Self-Management 101: How To Plan, Prioritize & Achieve Goals

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Self-Management 101: How To Plan, Prioritize & Achieve Goals
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Self-Management 101: How To Plan, Prioritize & Achieve Goals

There are endless blogs, articles, books, even studies on how to effectively lead a team.

But who is leading the leader?

Self-management is exactly what it sounds like – it’s your ability to manage your own behaviour, thoughts, and emotions. Somehow, managing a team of 100 people seems less daunting than managing a team of one… you.

Why is Self-Management Important

Why is Self-Management Important?

It may seem selfish and counterintuitive to focus on yourself when there is a team that needs you, either as a leader or as a teammate.

There is a reason that, when a plane is going down, you are instructed to put on your oxygen mask before you assist others. If you run out of air, you aren’t much used to anyone else. This same idea of helping yourself first is relevant to your work as a leader or teammate.

Company cultures can often push the narrative that the needs of the organization are the top priority and we now understand that this sentiment is a one-way ticket to a burnt-out and uninspired workforce. People are happier and produce better quality work when their needs are met and they feel valued for what they bring to the table.

As a leader, formal or informal, self-management is an important tool in your toolbox to ensure that you are bringing your best self forward.

Benefits of Self-Management

The Benefits of Self-Management

While an organization will greatly benefit from someone with the ability to self-manage, there are obvious benefits to the individual.

Increased Efficiency

Self-managed people are effective people. Period.

Effectiveness looks different for each person and profession but the ability to do what you need to do and when you need to do it is valuable both in personal and professional life. A self-managed person will have taken the time and energy to invest in systems that keep them on track and focused on the right things, considerate of their own time and the time of others.

Flexibility and Effective Time Management

There is a standard template that workers tend to follow when they are traditionally employed which involves showing up to work, sitting at a desk for 8 hours, and leaving work at the end of their shift. Though the time block maybe 8 hours, studies are clear that an 8-hour workday does not even close to equal 8-hours of productive and quality work.

Self-managed people are proving to the world that the 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek are arbitrary and that people can work in a number of ways that better respect their time and produce the desired outcome for the organization. This group of go-getters are leading the way for more flexible workplaces because they are living proof that people can work effectively outside traditional systems when they are allowed to discover their own way forward.

Better Relationships

People notice when you are able to self-manage. They recognize that you are bringing your best self to the table and that makes everyone else’s load more manageable. Not only will this help to build trust in your team but it will build relationships both professional and personal.

Increased Wellness

Instead of always running around and dealing with the loudest alarm bell in their head, those that practice self-management can enjoy a little peace and quiet so that they can actually think about the important things. This ability can be credited to overall better health outcomes because stress and anxiety will be greatly reduced.

Let’s not forget that self-management means that you can (and will) prioritize time for physical activity to offset any time that you may have to spend at a desk. Without those alarm bells, a good night’s sleep is also possible.

How to Practice Self-Management

How to Practice Self-Management

The keyword is practice, self-management does not come easy especially in a society that seems to value selflessness over self. There’s hope though, and here are some ways that you can get started and build up your self-management skills.

Be Clear on Your Goals

What is your “why”?
Where do you want to be?
What is important to you?

When you can clearly answer those questions, you can better manage your life with intention and are well on your way to better self-management. Your practice starts with knowing where you’re going and why you want to go there. Only when this becomes clear can you formulate a plan that will actually move the needle.

Find an Organizational System That Works for You

So you can clearly see your goals, now how do you get there? The path isn’t always clear but there are a couple of systems that you can experiment with to find the best fit for you.

Getting Things Done (GTD)

If you happen to be into productivity, you know David Allen. He’s known for his Getting Things Done (GTD) framework and has decades of experience in the art of productivity. This framework is based on five clear and simple steps:

  1. Capture: don’t let ideas and tasks float around in your head, reach up and capture them on paper.
  2. Clarify: look at a task and ask if there’s a specific action tied to it or if it’s simply for reference or for later.
  3. Organize: put it where it belongs right away – a calendar, to-do list, notebook, file… etc.
  4. Reflect: aks yourself, is this system working? If it is, great! If not, take the time to modify it to be more effective.
  5. Engage: all systems a-go? Engage! Take action and get it done.

This system is tried and true and a great place to start when you’re just starting out on your self-management journey.

Time Blocking

Time blocking is a very effective way to organize yourself and manage your time. Essentially, you organize your available hours by categories and dedicate these categories to specific time blocks in your schedule, focusing on one task at a time. Just like any organizational system, it will take a little trial and error to figure out how to block your time in a way that works for you.

For more details on the time blocking organization and time management system, check out this blog on Time Blocking – A Time Management Trick to Get in the Zone.

Pomodoro Technique

This simple, yet effective technique is a great place to start for someone looking for an organizational system that is easy to follow. This technique involves a simple timer for short bursts of uninterrupted work followed by rest periods. For more details on this technique, check out A Simple Technique That Yields Big Results – How To Use Pomodoro To Maximize Productivity.

Eisenhower Matrix

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. This system helps you learn how to prioritize your tasks by fitting them in one of four categories:

  • Important/Urgent
  • Important/Not Urgent
  • Not Important/Urgent
  • Not important/Not-Urgent.

By implementing the Eisenhower Matrix, you can practice self-management by understanding what is truly a priority and what can wait.

This blog, How Can Mindfulness Improve Your Time Management, goes into more detail on how to integrate this technique into your system.

Create Routines

Create Routines

In expanding on the idea of organizational systems, creating routines in your personal and professional life is a great way to practise self-management as you learn more about how you work best.

Your brain likes routine because it takes the pressure off of it to think about what to do next. Do you have an existing routine that you don’t even think about? Chances are that you get out of bed, brush your teeth, let the dog out, and turn on the kettle for your coffee without so much as blinking an eye. It is that effortless motion of routine that gives your brain a break to focus on items that need attention.

Work with your natural routines, not against them.

Learn How to Say No

You are better at saying “no” than you think.

Every time you say “yes” to something outside of your scope or priorities, you are saying “no” to something that you have deemed important. Switching your perspective to understand this concept is a helpful way to be able to say no upfront.

Saying “no” is arguably the most challenging area of self-management for people to practice because we are fed with the idea that we must embrace every professional opportunity in order to get ahead, get the promotion, and score that corner office (if you even work in an office). While this idea is slowly dying as organizations recognize the benefits of employing people with strong self-management skills, this need to say “yes” all the time lives deep in our collective bones and will take time to disconnect from.

Practice saying “yes” to the items on your priority list, the results will speak for themselves.

Increase Energy Inputs

One of the biggest drains on our energy is stress. Stress has a way of physically manifesting in our daily lives and drains us of the will and energy to do good work. There will always be stressors in your life but they should be manageable and be counteracted by rest and leisure.

Think of your body like a gas-powered vehicle, running it at or very near empty will not get you very far and can wreak havoc on other systems. When you get a good night’s sleep, feed your body good food, and exercise, you’re adding fuel to your vehicle and keeping it in tip-top shape.

Unfortunately, too many professionals dig into their rest time for the sake of “productivity”, not realizing that it’s having the opposite effect. Taking charge of your energy inputs is an important aspect of self-management, the results of which spill over into other aspects of your work and personal life.

Be Proactive and Responsible

Be Proactive and Responsible

Of course, being proactive is easier said than done. Stephen Covey, author of one of the most profound self-development books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said it best:

“Look at the word responsibility—“response-ability”—the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognize that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

(Note that this quote does not consider systemic oppression and the weight that it carries for some people disproportionate to others so there are limitations to its reach but the concept does hold true for many people.)

In order to be proactive, you need to be clear about your goals so this is a secondary self-management skill for when you have become comfortable with setting future goals or objectives.

Make Decisions

Sometimes, decisions are as simple as “yes” or “no”. Other times, we are tempted to let these questions and ideas float around in our heads, with nowhere to park them. These incomplete items build up and result in stress. As we learned above, stress is detrimental to self-management so we must make decisions to keep the ball rolling.

Prioritize Personal Development

Don’t confuse personal with professional development – not everything is about work you know. That said, when you invest in yourself, you inadvertently create better habits and mindsets that carry over into your professional life. Personal development looks different for each person, here are some common examples:

  • Reading – for fun or to learn something new.
  • Exercise – move your body in ways that you find enjoyable, the gym isn’t for everyone but you may find enjoyment in a physical hobby or activity.
  • Learning – learn literally anything from macrame to acapella, developing a skill unrelated to work will build your confidence
  • Volunteer – not only do you get the chance to meet new people, but you are also contributing to something greater than yourself.
  • Mindwork – meditate, daydream, and spend some time in silence, when was the last time you were alone with your thoughts?

Create and Enforce Boundaries

We have got the idea of boundaries all wrong. Boundaries do not barricade us inside a safe fortress but help redirect people to the appropriate channels. As you become better at self-managing, you will by default set up reasonable boundaries to protect your practice. These boundaries could look like:

  • Designated times to check emails
  • Office hours
  • Protected personal and rest time

Just to name a few. Give it a try and you may be surprised.

Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses

No one is good at everything so be honest with yourself. Focus on the things you are good at and develop those skills, bringing them to the table in a way that no one else can. When you agree to a project or task that you know is not your strong suit, you’re not only setting yourself up for stress and failure, but you risk letting down your team. Self-managing yourself in a way that reserves your skills for high-value tasks, you may even be opening the door for someone else who already possesses the needed skills.


Practice makes perfect. This isn’t a quick process and it will take time to get to a place where you are confident in your self-management abilities. Start small, look at the list and pick out an item that looks the most manageable to you. Once you’re comfortable in that process, use the momentum to take on the next one.

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