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Self management: What it is and how to improve your skills

woman with pink curly hair knows that self management has a huge contribution to her success

Ever wonder how some people seem to get it all done and stay on top of every aspect of their lives?

Do you feel like they must possess some secret skill that you haven't figure out yet? Well, here's the truth: Those people who have it "all together" have cracked the code of mastering self-management.

A high level of self-management empowers you to be more productive, helps you show up as a valuable employee at work, and keep you on track to achieve even your most ambitious life goals.

Let’s break down what self-management is and why it’s important for your personal and professional success. Plus, we'll also share a few examples of self-management and some tips you can use to model your desire behavior and reach your desired outcome (whatever it might be).

Table of contents
What exactly is self-management?
Why is self-management important?
Does self-management matter in the workplace?
4 different examples of self-management
5 ways to be better at self-management
Self-management doesn't mean you need to go it alone

What exactly is self-management?

The definition of self-management is all right there in the name: It's the ability to manage or maintain control of yourself. "Yourself" is actually pretty broad, so self-management could apply to knowing how to properly manage a variety of things—like your emotions, your tasks, your behaviors, your impulses, and even your time.

To a degree, everyone has some form of self-management if they can take care of their most basic needs. After all, those don't happen automatically and they require a certain degree of motivation and control.

However, having a high level of self-management means people can go beyond those simple tasks and use self management techniques to better manage more complex aspects of their lives (here's where those people who have it "all together" come into play). This degree of self-management requires an increased amount of discipline and willpower to successfully stay on top of all aspects of your life.

Why is self-management important?

On the surface, it's obvious that self-management matters because it's inherently a basic life skill. After all, nobody feels comfortable around a person who can't seem to effectively control themselves in different situations. But, let's dig a little deeper and spell out some other benefits of self-management:

  • You'll excel at relationship management and be able to build better, stronger bonds with other people because they trust you to handle yourself appropriately
  • You'll be better equipped to use your problem solving skills and coping skills to handle even difficult or frustrating interactions without flying off the handle
  • You'll have an easier time getting through your daily tasks and achieving your personal goals as you're able to find the inner wherewithal and motivation to conquer them
  • You'll experience increased productivity since you'll become skilled at managing your time, commitments, and energy and focusing them on your priorities
  • You'll behave in ways you can feel proud of and that serve as a healthy model for others around you, rather than giving into impulses or other challenging behavior

Does self-management matter in the workplace?

Self-management pays dividends in your personal life, but it carries a lot of weight in professional environments too. It makes you a more trustworthy and reliable coworker as well as a contributing member of your team (as well as one who could be eligible for a step up the ladder).

A high level of self-management at work can show company leaders that you're a dependable employee and ready for a promotion or more responsibility. You can demonstrate self-management at work by being organized and timely with your tasks and responsibilities, being respectful to others, or knowing when you need to put in extra time to get a project done. If you've proven to do all of these things, your leaders may see that you're capable of taking on other projects or even managing a team of your own.

If you're already a leader or manager, it's also worth noting that the best employees you want on your team are ones who can manage themselves. A high degree of self-management in an employee usually means they are more productive, quick to take initiative, and take full accountability and ownership in their work. Building a team of self-managers can make a leader’s life easier so they don't feel the need to constantly check up on their team members’ work and performance. They can trust them to get tasks across the finish line without micromanagement.

A self-managing team is important, too.

Despite the term "self" in the name, self-management isn’t all about an individual—you can see it play out on a team too.

Entire teams that can manage themselves are invaluable for the workplace because they run effectively with little oversight from upper management. This leads to a number of benefits for leaders and the entire organization, such as faster turnaround time on projects, improved communication and collaboration, and less stress for the team's manager.

Self managing teams are usually made up of individuals that have a high degree of self-management themselves. But, it can also be a quality and soft skill that the team works on together by clearly outlining responsibilities, providing frequent updates to one another, and holding each other accountable when balls get dropped.

4 different examples of self-management

Wondering how self-management shows up in various areas of your life? Here are a few different ways you might see it play out:

1. Health

Maintaining good health is a likely indicator of someone who has strong self management skills. For example, someone who schedules regular exercise and eight hours of sleep into their week is self-managing their health and prioritizing positive behaviors.

2. Behavior and emotions

Maintaining control over your emotions and behavior is another way of exercising self-management. While it’s perfectly natural to feel all types of emotions—some negative and some positive—it can be beneficial to manage how those show up in situations. For instance, if you’ve been having a tough day and someone cuts in front of you in the line for the bank, your first instinct may be to shout at them. However, if you have good self-management skills, you’ll be able to take a step back and choose to calmly address the situation instead of blowing up right away.

3. Stress

Ever heard of working on your stress management? This is another area that can help you develop better overall self-management skills. Proactively managing your stress before it becomes an issue allows you to focus on your goals without being distracted by overwhelming feelings of stress or anxiety.

Some people manage their stress through meditation and mindfulness, while others may find stress relief through exercise, hobbies, or time with loved ones. Another important aspect to manage your stress is by saying no to commitments that may cause stress later, either because you overcommitted or because it’s an activity that doesn’t bring you joy. Be empowered to say no to things that don’t fill you up and choose activities that are good for your mental health. Following these steps will help you self-manage your stress levels and maintain a good headspace for things you enjoy.

4. Time

Someone with good time management skills is probably a good overall self-manager because overseeing and allocating your time is an essential part of managing yourself. If you can consistently get your work done on time and don’t sweat deadlines, you have a solid sense of time management.

A good time manager is often a good delegator since they know they may not have enough time to complete certain tasks and realize another person would be helpful for getting the job done. In addition to managing your time to complete all tasks by the deadline, learn when to say no to requests and when to call in for help. These time management tactics will help you prioritize tasks, maintain your focus, and give you a greater sense of ownership over your time, and ultimately, your life.

5 ways to be better at self-management

If you want to develop solid self-management skills, try following these five steps:

1. Practice self-care

First and foremost, you have to take care of yourself to master self-management. This means focusing on your physical, mental, and spiritual wellness before moving on to career goals or assisting others. Self-care doesn’t have to be all bubble baths or face masks, either. Make sure you’re doing the necessary things to keep your body and mind healthy: exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, avoiding unneeded stress, and spending time doing activities that fill you up.

If you find your health (physical, mental, spiritual) declining for some reason, be empowered to say no to other things so you can take time to focus on getting your health back in order. A successful self-manager knows that basic needs and health are the first priority and they cannot truly focus on other aspects of their life if they have significant setbacks to address regarding their health.

2. Learn how to control your emotions

One of the toughest self-management techniques is knowing how to keep emotions in check. This doesn’t mean you can't let yourself feel or be present in the moment. However, it’s about learning how to regulate your emotions so they don’t overwhelm you and you can control whether (or where and when) you let your emotions show.

The first step to managing your emotions is to learn how to identify the various emotions you feel. When you can name and recognize an emotion, it’s easier to act accordingly to manage your feelings. Once you’ve recognized what you’re feeling, you can determine how much of that emotion would be helpful to display in the moment. Being in tune and managing your emotions is part of your emotional intelligence, and you can use that knowledge to practice social awareness and respond appropriately to others based on their emotional clues.

For example, it's perfectly natural to feel frustrated that someone interrupted you in a meeting. But, it may not be productive to express your frustration in the heat of the moment and potentially throw the group off track. Instead, accept your emotions and then find a more effective way to share your feelings, such as taking the person aside after the meeting and expressing your concern. Managing your emotions this way can help you remain clear-headed for difficult conversations and show your maturity and leadership skills in the workplace.

3. Determine or align on goals that you’re working toward

Goal setting is a huge part of effective self management. If you’re working on your management skills at work, consider talking to your manager about your duties and see if you can align on the priorities so you know what work to put first. It’s a smart strategy that will help you and your boss take stock of what needs to be done, as well as what work can wait and what needs to be prioritized.

In addition, talk about goals you have for your career development and let your manager know which steps you’re taking to meet those goals and develop yourself. They’ll appreciate the initiative and may be able to see how they can support you as you’re working toward those goals.

For your personal life, a good self-management tactic is to identify goals you want to work toward and create action plans that detail how you’d like to achieve them. Write down your personal goals and the steps you’ll take to work toward them, and put them in a visible place so you can see them every day. Be sure to check in with yourself regularly to see how you're progressing and what you might need to do to get yourself back on track if you’re falling behind. As you adjust your goal timeline and actions, you’ll develop good self-management skills that you can use at home and in the workplace.

4. Learn how to prioritize your time

Good self-managers are also good time managers who know how to use the available hours they have in a day to get the most important work done. Good time management can make you more effective and productive throughout the day and help you avoid procrastination or missing deadlines.

To be a better time manager, try one of the following strategies:

  • Pomodoro Technique: Set a timer for 25 minutes and see how many of your tasks you can get accomplished during that timeframe. When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break before resuming for another 25-minute work period. After several of those intervals, reward yourself with a longer 20 or 30-minute break to recharge.
  • Eisenhower Matrix: List your to-do items into a quadrant of urgent vs. non-urgent and important vs. not important. Things that are both urgent and important you should do right away, things that are non-urgent and important you need to plan to do and schedule time for, things that are urgent but not important should be delegated, and things that are non-urgent and unimportant should be taken off your to-do list entirely.
  • Parkinson’s Law: This is a good time management technique if you work best under pressure. Give yourself a set amount of time to complete a task and work until you complete the task in that timeline. To make this strategy effective, you could set an early deadline (complete the task in three days instead of the given five) or create an environment of allotted time (working on your laptop until the laptop battery dies).

5. Find an organizational system that works best for you

If you’re well-organized, you can plan, prioritize, and do your tasks effectively without any distraction or confusion. That’s why organization is key to developing strong self-management skills.

The organizational system that works for someone else, though, may not be helpful to you. Think about how you like to see work done or information presented, and then use that to create a system to store and log information so you can find what you need when you need it. Whether it’s finding meeting notes from a previous meeting with a client or medical records for your doctor, good organization can help you navigate your life with less headaches.

Self-management doesn't mean you need to go it alone

Just because you’re managing yourself doesn’t mean you can’t get support. Whether it’s help with dealing with stress, chronic conditions for your health, or working on your organization techniques, don’t be afraid to find self management support. Health professionals, life coaches, and tutors are available to help you reach your full potential and set you on the right path for success.

To get you started, try our personalized coaching program Personal Power to tap into your potential and recognize your personal strengths that will help you take an active role in your life.

Learn how to take ownership of your life and goals with our AI-powered coaching. Get started for free now.

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