01 August 2011, at 1:00am

CHRIS WHIPP says the problem of too much to do and no time to do it can be dealt with by re-framing our relationship with time to provide positive opportunities for the future

FIRST, an apology: the article scheduled for this month regarding the way forward for VN clinical coach training has been delayed as we are still awaiting a response from the RCVS regarding the questionnaire results recently supplied to it. We will bring this to you as soon as possible. 

Does it always seem that you have too much to do and no time to do it? In this article we look at ways of reframing our relationship with time to provide positive opportunities for the future. 

Within my coaching work I am frequently presented with the often plaintive exclamation that “I really want to do X but I just do not have the time.” 

My response is robust, that this may just be an excuse based on some understandable but nonetheless false assumptions and that the client can do something about it if they want to. 

Some huffing and puffing and righteous indignation usually ensue but with those who genuinely want to change we can generally identify and provide an extra eight hours a week. How much more could you achieve if you had an extra day a week to spend on work, your family or yourself? 

Internal barriers 

The barriers are usually internal and the solutions can be counter-intuitive which is why even a visit to a bookshop and purchasing any number of self-help books may not help. Even though my coaching clients are usually bright, successful people, it is surprising how many of them just accept the scarcity of time as inevitable and expend little or no effort to try to improve the situation. 

The first key step is to give up the (often strong) attachment to the excuse and accept responsibility for the solution so that when presented with an opportunity there is the opportunity to actively choose to do or not do something. 

The perceived scarcity of time in Western society has become a socially acceptable reality and I encourage clients to change the wording from “can’t do it” to “choose not to do it” with a more critical analysis of why not. This raises both awareness and responsibility, the first steps towards commitment and change. 

Effective time management starts with changing your way of being. Tools, and I shall present some in the second article of this series, are only tools and are of no use if you cannot implement them. This is the second myth: no amount of tools, gadgets and software can provide the cheap, instant, easily implementable and expedient solutions that we are encouraged by modern society to seek. These encourage you to consciously answer the question, “What do I need to DO to get the results I want?” 

Lasting solutions take some time and effort to develop, they are often simple but not easy. However, the time gained in the longer term can be substantial. They involve developing new and enhanced levels of expertise so that the solutions are embodied within yourself and they answer the question, “How do I need to BE to DO the things I need to do to get the results I want?” 

Developing the expertise to embody the solutions immediately saves you time because you then do not need to think about, monitor and manage the solutions. 

Simple but not easy 

For the remainder of this article, I shall focus on some of these simple but not easy solutions. You will probably find yourself instinctively resisting them to a greater or less degree but I would encourage you to sit with the discomfort and give critical thought to the time implications they could have for you. 

You may well need help and support to develop the ideas into workable solutions but this need not be difficult to arrange. 

In the second article of this series, I shall share some of the specific tools that have worked for my clients and myself – they may or may not work for you. 

Sphere of influence 

Generally we live within two spheres: our sphere of influence (the things we can influence to a greater or lesser extent) and our sphere of concern (the things that we are concerned about but cannot influence) (Figure 1). 

For the vast majority of us, the sphere of concern is significantly larger than our sphere of influence. For example, consider the angry client who is rude and totally unreasonable. 

We may intellectually accept that there is nothing we could have done differently but emotionally we often spend loads of time ruminating over the event to think of how it might have gone differently. Time completely wasted. 

Whilst it takes time, a great deal of time can be freed up by training yourself to: 

  1. increase your sphere of influence; 
  2. reduce your sphere of concern; and 
  3. maintain a smaller but nonetheless challenging “area for  learning” between the two. 

Live in the present 

Most of us spend most of our time living in the past (fretting about what has happened) or living in the future (fretting about what might happen). We have no influence over the former and limited influence over the latter. 

As is frequently said, “The past is history, the future is mystery, we can only act in the present.” Much time can be gained if we just: 

  1. focus on the past just enough to learn from our mistakes; 
  2. focus on the future just enough to develop an effective plan whilst accepting that reality will develop to be something different again; 
  3. become aware and live fully in the present and enjoy the ride! 

Get a plan 

As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have always found that whilst plans are useless, planning is indispensible,” and this is true of life plans. Do you have one?; Is it current?; Have you ever had one? 

If you do not know where you are or where you want to go in your life, you are going to spend significant amounts of time fretting about alternatives that are not even remotely relevant. It may take months to develop and you may need help working on it; it will almost certainly change with time but that is fine because it means you are taking and being in more control of your life. 

Reduce attachment 

This is probably the most profound time saver and the one that is most difficult to accept. The writer, Stephen Batchelor, describes activity as a form of existential flight that keeps us from considering the important stuff in life. It is certainly true that busyness is often blindly equated with efficiency, which is rarely the case. We could all work smarter rather than harder if we took the time to try. 


In summary, just: 

  1. do less;
  2.  expect less of others and self; 
  3. get a plan; 
  4. live fully in the present; 
  5. work productively within your sphere of influence whilst also pushing yourself towards new learning; 
  6. reject tasks that don’t serve multiple purposes; 
  7. invest in developing yourself. 

For most people, the instinctive reaction to the above is “Yes, but...” – as your inner self thinks of all sorts of reasons why these things can’t be true or implemented. That’s OK. In the West we tend towards a scarcity mentality which is not going to be overcome in an article of this size. n 

  • For those with an open mind who are interested, and under the auspices of BEVME, I invite you to participate in a free (online) group discussion which will take the discussion to the next level. E-mail me at to register an interest.