In your instructions, ask them not to try too hard to tell the recipient stuff they think they might already know.

Their final product might be a long list of stuff you already know, but here’s the problem: their list would look no different from the tips that are floating around in books, YouTube videos, blogs, tweets, Facebook pages, e-books, podcasts and anywhere else that content can be found in these times. These floating tips are being circulated as if they are important, new, different, important and interesting when in fact, they are nothing but recycled ideas that have been around for years. Here’s an example:

  • Take the first 30 minutes of every day to plan your day.
  • Take five minutes before every call and task to decide what result you want to attain.
  • Block out other distractions.
  • Use a calendar.

If our clients have already heard these things, and they are widely accepted and can hardly be refuted, why are they being repeated ad nauseum? Why are we treating our clients as if they just aren’t all that smart, and that they have never considered the simple ideas that we throw at them over and over again?

I believe the reasons are twofold.

  1. We don’t have anything better. Here, I blame the lack of research. There are just very few places that new ideas are being generated in the field of time management, even as the technology that’s available to help us explodes. In the absence of new ideas, the old ones keep being re-assembled in lists of frivolous tips that claim to make a difference.  (e.g. “Planning is Key” – taken from a prestigious magazine for C-level executives. )
  2. They aren’t implementing them. We know that in spite of the tremendous number of time management tips floating around that they make little or no difference. People who do a lot of planning already agree that “Planning is Key.” Those who don’t agree aren’t going to change their minds because the new “tip” is included in a list. The vast majority probably agree that they should be doing more planning, but have no idea why that knowledge hasn’t been translated into action, habit or practice. Apparently, the assumption is that somewhere out there, there are a legion of stupid people who have never heard the idea that “Planning is Key.” I have no idea who these people are or where they work… and I’ll bet you don’t know either.

The result of this mindless repetition of shallow tips is that potential clients assume that once they hear the words “time management” that the author/coach/professional organizer/trainer/consultant has nothing new to say on the topic. In their minds, they have already been there, done that and got the T-shirt. There is no need to chase down yet another list, article or book because the time spent reading is hardly worth the effort. Obviously, there is no need to pay your high fees to hear a bunch of stuff I already know. “Heck,” they think, “my kid could have written that Top 10 List of Time Management Tips that you are promoting!” (Some of us try to beat smart clients by making longer lists, but trust me… Top 10,001 Tips on Time Management is just a bigger mountain of fluff.)

As a result, clients show up on our radar already bored, believing that they know as much as the experts. And, they have the evidence in the abundance of tips bouncing around that proves their point.

At the bottom of it all is an incorrect mental model. Excellence in time management, or drastic reductions in time clutter don’t come from tips. Neither does world-class performance in piano, sprinting or painting. All the evidence says that it comes from hard practice.

Unfortunately, it’s far easier to write an article filled with trite tips than it is to delve into the well researched topic of hard practice. It’s also much easier to coach, train or organize someone using tips, shortcuts and tricks i.e. fluff.

The road less traveled is slow, harder to implement, un-sexy and uphill, but it’s the only thing that works. We need to challenge our clients with the truth, and trust that they are intelligent enough to be able to handle it.