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Mastering the art of self management

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

August 16, 2023

Ever lost your temper? Struggled with distractions? Fallen off the healthy eating wagon? Then you’ll know how a lack of control can really mess up your plans. At its core, self management is about owning your goals. Whether you’re running a startup, or looking for more balance in a busy life, being able to manage yourself effectively is the key to success.

But what is it, exactly? And how do you do it? This article will help you climb into the driver’s seat of your life. Read on! 

What is self-management?

Self-management is about directing your own behaviors, emotions, and thoughts in a way that helps you meet your goals.

At its core, it’s about taking personal responsibility. It involves recognizing that the outcomes in your life are a direct result of the choices you make. This, in turn, helps you nurture a sense of accountability, which leads to better decision-making.

But self-management goes beyond mere personal accountability. It’s about self-regulation, which includes the ability to manage your time efficiently, control impulses, set and achieve goals, maintain emotional balance under stress, stay self-motivated, and make informed decisions. These skills aren’t something we’re born with, as any toddler will helpfully demonstrate — but they can be developed and enhanced over time.

Why are self-management skills important?

Why exactly are these skills so important? Let’s explore.

1. Achieving goals 

Every achievement starts with setting a clear goal. Self-management skills help you not only define these goals, but create actionable plans. It’s the catalyst that turns dreams into reality.

2. Getting more done 

Good self-management skills = better time management. By planning your tasks, you can get more done in less time. Plus, having a clear path ahead helps combat procrastination and keeps you on track.

3. Nurturing emotional well-being

Emotional self-regulation plays a big role in mental and emotional well-being. It involves understanding and managing your emotions, responding appropriately to stress, and generally having a glass-half-full attitude. 

4. Boosting self-confidence

As you consistently meet your objectives and manage your responsibilities effectively, your self-confidence grows. Confidence, in turn, encourages you to take on more challenges that help you on the road to personal and professional growth. 

5. Building strong relationships

Effective communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence help build trust and mutual understanding, leading to healthier, happier relationships, both at work and at home. 

6. Facilitating career growth

In a professional context, individuals with strong self-management skills are seen as reliable and competent, making them top candidates for leadership roles. Employers value these skills because they indicate a person’s ability to work efficiently and handle workplace challenges.

7. Fostering resilience

Life is full of surprises, not all of them good. Self-management gives you the skills you need to roll with the punches and bounce back when you’re knocked down. Whatever life throws in your way, you’re all set to meet it head-on. 

Self-management and emotional intelligence: a symbiotic pair

Self-management and emotional intelligence go together like strawberries and cream. On their own, they’re good — but together? A powerful duo. 

Emotional Intelligence, aka EQ, refers to your ability to understand and manage your emotions AND to empathize with and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. It’s typically divided into four key components:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness; and 
  • Relationship management.

While self-awareness helps you recognize your emotions, self-management takes it a step further by enabling you to control these emotions, stopping them from buffeting you around like a ship in rough seas. 

If you’ve developed strong self-management skills, you’ll be able to stay calm, and find effective solutions without letting emotions cloud your judgment, even in high-stress situations. 

Self-management also contributes to other aspects of emotional intelligence. It aids in social awareness by allowing you to manage your reactions to others’ emotions. With this superpower, you can navigate tricky social interactions without letting negative emotions take the reins.

TL;DR version: Emotional intelligence and self-management are two sides of the same coin. While emotional intelligence forms the basis for understanding your emotions, self-management gives you the tools you need to regulate these emotions effectively. 

Examples of self-management

Want to see how self-management plays out in the wild? Here are three scenarios.

1. Time management and priority-setting at work

Meet Michelle, a project manager in a software development firm. She’s handling multiple projects, each with different timelines and deliverables. To manage her workload, she uses self-management skills — specifically, time management and priority-setting.

Michelle starts by listing all the tasks she needs to complete for each project. She then ranks these tasks based on their urgency and importance using her favorite prioritization techniques. Tasks that are both urgent and important get top priority. This strategy helps her allocate her time and resources effectively.

Next, she breaks down large tasks into smaller, manageable chunks and assigns specific time slots to work on each one. She uses tools like digital calendars and project management software to keep track of her schedule and deadlines. This way, she avoids last-minute rush and ensures that all tasks are completed in a timely manner. Self management skills? 10/10.

2. Emotional regulation and self-awareness in personal relationships

Consider John, who often finds himself losing his temper during disagreements with his partner. Realizing his bad moods are negatively affecting the relationship, he decides to work on his emotional regulation.

Whenever he feels his temper rising, he now takes a moment to pause and breathe, allowing himself to calm down before responding. He also starts keeping a journal to reflect on his feelings and reactions, which enhances his self-awareness.

Over time, he learns to identify his emotional triggers and manages to react more calmly during disagreements. His partner appreciates his efforts, their communication improves, and they enjoy a happier, healthier relationship.

3. Planning for personal goals

Let’s take the case of Maya, a recent college graduate who dreams of starting her own business. She understands that achieving this goal will require strategic planning.

She starts by defining her long-term goal: to launch her own marketing consultancy in five years. To reach this goal, she sets a series of short-term objectives like gaining relevant work experience, taking business management courses, and saving up seed capital.

Each of these short-term goals aligns with her ultimate objective and guides her current choices. She takes up a job in a marketing firm to acquire industry knowledge and experience. She enrolls in evening classes to learn about business management. She sets a monthly savings target and cuts back on non-essential expenses to gather the required capital.

Maya’s strategic planning and goal alignment set her on a clear path toward achieving her entrepreneurial dream.

Self-management skills

Remember, mastering these skills requires patience, practice, and consistency. It’s the only way to turn healthy behavior into a habit. First, the skills — then some tips on how to master them.

1. Self-motivation

Motivation is the fuel that keeps you going. External motivation can be fleeting, so working out how to find inner drive and enthusiasm will help you maintain a positive attitude, and cultivate resilience, even when the going gets tough. 

  • Find your ‘why’: Understand the deep reason why you want to achieve a particular goal. This will be your driving force during challenging times.
  • Set clear goals: Break down big objectives into smaller, more manageable tasks.
  • Visualize success: Imagine yourself accomplishing your goals. This gives you a boost of motivation.
  • Surround yourself with positivity: Read motivational quotes, listen to inspiring talks, and engage with motivated individuals.

2. Self-discipline

This skill helps you focus on your goals and resist distractions. 

  • Establish a routine: Start and end your day with a fixed routine. This brings order to your daily activities.
  • Avoid temptations: Recognize your weaknesses and keep them at bay. For example, if social media distracts you, set specific times for checking it.
  • Reward yourself: Set milestones and give yourself a reward when you achieve them.
  • Stay accountable: Share your goals with friends or colleagues so they can remind and motivate you.

3. Role clarity

Role clarity helps you understand what’s expected of you. This, in turn, makes it easier to set and meet personal objectives.

  • Communicate: Ask questions to clarify any uncertainties regarding your role and responsibilities.
  • Document responsibilities: Write down your tasks and responsibilities, making it easy to refer back when in doubt.
  • Seek feedback: Regularly check with superiors or teammates to ensure you’re aligned with expectations.
  • Reflect: Take time periodically to evaluate your role and its alignment with the team’s objectives.

4. Strategic planning

Strategic planning is about mapping out your path to success. It involves setting goals, identifying the resources you’ll need, and outlining the steps to reach your goals. As valuable in life as it is in the office! 

  • Set SMART goals: Make your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  • List resources: Identify what you need to achieve your goals.
  • Break down steps: Divide your plan into smaller tasks and prioritize them.
  • Review regularly: Constantly revisit your plan to adjust as necessary and keep yourself on track.

5. Self-awareness

This is the foundation of self-management. It involves knowing your strengths and weaknesses inside-out, recognizing your emotions, and understanding how your actions affect others. Mastering this helps you make smarter decisions and build stronger relationships.

  • Journal: Documenting your feelings and reactions can give you insights into your own behavior.
  • Seek feedback: Ask others for their thoughts on your strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you choose someone who knows how to give feedback so you don’t end up with either a big head or utterly demotivated.  
  • Meditate: Mindfulness and meditation can help you become the master of your emotions.
  • Engage in self-reflection: Regularly assess your actions and their impacts on others.

6. Know your skills (and your limits)

Self-awareness is the cornerstone of self-management. Recognize your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses, and understand what truly motivates you. Simultaneously, don’t fall into the trap of trying to be someone you’re not.

  • Self-assessment: Take stock of what you’re good at and areas that need improvement.
  • Accept constructive criticism: Embrace feedback as a tool for growth, not as a criticism of your self-worth.
  • Challenge yourself: Push your boundaries, but also recognize when you need to seek help or delegate.
  • Stay authentic: Always be true to yourself, understanding that it’s okay not to be perfect or even good at everything.

Self-management tips

1. Develop a stress management routine 

Create a daily or weekly routine that includes activities to reduce stress. This could be exercise, yoga, running, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones (or all of the above). Regular breaks and good sleep are your first line of defense when things get tough. 

2. Keep your promises

When you make a commitment, stick to it. This builds trust in your professional and personal relationships, as well as strengthens your sense of self-discipline and self-worth. 

3. Take breaks

So you know you need to structure work. What about rest? Avoid burnout by scheduling regular breaks into your day. Taking short breaks to rest or do something you enjoy helps you stay productive in the long run.

4. Practice emotional regulation

Learn to recognize and control your emotional responses, especially in high-pressure situations. Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or deep breathing can help, as well as an awareness of your triggers (we all have them). 

11. Keep a positive attitude 

Cultivate an optimistic mindset and learn to see challenges as opportunities for growth. This isn’t toxic positivity; it’s being your own cheerleader. A positive attitude enhances your resilience and motivation.

12. Stay flexible

Things don’t always go according to plan. Stay flexible to tackle change in your stride. 

13. Keep learning

Never stop learning and improving. Whether it’s taking a course, reading a book, or learning from a mentor, continuous learning is key to self-development.

14. Practice self-care

Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being is a must. Exercise regularly, eat healthily, get enough shut-eye, and do things you enjoy to relax and keep your mind happy.

Get tech on your side 

There are a host of digital tools at our fingertips. Chat apps make it easier to stay in touch within teams, whether they’re in the same room, or on different continents. You can share files, send updates, and set up different channels for different projects, all from one place. Plus, with ‘away/busy’ status options, you can take a breather when things get heated — making emotional regulation that little bit easier. 

Project management software is another godsend when it comes to self-management. With Backlog, you can set reminders and create to-do lists, helping you schedule personal and professional workloads like a pro. You can also track your progress as you hit key milestones, helping you see how much further left to go, and even more importantly, just how far you’ve come.



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