Self-management is crucial for every professional, not just business owners, executives, and others for whom management is part of the job description.
In fact, self-management is useful for many facets of life as well as at work — it may be just what you need if you’re struggling to meet the demands of your job, make time for your personal life, or avoid stress.
This is because self-management skills give you control over your time, keep you motivated, and prepare you to tackle any challenge.
What Is Self-Management?
Any action you choose to do without external prompting, coercion, or encouragement that improves your productivity or happiness is self-management.
This encompasses things like decision making, the way you react to the unexpected, prioritization, and self-control.
Why Is Self-Management Important in Work and in Life?
At work, possessing self-management skills can lead to more promotions (or even help you avoid being replaced). Employers want workers who can make the right choices for clients, work without constant supervision, and manage their own time.
If you’re a business owner, your self-management skills will have a big impact on the success of the company and mean you’re able to keep growing.
Self-management is just as important in your personal life. It is linked to self-awareness, which means you understand and appropriately act upon your emotions. As a result, you have better interpersonal relationships and are more equipped to meet your personal goals.
Examples of Self-Management
Before looking at how you can build self-management skills, it’s important to know what you’re ultimately trying to achieve.
Other people in your life (perhaps your coworkers, manager, employees, or family members) need to be able to rely on you. When you agree to do something, it’s crucial that you keep your word.
You need to be organized in every sense of the word. This means decluttering your workspace, figuring out the best system to order files on your laptop, deleting emails, and having a clear mind. These things can help you stay on track, avoid distractions, and be productive.
Being organized also means you have whatever you need to complete tasks at hand or you know where to find tools and information quickly.
By setting appropriate goals, you’ll always be clear about what you’re aiming for. You can make sure all your activities lead you closer to your goals and that you’re rarely (if ever) wasting time.
Since self-management is all about functioning without the guidance of others, it follows that initiative has a major role to play. Whereas it’s fine to ask for clarification and support when you need it, you should be figuring out solutions on your own whenever possible.
This may be challenging at times, and you’ll need drive and belief in yourself to succeed.
It can often feel like there are not enough hours in the day. This may actually be true if you have a particularly heavy workload and other responsibilities, but you can always free up more time with better time-management skills.
As well as prioritizing the right tasks, this means fighting distractions, delegating, and learning to say “no.”
When you allow your emotions to take over, you may make poor decisions that you’ll regret later. This is often due to stress, especially if you struggle to stay calm.
Being organized, avoiding procrastination, and keeping your workload low can all help with stress management. Of course, stress can also come from outside your job, in which case you’ll need to learn tactics to clear your mind and focus.
When circumstances change, you need to be able to quickly figure out how to adapt. This may mean having problem-solving skills to resolve issues and innovation to come up with new solutions. In any case, you’ll need the self-confidence to trust that you’re making the right decisions.
There are plenty of times when motivation likely comes easily, such as when you’re working on a project you enjoy. However, you need to maintain this same level of motivation for challenging tasks and for times of the day or week when your energy levels are at their lowest. It’s important that you’re able to find this motivation from within and not wait until external factors push you forward.
The people you interact with need to be able to trust that you’ll make decisions according to your own moral code. Your actions shouldn’t depend on what’s in your best interests but should consider the bigger picture.
You need to be accountable for those who rely on you and to yourself. This means that, instead of shifting the blame to someone else if you see poor outcomes due to your own decisions, you analyze what went wrong and strategize how to do better next time. In addition, accountability means striving to work to the best of your abilities, even if the task has little meaning to you personally.
Ways to Improve Your Self-Management Skills
The exact action you’ll need to take to improve your self-management skills will depend on your goals, responsibilities, and current habits (good and bad). Nonetheless, all of the following should provide you with a useful starting point.
1. Set SMART Goals
There are various ways to set goals, but the SMART criteria is the most popular across all industries because it simply makes sense. It ensures that you set goals that are within your control (which is a key element to self-management) by specifying how you’ll achieve the goals and by making sure they’re feasible. The SMART framework also gives you a timeframe and ensures you’ll know when you’ve met a goal.
2. Find a Sense of Purpose
If there’s a task on your to-do list (or even an entire project) that you find boring or unpleasant, remind yourself of why it’s necessary. Sometimes, you may need to dig deep to find a sense of purpose, but the reason should be there — and if it’s not, why are you even doing the task at all?
3. Give Yourself Rewards
If reminding yourself of the reason for completing a task is not enough to motivate you, use rewards. You could even create a system where you have different rewards according to the difficulty of the task or the importance of the milestone.
4. Make Time for Self-Care
Eliminating stress entirely is often impossible, but you can take steps to mitigate stress. Self-care can go a long way toward helping you feel more relaxed and clearing your mind. Simple things like exercising daily, eating a healthy diet, sleeping enough each night, and making time for your hobbies can go a long way.
5. Create an Organizational System
Becoming organized is not a once-and-done thing — it takes ongoing effort. As well as developing basic good habits (such as putting items in their place and throwing out whatever you no longer need), it helps to use tools. Your organizational arsenal should include:
- A calendar — Google Calendar is a top choice
- A to-do list app
- Either a physical notebook or an app for taking notes
- A productivity planner
When you have all the above, you lower the risk of forgetting something important or procrastinating — both of which make it less likely that you’ll leave tasks to the last minute.
6. Learn to Delegate
To stay in control, you may feel like it’s necessary to complete all your tasks yourself. However, this could be unreasonable if too much falls on your plate to begin with. One approach is to talk to your manager about assigning you less, but this may not be possible — such as if you are the business owner or if you have many responsibilities in your personal life. In this case, you need to delegate.
Learning to delegate is an important skill. It involves figuring out what tasks on your schedule don’t require your expertise and determining if someone else could do them just as well (or better) than you. Figuring this out takes some practice, although a good place to start tends to be with admin tasks or routine activities you dislike.
7. Learn Time-Management Strategies
Since time management is so crucial to self-management, it’s worth trying various strategies. In fact, you should keep trying new ones to continuously improve. A few to start with include the following:
- The Pareto principle — Also known as the 80/20 rule, the Pareto principle states that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of actions. Use this to your advantage by identifying those 20 percent of items on your to-do list. Prioritize these and consider if you could delegate the rest.
- Awareness — Much of the day, it’s up to you what you do with your time. Whenever you feel like you lack the time to do something, it’s because you’re not prioritizing that task. The first step is to acknowledge this. The second is to pay more attention to how you’re choosing to spend your time and perhaps rethinking some of it.
- Batching tasks — Instead of completing small tasks at various points in your day, batch similar tasks together. This is more productive than jumping from one activity to an unrelated activity and it’s particularly useful for tasks that only take a couple of minutes.
8. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help decide what to delegate and show you whether you may benefit from some extra training. If you have an employer, you can find out your main strengths and weaknesses by requesting a performance review. Although no one enjoys receiving these, they are hugely valuable.
If you have no superior to ask about your strengths and weaknesses, you may need to do some self-reflection. What activities are you comfortable doing and yield good results? What do you struggle with or dread doing?
Alternatively, you could seek out feedback from other places. Ask employees what you could change to better support them, have frank discussions with family members about how to make improvements in your personal life, or even seek a business mentor who can provide you with guidance.
9. Implement the Two-Day Rule
There will be days when you slip up. You may be tired or lack motivation or a more appealing opportunity could arise that means you don’t prioritize what you should.
Punishing yourself for these mistakes tends to be unproductive — after all, it’s hard to be perfect, especially when you’re still learning better habits. For this reason, the two-day rule can be useful.
The two-day rule means you’re not allowed to make an exception two days in a row. In other words, if you fall back to a bad habit, make no progress toward a goal, or neglect an activity one day, you must not repeat this error the next day. Using the two-day rule gives you some flexibility and ensures you do continue making progress.
Besides, it doesn’t need to apply to everything — your most important tasks and targets can be exempt from the rule to ensure you work on them every day.
10. Become More Patient
Learning to be more patient will give you time to think before you react, help you stay calm in stressful situations, and make it easier for you to empathize with those you interact with.
Some people are naturally patient, but almost everyone can improve. This is another self-management skill that you improve by being aware of your thoughts and behaviors.
We mentioned that learning to delegate is a key self-management skill, but what if there’s no one at your business to delegate to? This may be the case if everyone else is too busy or you run a one-person business.
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