Blog

Checklist: How to hire the best productivity coach for you

Many productivity coaches make big promises about helping you “unleash your potential”. “Work with me”, they say, “you will eliminate procrastination forever and achieve your goals 10x faster”.

But you have read All. The. Time Management Books. You are not new to the productivity game. So how can you know that working with a coach will actually help you?

That is what we are going to discuss in this article. We will look at:

  • The qualifications of a good productivity coach
  • How to know if their productivity philosophy works for your situation
  • Red flags and green flags for each stage of the hiring process
    • The sales page
    • The discovery call
    • A final gut check

Let’s get started!

Qualification Checklist: What to look for in a Productivity Coach

What makes a good productivity coach? How do you know which coach to trust? And how do you choose the coach that best fits your personality and situation?

This is what we will review now. There are four key qualification signals you want to look out for on a coach’s website.

#1: Have They Done Coach Training?

The person doesn’t simply qualify their expertise as “been there, done that”. They have real coaching credentials to show and ideally even have a background in psychology, counseling, or other related fields that deal with supporting humans through transitions and challenges.

The International Coaching Federation ICF is the most common credentialing body for coaches. But each country usually has a national organization as well where your coach might be credentialed. If your coach is not credentialed with the ICF, this isn’t necessarily a warning sign. Getting certified with them is costly, and not all coaches believe it’s necessary to get a badge to put on your website.

But what is non-negotiable is this: You want to be able to see these qualification signals:

  • Your coach is serious about coaching as a profession
  • Your coach has done coach training or other psychological training
  • Your coach has experience with the problem you want help with (i.e. productivity)
  • Your coach has several years of coaching experience. They are not a newbie.
  • Coaching is not a convenient side income for them, they would identify as a coach.

If you can see that the productivity coach you are considering is a coach who has spent time learning their craft, you can move on to the next step.

#2: Do They Have Psychological Training?

Your coach does not have to be a psychologist, therapist, or counselor. But there is no coaching without psychology – coaching is a psychological intervention. And humans are complex! Therefore it can be helpful to work with a coach who has some background in psychology. If they do, you know that they have been trained to look at humans more analytically and strategically than your regular coach.

What exactly is the difference between a psychological coach and a regular coach? People with psychology degrees learn how to analyze people and can spot patterns in behavior that might be invisible to laymen. They are mindful of the most common mental health issues like depression and anxiety. And they are less likely to let their own biases and life experience dictate the coaching plan they create for you.

Personally, I do work with coaches without a psychology background, but only if I have a very strong gut feeling that they know what they are doing. See this one more as a bonus worth considering than a black-and-white criterion.

#3: Do They Have a Solid Philosophy on Increasing Productivity?

In German, we have this very specific word “Menschenbild” which describes how someone views humankind. For example, believing that all humans are full of internal conflict would be a Menschenbild, just as believing that all humans are good and only turn evil if bad things happen to them.

Why does this matter for coaching?

If we take an example from therapy, different schools cognitive behavioral therapy and depth psychology don’t only differ in their methods. They also have a different view of humans and the world.

Depth psychology believes that mental health struggles come from inner conflicts that need to be resolved. Cognitive-behavioral therapy believes that our thoughts influence how we feel and act. These therapists believe that changing negative thought patterns is critical for change.

Why does this matter? Because each Menschenbild comes with assumptions a therapist or coach makes about you, the client, and what you need to change to succeed. Depending on their beliefs, their focus and your experience will be very different.

Be Vary of Unrealistic Time-management Theories

For productivity coaches, many have an unhealthy belief that humans are lazy and would watch Netflix all day if you let them.

They believe the only way to get us to do “the right thing” is to be use force and discipline. They want you to be strict with yourself to develop more willpower (which science suggests, might be impossible).

A coach with this view will focus on forcing commitment. They will likely set big goals with you that they expect you to sacrifice for. If you don’t reach your goals, they will look for where you were weak and not determined enough.
You can imagine that this is a recipe for burnout.

Some people enjoy this approach, but most find it hard to follow through with time-management tactics and willpower alone.

What happens when a client doesn’t perform well with a coach like this? They are likely to feel shame and believe something is wrong with them. They might either ghost their coach and avoid the situation, or vow to work harder and burn themselves out trying to prove that they are one of the committed people who have what it takes to reach their dreams.

Can you see how all of this goes back to the coach’s Menschenbild and explanation for how productivity works?

The Sustainable Approach to Productivity

Other productivity coaches believe that to be more productive, we need to understand psychology and what helps and hinders “good” behavior. Then we can achieve lasting behavior change – because we are not working against ourselves, but with ourselves.

Coaches with this Menschenbild often work with compassion and smaller goals. They avoid talking about discipline and rah-rah motivational speak. Instead, they will work on your underlying beliefs about what it takes to be productive. They will help you work on procrastination, dissect perfectionism, and help you understand how to manage your energy gently.

So how do you know what your coach’s productivity philosophy is? Look at their website, read their sales pages, and ask yourself: What does this coach believe I need to be productive?

As a productivity coach myself, here is what I believe to be true about productivity:

Behavior change is messy. Your productivity is the result you see, but the ingredients responsible for the result are your thoughts, emotions, habits, previous life experience, mental health struggles, and the uniqueness of your own psychological make-up (maybe you are a multipotentialite, or gifted, or neurodiverse, or have a fixed instead of a growth mindset, struggle with depression…). This will influence how much you get done and how happy or numb you will feel carrying out those tasks). In being mindful of these factors, we can optimize your productivity and make sure that your changes last and adapt with you.

Do you want to practice using this checklist? You can use my productivity coaching program as an example.

#4 Do They Have Good Testimonials?

If your coach is a qualified coach with a solid model of behavior change productivity you resonate with – awesome! Now it’s time to hear what others have said about their coaching.

Your coach should have reviews or testimonials for you to check out on their website. You’ll want to check if their testimonials talk about actual results clients got, like finishing a big project or working less. There is a real placebo effect to coaching. Speaking with your coach feels great, and having a supportive person in your corner is exciting. But that doesn’t mean that the clients actually go the change they paid for initially. You want them to describe a real transformation.

Here is an example of a “bad” testimonial:

“Greg was amazing to talk to and I left our sessions feeling inspired. I feel much more confident now and feel I have changed profoundly.”

– Not so great testimonial

This testimonial might just be poorly written. Maybe Greg’s big change was saving so much time he finally launched his side hustle – a very tangible result. Or maybe Greg feels different (which is awesome in and of itself), but he hasn’t seen big changes in his life yet. And since you are coming to your coach too, well, have your life changed in a way, this can be important to watch out for.

A great testimonial would be:

“Greg is a fantastic coach. I work much more effectively now so I have started taking Fridays off to work on a creative project.”

– Meaningful testimonial

If your desired coach does not have more than 1-2 or even no testimonials, this could mean that they are a beginner coach (or bad at marketing). So be vary.

If your coach only has fluffy “coaching felt incredible” testimonials, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are a bad coach. Getting good testimonials is a skill in and of itself, and if your coach is not that great at it, it doesn’t say anything about their coaching skills.

But if you can’t clearly see that your coach is getting people the result they promise, be careful.

Summary of Qualifications

  • Your coach is a trained professional with several years of experience
  • Your coach has a philosophy or behavior change model that makes sense to you
  • The solution they describe resonates deeply
  • They have testimonials that prove they have gotten people results in the past
  • Bonus: Your coach has a background in psychology

Let’s say you have found a productivity coach that checks all the boxes. Now you’ll look at their coaching program to find out if it’s for you. Let’s review what clues you should look for on their sales page.

An illustration of a woman with black hair sitting cross-legged on the floor. She is on the phone and has her laptop next to her.
Image courtesy of unDraw.

What to Look for in a Productivity Coaching Program

Bestselling books or online personalities are no guarantee for good coaching skills. Bestselling books are not the only indicator. People resonate with ideas, but that doesn’t mean that they changed their behavior for good.

Red Flags

Here are some common phrases you don’t want to see on your coach’s sales page.

  • They talk a lot about how successful they are to prove that they can help you succeed.
  • They use fear tactics, many pop-ups, and fake urgency (“limited time only”) to pressure you to sign up for coaching.
  • Being more productive doesn’t sound like it will be a human and fun journey.
  • They want you to function like a robot and squash any emotions that might get in the way.
  • They want you to “unleash your full potential” as if you are a bottle waiting to be uncorked. 
  • The language is quite aggressive. Watch out for these words: Massive, eliminate, beat, ultimate, forever, never, destroy, battle, or annihilate. Productivity is not a battle to be won. 

Let’s talk about the price for a moment. Unless your coach is the world’s busiest, most famous expert on your coaching topic (like Brene Brown on vulnerability, for example), coaching shouldn’t cost 25.000 USD. 

Make sure they don’t use the investment as an easy way to force a commitment from you. This could indicate that they don’t have more sophisticated tactics to help you change your behavior. You don’t want the change process to be dependant on your motivation alone! If the coach is a famous expert, make sure that they can coach vs. mentor you (coaching = behavior change, mentoring = advice). 

Green Flags

Here are some positive signs you might see on a good productivity coach’s sales page:

  1. They have a degree in psychology or have completed a certified coach training
  2. The coaching program goes deeper than teaching you time management strategies
  3. They do NOT say you need discipline, self-control, or willpower to make the process work for you 
  4. There is a sense of realism. The coach is not selling you a crazy transformation. 
  5. The program is not a one-size-fits-all system. There is a game plan, but it’s not an untouchable dogma. 
  6. The site does NOT look like a marketing advert with lots of flashy buttons, pop-ups, and countdown timers.
  7. The person doesn’t just qualify their expertise as “been there, done that”
  8. They are not trying to sell you a magic formula
  9. They are not using pressure and fake urgency to get you to sign up

Have you found a coaching program that sounds good to you? What happens next? Usually, a coach will invite you to do a discovery call.

The Discovery Call

First of all, a coach who doesn’t offer you a brief consultation is a red flag in and of itself. But most coaches do offer discovery calls. So when you are on the phone with your coach for the first time, what should you ask them?

What Happens During a Discovery Call with a Coach?

Typically, you get to share a bit about your situation and goals for coaching. The coach might ask you questions to understand what you want from coaching and if they can help. They will also share more about their philosophy, maybe tell a success story and let you know the details of the program and the investment. 

So the discovery call is a chance for you to ask all the questions you have and get a feeling for your potential coach. 

What to Ask the Coach

You don’t have to come to the call prepared with questions. But it might help to ask yourself beforehand: What do I need to know so I can make a choice about their program? What do I feel insecure about? 

If you don’t know a lot about their coaching qualifications yet, consider asking some of these questions: 

  • Did you do a specific coach certification or training?
  • Are you credentialed with the ICF or somewhere else?
  •  How many years have you been coaching people 1-on-1? 

If you are unsure if their program works for people like you, you might find these questions helpful: 

  • Can you share a story of someone you have worked with? 
  • I have been diagnosed with depression/bipolar/ADHD/[insert mental health struggle]. Can this still work for me? 
  • Do you work with people like me who are [insert your situation]? 

Other than these qualification questions focus on being open to the process. Share about your situation and feel out if you and the coach are a good fit. 

No-Gos: Don’t Ask Your Coach These Questions

Some personal development books give specific advice on how you know someone is a good coach (or leader, or worthy friend). Unfortunately, they have nothing to do with good coaching. Don’t be fooled by the apparent simplicity of these criteria. 

Examples of such unhelpful questions are: 

  • Do you currently work with a coach yourself? 
  • What are your values, and how do you make sure you live by them? 
  • What is the best productivity tip that has worked for you? 
  • What are your big goals for the future, and how do you go about achieving them? 

I get where these questions come from. You want to make sure that your coach is someone who truly believes in coaching (and works on “bettering” themselves with a coach), someone who is self-reflected and knows their values. You want proof that your coach believes in coaching and is ambitious like you. 

Unfortunately, none of these questions will help you make a good decision. Coaches aren’t obligated to work with other coaches 100% of the time to prove they believe in coaching. They don’t need to have all their goals in neat order to help you either. 

Your coach might even feel thrown by these personal questions. You don’t ask your dentist if they brushed their teeth last night to prove that they are a good dentist, do you? So don’t ask your coach about their personal life unless it is relevant to the coaching subject. 

Consider this: You don’t want a coach who offers you nothing but a “been there done that” coaching program. Instead, you need a master of their craft who is niched down on the specific problem you have. Coaching is a literal craft, a unique skill that is honed over hundreds of hours. 

So save yourself time and ask questions that will help you make sure they are a great fit. 

How Important Are the Details of the Coaching Program?

  • I know you offer audio calls. But I want you to read my body language. Do you do video calls?
  • You offer hourlong sessions every other week. I feel it would be more effective to do two 30-minute calls every week. Will you change your program for me? 
  • You coach on Skype. Will you coach me on Zoom/Facetime instead? 

You have the best intentions here: You want to ensure that their program is tailored to your needs. And it feels like these details might make all the difference in your success! 

But the truth is, they don’t matter very much. 

First of all, asking questions like these is a great way to get on your coach’s nerves. They have worked with dozens of clients and created a coaching program that they know works. 

Your coach is the expert here. Whether they offer you calls every two weeks with email check-ins or weekly calls with Voxer support – this is how they best deliver the best results. So trust their process. If everything else feels right about working with this coach, don’t be sidetracked by the details. 

And more importantly: If you feel unsure about signing up with this coach, changing these details won’t change that. Listen to your gut. If you feel anxious or insecure, that’s a sign that you’ll be better off with someone else. 

Once you have started working with your coach: Half the battle is for you to relax, lean into coaching, and trust your coach to take the lead. They have helped people like you before. Let them show you the way, and trust that you will see the results you want. 

Red Flags – Signs You Shouldn’t Hire a Coach

  • It feels like you are talking to a salesy salesman, not a compassionate professional
  • They steamroll over any concerns you have
  • They aren’t aware of mental health needs, the reality of burnout, and the fact that humans aren’t optimizable robots
  • When you express insecurity about coaching, they try to convince you it’s the best choice no matter what
  • They don’t see you as the expert on your own life – they are the expert. They will take over the reins and tell you exactly what to do to succeed. 
  • If they don’t remember details about your life from previous messages, they might not care about you as a person (or be forgetful)

Green Flags – Signs You Should Hire a Coach

  • You can see that the coach is passionate about their work. They don’t coach to get a high hourly rate – they have invested time and money into becoming a professional coach. 
  • Talks about their methodology for, and it makes sense to you
  • Talks about tailoring their program to your needs vs. insisting the program will work for anyone
  • It feels like you are talking to a caring human who listens to you. 
  • The coach feels experienced and like a professional

Checklist: How to Decide if You Should Hire the Coach

After the call, take a moment to reflect on your experience with the coach. Here are some prompts that can help you come to a decision about coaching:

  • You feel chemistry with the coach. Maybe you even laughed together on the call.
  • The coach really cares. They took the time to get to know you and your unique situation. 
  • The coach validated your feelings and was empathetic. You didn’t feel judged or ashamed. 
  • The coach listened to you and maybe even offered some new insight into your situation. 
  • You felt seen and heard after the call. 
  • They didn’t pressure you to sign up now (or else the price will go up, the offer expires, …). Limited coaching spots are okay, so long as that doesn’t feel like an icky tactic. 
  • The call was a real conversation. The coach wasn’t just walking you through a sales script. 
  • If you did some impromptu coaching, the coach offered more than use basic mirroring techniques. They didn’t just use what you said to turn it into reasons to sign up for their program. 
  • The coach had a compassionate response to all your concerns they made you feel safe. 
  • They made sure all your questions were answered before they let you sign up

Looking good? Then it’s time to do a final gut check before you hand over your money.

Final Gut Check

You have already done a lot of rational deliberation about working with this coach. You probably have an opinion about whether or not you want to work with them by now. But wait! Before you commit, it’s a good idea to do a final gut check.

Why? Because when it comes to spending money, we often trick ourselves. And after a bad investment, we can usually point to an uneasy feeling that we had right from the beginning. To save yourself this experience, let’s review the subtle signals that show you how you really feel about working with this coach.

What It Feels like When the Coach Isn’t Right for You

Sometimes we hire a coach for the wrong reasons. This will make it hard to get the results you want. In the end, you might leave frustrated and ashamed of having spent the money. 

Here are some warning signs that signal you’re not in the right state for coaching (or that the coach is not the right fit): 

  • You want to throw all your money at them to make your problems go away
  • You hope they will finally fix you 
  • You don’t allow yourself to feel doubt about the program. 
  • You don’t have chemistry with the coach, but their sales page sounds amazing, so you don’t care. 
  • You shouldn’t be feeling anxious and like you’ll have to “step up” to get results
  • You experience “good student” syndrome and want to become the best case study the coach has ever had

Signals That the Coach Is Right for You

This is how you want to feel reading a productivity coach’s sales page or after the discovery call:

  • Validated and seen vs. shamed and agitated
  • Hopeful and encouraged
  • The coach shows empathy and compassion – you don’t feel talked down to by an expert
  • Excited or grounded
  • Like the coach really gets you as a human and cares about your success
  • Like the coach understands your problem and describes a solution that makes sense to you

Summary

Not all productivity coaches are good at their job – and even if they are, that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to help your unique situation. That’s why it is important to know what to look for when you are looking for your coach.

Check their sales page for promises that sound unrealistic, make sure they are skilled at the craft of coaching, and check in with your gut on the chemistry you’re feeling with your coach.

If you follow these steps, I’m sure you will find the best productivity coach to help you be more productive and live with more ease.


Are you looking for a productivity coach? I happen to be one.

Hi, I’m Iris Barzen, a German psychologist and productivity coach. I have been coaching since 2013 and have helped many ambitious people like you be more productive – without burning out or losing all joy in life. Check out my program!