Each month, as part of the Changemaker of the Month program, I offer an in-kind coaching session via skype can choose a topic related to time management, inbox fitness or self-care. 

This month’s Changemaker of the Month, Shanil Samarakoon from Empower Projects, decided to focus on time management. So we set up a skype meeting and got down to business …

Like many changemakers, Shanil is very, very busy. Not only does he juggle his social enterprise, he holds down another job and he has ambitiously set two personal goals as well.

This is how Shanil described it: “There are 4 major things competing for my time —  (1) my work as Executive Director for Empower (2) my work as an academic at UNSW (3) writing a book and (4) training for a marathon in September.

“Ideally I need to do them all daily. Write about 200 words for my book in the morning. Do my job at UNSW. Do some work for Empower. Go for a run. But on some days, I feel tired, rundown and my mind feels crowded.

“There’s also a cascade effect … if I have a late night skyping with the team in Malawi, and go to bed at 1am, I don’t feel like getting up at 6.30am to do my writing that I promised myself I’d do. It also means by 8.30am I’m feeling pretty tired and this can affect my work at UNSW.”

Let’s start by celebrating Shanil’s strengths

Shanil came into our coaching session with many time management skills in place. Let’s look at the things he is doing well:



  • He has a clear goal of running a full marathon in September
  • He has a running buddy
  • He uses the RunKeeper app to keep track of his progress


  • He has a desire to start networking more, and attending more events
  • He has the flexibility to work from home, and work flexible hours


  • He has been conscientiously building his team over the past few years and delegating responsibilities
  • He has a clear intention to be working more on the business, not in the business


  • He has a goal of writing a fiction book. He’s broken down that big goal into writing 200 words a day.
  • He writes most mornings before work, so his routine is well-established
  • He uses a whiteboard to keep track of his progress
  • He recently passed the 10,000 word mark, and celebrated by sharing the milestone with his friends


  • He uses Any.DO app to keep track of his to-do list
  • He also uses his whiteboard for tracking his progress

Here are the 3 challenges that Shanil brought into our coaching session.

Challenge #1: I vaguely know what I want to be working on, but I don’t know how to start

“I’m pretty good at setting daily goals. However, my job at UNSW and Empower are harder to put into goals and tasks”.

Shanil is confident and competent when setting cyclical goals (goals that involve repeating a similar action, like exercising regularly and writing 200 words per day). However he feels less clear about his linear action goals (projects and tasks that require one step, followed by a different step) such as his Empower projects and his work at UNSW.


1. Get clear on one goal. For example, Shanil told me a bunch of things that needed to be done for Empower. But when I asked him to choose one, he hesitated. (This is very normal — we often feel either overwhelmed or vague about things, which makes it hard to choose). When I rephrased the question “Which would be the easiest or most logical next step?” he replied:

  • Networking to find partners and funders

2. Then schedule a regular time to spend wearing that ‘hat’, preferably same time every week. Shanil chose:

  • Fridays at 10am

3. Get clear on which micro-actions you need to take towards this. For example

  1. Call J. to help brainstorm
  2. Google foundations in Sydney
  3. Update the two page Empower brief with our new company logo

Why it works:

Breaking big goals down  into small, actionable tasks is just as important for linear goals as it is for cyclical goals. Putting these tasks into a project management app, or on a Post-it note, helps get it out of your head (and forces you to get out of vagueness and into clarity).


Challenge #2: When you don’t have time (or energy) for your goals

“I used to run in the mornings, but then I started doing my daily writing routine. So I switched my run till the evening, but sometimes I’m too tired (or it’s too cold outside) and so I don’t end up going”.

Life happens! We get tired, busy or just couldn’t be bothered. When that happens, it’s easy to fall into All-or-Nothing thinking. Either I go on a full 5km run, or I do nothing.

Solution: Create a range of goals. Have a minimum “Just Say Hello” goal. Have your ideal goal. And have 3 other points in between.

What we did: I asked Shanil what other distance he could do if he didn’t feel like going on a full 4-5km evening run. He suggested a shorter 2.5 km run.

Then we looked at alternative physical exercise he could do, particularly on a cold, winter’s night or after a late event. Star jumps. Or a 30 min workout, a combination of star jumps, crunches, push ups and squats. He mapped them out over 5 Post-it notes.


The idea is to trick your mind into believing that ANY of these options are satisfactory. No shame or guilt for doing a small amount. No excuses for not showing up.

Why it works:

Often we think of goals in black and white. Either I achieved it or I didn’t. Having goals on a gradient (a grey-dient)  makes us feel like we’re being consistent and turning up, regardless of what get done. Creating a minimum goal that is so small that it’s almost a no-brainer is what we’re aiming for.

Note: Your ‘turning up’ goal might be smaller than 60 star jumps. For me, I would set my own minimum lower, such as 5 star jumps :) When I’ve helped people start meditation routines, the minimum we set was putting a cushion on the ground, sitting on it for 10 seconds and getting up. The idea is that it needs to be so low that it’s a no-brainer.


Challenge #3: When mornings are rushed

“I’ve set myself the goal of writing every morning before work, but sometimes it’s a rush to get out the door on time”.

Solution: Streamline morning routine. Find the things that are distractions (like checking your email on the phone) and find an alternative (“Do a mindfulness activity instead of picking up my phone”). Shanil had previously mentioned he wanted to incorporate more meditation back into his routine — so this helps him find pockets of time to practise meditation.

Getting his laptop bag ready the night before means that Shanil doesn’t have to rush around before leaving the house.



Why it works: It’s easy to make a commitment in the moment, but forget it soon after. Having it on ‘paper’, in a place that you see it, can help anchor it.

Note: Having these items in the To-Do list doesn’t mean they need to be done religiously. But having them there as intentions, especially at the top of the screen, can help subconsciously sculpt out new habits.

Finishing up

I’m really grateful to Shanil for sharing his process here, along with these photos. It certainly takes courage to let us see behind-the-scenes.

This is what he said: “Thanks, Erin. It was a productive session! Time management now feels less intimidating. Breaking things down step-by-step using subtasks was really useful.

“Writing my running goals on 5 Post-it notes was helpful — I used to think minimum and maximum, but not the in-between. I feel more there’s more I can do in small pockets of time. I’m looking forward to putting it into action.”


Over to you … what did you find helpful?

What did you find helpful about reading Shanil’s coaching session? Which tip or technique can you apply to your own work life?