What does a productivity coach do? Should you hire one?

Productivity coaching is for a) procrastinators and b) high achievers or c) people who manage to be both. Let’s have a look at what a productivity coach does and how they might be able to help you get the right things done with more ease.

What does a productivity coach do in general?

Simply put: A productivity coach helps you be more productive. How? They develop new habits and time-management routines with you. A good productivity coach won’t force their favorite time-management tactics on you, instead, they will co-create habits and routines with you. This ensures that you truly find the best strategies that work for you rather than following a cookie-cutter formula.

After you have identified which strategies you want to use to increase your productivity, your coach help you implement those new behaviors. The changes you make with a coach should last for months and years, so long after you have worked with them.

At the end of coaching, you will have found sustainable time-management strategies and habits you actually stick with.

If this sounds too good to be true, keep in mind that these results only come from working with good, qualified productivity coaches.

For now, let’s talk about…

  • The difference between productivity coaches, consultants, and trainers
  • What problems a productivity coach can help you with,
  • Who typically hires a productivity coach, and how to know if you need one

What is the difference between a productivity coach, a time-management consultant, and a productivity trainer?

You might have seen different terms used for professionals who help you with your personal productivity. Let’s explore what the differences are.

A coach‘s job is to help you make lasting change and develop deeper self-awareness. A consultant typically advises on strategies, and a trainer delivers information and education. Their goal is always to make you more productive. But the level of individualization and support differs. Coaches give you the most attention and support:

Coaches get into the weeds alongside you as take action. That’s why I recommend going with a productivity coach over a consultant or trainer. Most of us don’t struggle with a lack of knowledge about basic time-management strategies. Finding strategies that make sense for your situation is where we need help. Consultants and trainers educate you, but their focus is less on ensuring that you actually follow through and change your behavior for good.

It is worth noting that with a coach, there is a higher chance that they have received solid training on human change processes and are able to help you do that. The coaching industry is still unregulated and anyone can call themselves a coach (or a consultant, or a trainer). But many coaches will have gone out of their way to receive training on behavior change.

Keep in mind though that the title is not what’s most important when you are looking for help. Every professional describes their job role differently. Have a look at a potential coach’s qualification. Does it sound like they know what they are talking about? Can you see how their qualifications will help you get a better result?

An illustration of a man sitting at his laptop with an abstract clock in the background.
Image courtesy of unDraw.

What can a productivity coach help me with?

The goal of productivity coaching is to help you be productive in a sustainable way. They teach you how to achieve your goals without feeling stressed and burnt out. A coach can help you develop a healthy work-life balance, waste less time getting distracted on social media, prioritize your work, and procrastinate less.

Here is a list of the general results you can expect from working with a productivity coach:

The benefits of hiring a productivity coach

  • Achieve your goals
  • Learn how to prioritize tasks and projects
  • Get more things done in less time
  • Get more things done with less stress, overwhelm, and anxiety
  • Procrastinate less
  • Learn how to focus and stick with a task
  • Have time for deep work
  • Have more free time and be able to enjoy it without guilt

Those are some pretty life-changing results, and not all coaches will be able to deliver them.

Who typically hires a productivity coach?

In theory, anyone can hire a personal productivity coach. Think someone who has a goal and could see a tangible benefit in optimizing how they use their time.

People in leadership positions

  • Entrepreneurs and founders
  • CEOs, CTOs, COOs, …
  • Team leads
  • Small business owners
  • Agency owners
  • Freelancers

What they have in common is that they need to have a high level of self-organization, self-management, and self-motivation in order to succeed in their roles. They are often in control of their schedules and don’t have a lot of outside accountability. Learning how to work effectively and overcome distractions, procrastination, and busy work is the most straight forward way to optimize their performance and help them get ahead.

But leaders are not the only people who enjoy working with a productivity coach.

People with a Goal

  • Researchers, Master’s and Ph.D. students
  • Stay-at-home parents who want to start a side hustle
  • Designers, writers, and creatives
  • Coaches and consultants
  • Developers, product managers, and software engineers
  • Project managers
  • People in startups or agile work environments

Personally, my coaching clients are roughly 70% entrepreneurs and CEOs/COOs/CTOs, and 30% social scientists, developers, engineers, and creatives. No matter their profession, they all want to optimize how they spend their time.

What unites this group of people is that they have personal or professional goals that they want to achieve. And they know that no one is going to make them perform or hold their hand to get there. It’s on them to organize their efforts and devote time to their most important projects.

Productivity coaching clients are high achievers who either:

  • Already have a time-management system that works, but they know they could optimize it further
  • Struggle with heavy procrastination behind the scenes and feel ashamed about getting tasks done at the last minute. They want to learn how to get things done in a way that is sustainable for them and “fix” their productivity once and for all.

A lot of my clients are “high potentials” meaning that they have an above-average IQ and other talents that help them deliver great results without much effort. They have often cruised through school and life without ever having to learn how to work in a focused and efficient way – doing things last minute has worked for them.

But at some point, they reach the ceiling of this procrastination tactic. Either their results drop, or they have this gnawing sense that they are living way below their potential. That’s why they turn to productivity coaching to learn a sustainable way to make use of their talent and get things done without needing the urgency of a deadline.

To sum up: People who hire productivity coaches want to be intentional and mindful with how they spend their time and are typically ambitious and goal-oriented. They come to coaching because they know there is room for improvement and they care about their performance. Many clients also want to feel less stressed and have a healthier work-life balance.

An illustration of a woman sitting crosslegged on the floor with a red cat lying next to her. She is touching the cat's face. In the background there are three large tree-like leaves.
Image courtesy of unDraw.

How do I know I’m ready to hire a personal productivity coach?

Excellent question. Only hire a productivity coach if you…

  • Notice that your days are unproductive and that you feel you are not getting as much done as you want
  • Have a goal or a reason to care about your productivity (you feel that being more productive would help you live a happier life and achieve your goals)
  • Have a big important project you want to perform well on. Better time management would get you there

Otherwise, you simply don’t need a productivity coach. You might benefit more from different kinds of coaching, like reflective life coaching, health, or relationship coaching. Or none at all!

It is common for people to hire productivity coaches because they want to get out of the “busy work cycle”. They want to have more time for deep work and meaningful projects that never make it to the top of their to-do list. Instead of feeling reactive and tied to their to-do list, they want to have time to breathe and work on non-urgent, but important projects.

Let’s look at some examples of the reasons people hire a productivity coach:

  • For researchers, their goal is usually to publish more papers.
  • For entrepreneurs, it’s a profitable idea they can’t find time for in their day-to-day work.
  • C-suite professionals often want to stop reacting to emails, meetings, and urgent work all day and regain control. They want to make time for non-urgent, but important work that would move their team forward.

But again, not everyone needs a productivity coach. Trust your gut, you’ll know if you feel like productivity is an issue for you. If it is, hiring a productivity coach like myself can be an empowering step toward feeling more content in your life.

Common struggles that signal hiring a productivity coach is right for you:

You regularly…

  • Put tasks off, which creates stress and keeps you from making progress on your goals
  • Don’t have a task management system. You feel overwhelmed deciding what to work on each day
  • Have never been able to find a to-do list system you stick with
  • Feel overwhelmed by your many projects (maybe you are a multipotentialite)
  • Can only work under severe pressure. You need deadlines or to be surrounded by others in an office, otherwise, you slack off.
  • Are okay working in an office environment, but feel completely lost when you work from home
  • Don’t know how to manage your energy and often overwork yourself
  • Feel burnt out and like you’re on a hamster wheel
  • Never get around to the truly important projects, feel stuck with busywork
  • Struggle to manage productivity and mental health. You want to find a way to adjust your productivity routine to your mental health needs so that you can both not overwork yourself (putting yourself at risk) and have routines that can scale down to the “bad days”.

If you see yourself on this list, finding a realistic and sustainable productivity routine together with a coach is probably the right next step for you. You have probably tried a lot of things on your own and might feel stuck – that’s why having a productivity coach by your side can be a huge relief.

A productivity coach will listen to your concerns and draw up an individual productivity routine that is tailored to your needs. And they support you in testing it against reality! That is the hardest part. A routine on paper may be inspiring, but it’s worthless if you can’t get yourself to actually use it.

A good productivity coach will help you experiment with your routine until you have found something you truly stick with, one that is flexible enough to survive on good and bad days.

If you still feel weird about the idea of hiring someone to “make” you more productive, the next section is for you.

If I need a productivity coach, does that mean I’m lazy or “not normal”?

Absolutely not. Many people struggle with procrastination and feel like they could use their time better. It’s the malaise of the 21st-century. It’s just that nobody talks about their struggles. You might very well have a colleague who struggles with getting work done and never know it. When they deliver a confident PowerPoint presentation you would never know that they put it off and had to pull a frenzied late-night shift.

As a productivity coach myself, I can assure you for 9 out of 10 of my clients, no one in their life would suspect that they work with a productivity coach. They are objectively doing well in their life. But that doesn’t mean that they are happy with their results, or how much stress it causes them to achieve them.

I have worked with agency owners whose business generates several million dollars in revenue each year. I worked with COOs of international non-profits who wanted to make sure they were having the biggest impact on the children they served. I have worked with established professors and software engineers and consultants – and they all benefited from coaching. There was nothing wrong with them, and still there was room for growth.

Remember that not being productive is a big shame trigger, whether you live in the US, the UK, Dubai, or Indonesia. It’s just not something that we talk about. Adults are supposed to have their act together, period. And that includes the natural ability to be productive, cross things off our to-do list, and never turn into an anxious wreck.

But being productive consistently is no easy feat – only when we deliberately design healthy work habits and learn how to set realistic goals can we be productive in the long run.

The little-known secret of productivity is that it’s actually a psychological phenomenon – we need to understand our own psychology and learn how to change behavior and habits so we can be productive.

So it’s not about finding the smartest time management strategies or being more disciplined. Being more productive is a very individual experience that depends on your history, your current habits, and what motivates you best.

Does all of that sound complicated? It can be! And that’s why productivity coaches exist. They should be the experts who understand psychology and behavioral science so that you can focus on making changes that will work for you.

If you want to hire a productivity coach, awesome! Let’s look at where to find a potential coach, and what you can expect from a productivity coaching program.

Should I hire an online productivity coach or a coach near me?

The good news is: Online coaching is just as effective as face-to-face coaching in an office.

Unless you live in a big city like NYC, LA, or London, you’re likely going to have a hard time finding a productivity coach near you. Don’t be scared to choose an online productivity coaching program. The majority of coaches offer online coaching programs that are held over Skype or Zoom.

How will you know that your online productivity coach will get you the results you want? Make sure that they have a background in psychology, show you their coaching credentials, and that they have positive client testimonials from people who faced the same productivity issues as you.

What does a productivity coaching program typically look like?

All coaching programs are usually made up of two components:

  • The coaching sessions where you talk to your coach
  • Homework: Activities you do between sessions to get results. This will often include building new habits or reflection exercises
  • Messages between sessions for accountability, troubleshooting, and support on your coaching homework. How often you talk to your coach and how they like to communicate between sessions will differ.

As long as…

  • You feel your coach is qualified
  • Your coach knows behavior change and won’t just teach you their rigid time management system
  • You have at least one session every other week
  • You can reach your coach between sessions for support

…you’re good.

Usually, the coach will have worked with many clients and figured out the call rhythm and additional support works best for their clients. So trust them on the call schedule that they suggest.

How long should a productivity coaching program be so it’s effective?

Behavior change takes a long time – longer than the 21 or 60 days you might have read about on the internet (these numbers come from individual studies and have been picked up by the media as catchy titles).

A good coaching program should last at least three months, but six to nine months is often better for sustainable results.

Sometimes a coach will have a shorter program, which allows you to try out what it’s like to work with them. If you enjoy their coaching style and can clearly see promising early results, awesome! Then you can commit to a longer program and relax knowing that you are not wasting your money.

Here is a rough timeline of the change process during my productivity coaching program:

I work with my clients for six to nine months in a more intensive program with regular coaching calls.

My clients see results three months into our productivity coaching program, but they’ll feel that they are not “there yet”. So we keep working to refine their productivity system and to secure their new habits.

The outcome? A sustainable, tailored productivity system they can rely on even when they experience mental health struggles or life gets crazy (many of my clients have a history of depression and anxiety).

After six to nine months, clients have developed a task management system, a daily to-do list they actually use, strategies for prioritizing tasks, regular time for deep work, and strategies to overcome procrastination and manage distractions.

They can trust themselves to get their work done. And they have found a healthy work-life balance so the changes are sustainable.

If you are curious you can learn more about my productivity coaching program here.

The important thing to take away here is that you won’t overhaul lifelong habits in three months but you should expect to feel more at ease and get more things done nonetheless. Expect change to take a while. But really, six or even twelve months isn’t that long when you consider that once you have found productivity habits that work for you, you can use them for the rest of your life.

Of course, these time estimates only hold true if you find a coach that is good at their job. It’s completely natural to be a bit skeptical. So do your research before you commit to a productivity coach.

Where can I find a productivity coach?

Most productivity coaches aren’t web experts with splendid marketing campaigns, so you might not be able to find them with a simple Google search. But there are a few of us out there!

If you are lucky your friends and colleagues might know a good coach. But keep in mind that most people keep their work with a productivity coaching experience private, especially at work (even though there is nothing to hide).

Summary

We’ve covered a lot in this article, so let’s recap the most important points:

  • Many people find it hard to be productive, it is very common and normal.
  • Productivity coaching is a normal and healthy way to get support
  • Productivity coaches help you be more productive by establishing new habits and routines
  • Consultants and trainers offer education about time management, whereas coaches give you individualized recommendations and support you during the change process
  • Productivity coaches can be hired by anyone who has goals and wants to improve how they use their time. Entrepreneurs and CEOs often hire coaches, but so do researchers, employees, stay-at-home parents, and students.
  • Productivity coaching programs should be at least three months long, but often work better when they are six to nine months long
  • You can find a productivity coach online
  • When hiring a productivity coach, make sure they can deliver the results you’re looking for. Check out this productivity coach qualifications checklist to find the best productivity coach for you.

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!


Also published on Medium.

Author: Iris

Iris Barzen is a coach for entrepreneurs and C-suite professionals. Her work is based on her degree in psychology + 7 years of coaching experience. She offers evidence-based strategies rather than self-help advice to help her clients get the right things done consistently, so they can build the life they want.