Coaching People Around the Time Obstacle

Ever heard someone articulate an important dream for their future, but then coaching peoplesay, “But I just don’t have time to pursue it?” One all-too-common challenge coaches face is coaching people who don’t feel they have time to do what needs to be done. Whether it is in pursuing one’s calling, creating a balanced life or just getting the weekly action steps done, people in a coaching relationship cite a lack of time more often than anything else as an obstacle to moving forward.

So how do you go about coaching people who don’t have time for something truly important? Here are seven powerful questions to ask the person you are coaching who is out of time:

1. “What circumstances have led you to be in a time crunch right now?”

Some time issues are temporary. For instance, if the client’s daughter is getting married and she is spending a lot of time on wedding preparation, a lack of time may be a short-term issue that goes away as soon as the wedding is over. If the time crunch is the result of temporary, unusual circumstances, adapt your coaching relationship by reducing expectations for actions steps or integrating new circumstances into the coaching agenda. Then instead of being overtaken by events, the person feels they are being integrated into the life planning process.

2. “Tell me about a time in your life when you weren’t too busy and felt that your schedule was really under control.”

Optimistic clients can keep telling themselves that ‘if I just get through this project, things will get back to normal’. Often a quick look at their track record reveals that over-scheduling is their normal way of life, not a temporary issue. If it has been months or years since the person’s schedule was under control, that’s a life pattern, not a temporary circumstance—and one that will take concentrated effort and intentional changes to overcome.

3. “Where would you be in a year if your schedule didn’t change? What would that cost you in terms of health, stress, etc?”

Helping the person play out the implications of living an out-of-balance life creates motivation to change. It can be a sobering thought to project your current pace out a year (or two years or five years.)

4. “Imagine you are at the end of your life, looking back. What if you never followed this dream? How would you feel about that?”

A variation of the question above that deals with dreams and calling issues. We often count the cost of doing something, but often ignore the cost of not doing it. Take the person to the end of their life, and ask how it would feel to be 75 and not to have passionately pursued this important dream. Getting in touch with what we’d really regret missing at the end of our life can be a sobering experience.

5. “What led you to want to do this in the first place? Why are you passionate about it?”

I call this “reconnecting with your motivation”. Saying you lack time to do something is often equivalent to saying you lack motivation. The things we don’t have time for are lower priority for us. Coaches can raise the sense of urgency for a dream or long term goal by having the person express their passion for it or revisit why they set that goal in the first place. Often this re-connection is enough to get people unstuck and moving forward again.

6. “Take me to a time a year from now when you’ve achieved this goal or made this change. Describe your life to me then. Can you picture specifically how it would be different?”

Another way to add motivation when coaching people is to take the person to their ideal future. Help them envision themselves at a place where the dream has been fulfilled—you want them to actually live that future day when they’ve achieved the goal. Essentially, what you are doing is having them cast a vision for their own future. If they can get excited about that future, they can often find the motivation to pursue it.

7. “It sounds like it would be biting off a lot to do all of that at once. So let’s break it down and focus on first steps: if you took the initial action steps right in front of you, what could you accomplish this month?”

Often the scope of a project is intimidating enough to keep us from starting. How would we ever find time to do all of that? But it’s amazing how often it happens that once you get started, you find a way. Try working together while coaching people to break the task down into realistic, bite size chunks and taking one step at a time.

Tony Stoltzfus is a coach, author, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute.