Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
December 05, 2023 · 10 min read

What is self management? How to take control of your personal productivity

What is self management? How to take control of your personal productivity: Illustration in blues and black showing an arch spanning over a brain, a thinking cloud, happy and sad faces, ticked checkboxes and some mountains with a flag on top.

In the era of hybrid work, managing your productivity and mental well-being has never been more important. But while many people believe they get more work done away from the office, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found workers could actually be up to 18% less productive when working from home.

Now, this isn’t another of the many calls to return to the office. Instead, it’s a reminder that the tools we need to be productive and focused aren’t always found in where we work — but how we do it.

Self-management is an essential, yet often misunderstood skill in the battle to fight off distractions and maximize your output. Without it, you’ll quickly slow down, become isolated from your team, and lose motivation for your role.

Jump to a section:

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into self-management and why it’s such an essential skill, as well as how you can use self-management to turbocharge your remote and in-person productivity, today.

What is self management?

Self-management is the ability to control your behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in a productive way that helps you achieve your goals.

Sometimes referred to as “self-control” or “self-regulation”, self-management is essential in all walks of life. Whether it’s keeping calm to diffuse an argument, staying disciplined with your fitness goals, or staving off workplace distractions, those who master self-management often achieve great things.

Self-management also goes hand-in-hand with emotional intelligence. This is because those with excellent self-management skills collaborate well with others, communicate clearly when they need support, and have a positive mental attitude to keep their team’s spirits high.

As an example, let’s look at three of the world’s greatest sports stars: Tom Brady, Leo Messi, and Serena Williams.

Each has mastered self-management through exceptional work discipline, the ability to remain calm in challenging situations, and the solid relationships they’ve built with the people around them.

If they couldn’t manage themselves effectively, they wouldn’t have been even half as successful in their sporting careers! But how can you apply this to your own life and career?

Why is self-management so important for work & life?

Unlike a sports megastar who is surrounded by the world’s best coaches and trainers, you most likely need to motivate yourself to work hard and stay focused.

Here are the ways in which self-management can help you on your path to excellence:

What are the benefits of self management?: Illustration in blues and black showing a badge per benefit, each with a small illustration. Stress management: meditating person, Motivation and Passion: burning heart, Adaptability: earth and face, Fast and efefctive decision making: rocket and arrow with flames pushing them forward, Goals and objectives aligned: a star and checkboxes ticked, time management and prioritization: 3 bubbles filled with 3, 2, 1 and an arrow.

The bottom line: Self-management helps you in nearly every facet of your life. Without it, you’re like a ship left adrift with no way to get back on course.

How to develop the 8 essential self-management skills

While self-management is a fantastic quality to have, it’s not just one skill. In fact, it’s made up of several soft skills and project management skills that all come together to make you a productive powerhouse.

Now, let’s look at how to develop and improve these core skills to help you on your way to self-management mastery!

1. Consistent self-motivation

The world’s most productive, engaging, and collaborative people know how to get themselves fired up for a challenge. Especially in a remote-working world, feeding off the energy of others is difficult, so you need to be able to elevate both your own and your team’s motivation levels.

To become a great self-starter, try implementing these tips:

A real-world example:

Jack works for Securify, an IT security company that has recently moved to work from home. Jack wants to master self-management, so he starts improving his energy and motivation. He finds a motivational video on Youtube every morning and treats himself to his favorite snack once he’s ticked off his to-do list.

2. Better time management

There are only so many hours in the day — and to master self-management, you need to use your time effectively. This requires different discipline when working from home versus in the office, as distractions and interactions are different.

Here are some handy suggestions for managing your time:

A real-world example:

As a project manager, Jack splits his time between connecting with stakeholders, managing his project team, and completing project admin. To help him be more productive, Jack timeboxes his early mornings and later afternoons for admin, keeping the middle of the day free for meetings.

Without good self-management you’ll quickly slow down, become isolated from your team, and lose motivation for your role.

3. An ability to adapt to change

In the world of project or product management, change is inevitable. Those self-managers who deal with change the best are the ones who can pivot to a new solution without their emotions taking over.

Here are some ways to effectively manage change in your work life:

An ability to adapt to change: Illustration in blues showing a graph divided into 4 stages. Stage 1: Status quo, Shock denial, Stage 2: Disruption Anger, Fear, Stage 3: Exploration and Exceptance, Stage 4: Rebuilding and Committment. The graph starts central between
Source: mindtools.com

A real-world example:

Jack knows that he can get frustrated when things change unexpectedly. To help, he studies the change curve model, allowing him to recognize his own behaviors and when he may not be acting positively.

4. Resilience & stress management

Stress and pressure are part of everyday life, and your ability to manage that stress is essential for success in the workplace. If you can manage your stress level effectively, you’ll be better positioned to manage your time, build relationships, and perform at your maximum.

If you struggle to keep your stress levels down, here are some things to try:

A real-world example:

Jack is usually pretty good at dealing with stress but knows as a more junior project manager, he’ll be facing high-pressure situations in the future. To help him prepare and manage his stress levels, Jack asks a senior project manager, Kathy, to become his mentor.

5. Goal setting, alignment, and achievement

Those who achieve a lot are very good at setting and achieving their goals. This is because they have the vision of what needs to be achieved and then the discipline and self-management to stay on track.

Here’s some advice to help you set, align, and achieve your goals:

A real-world example:

In Jack’s latest project, he has many challenging deadlines he needs to meet. To help him get focused and avoid becoming overwhelmed, he breaks each deliverable down into sub-goals and milestones using SMART. He then picks them off progressively to help him stay on track.

6. Laser-focused confident decision making

To master self-management, you need to make quick and confident decisions under pressure. This will ensure you can keep moving forward while prioritizing your time and providing clarity for stakeholders.

If you’re new to decision-making, here are some tips to help:

A real-world example:

Given his junior position, Jack hasn’t had to make many big business decisions in the past but is presented with a choice between two solutions for his next project. To help, he uses the BCM framework to compare each option’s benefits, costs, and mitigations, enabling him to make a quick decision for the project team.

7. Ongoing personal development and self-care

One of the hidden secrets of self-management is knowing when to push hard and when to step back and focus on yourself. You can’t work at 110% all the time, so keeping time aside for personal development and self-care is vital to help you recharge and stay on top of your game!

Here are some tips to put this into practice:

A real-world example:

Jack knows that to be the most effective he can be, he needs to work hard on his project management career path. He creates a PDP detailing some project management training courses he wants to attend, as well as finding the opportunity to take on projects in AI and machine learning — two areas he doesn’t have any previous knowledge of.

Self-management helps you in nearly every facet of your life. Without it, you’re like a ship left adrift with no way to get back on course.

8. Getting role clarity

While role clarity isn’t a “skill,” it’s super important if you want to master self-management - after all, how can you manage your productivity if you don’t fully understand what you need to do?

If you’re struggling with your role, try these things out:

A real-world example:

Jack has found himself getting pulled into meetings and tasks around data analytics and reporting on software performance. He feels this isn’t part of his role and raises it with his manager. His manager confirms that he should not be doing this and should focus on core project management tasks such as task management, budgeting, and risk management.

How to build your self management today: 5 easy tips

Developing your self-management skills is an ongoing process. But luckily, there are some simple things you can start doing today that will get you closer to being more in control of your time, energy, and motivation.

To finish, let’s look at some quick and easy tactics you can use to nail self-management each and every day.

How to build your self management today with 5 easy tips: Illustration in blues showing the title surrounded by the points written below and a small illustration for each.

  1. Keep your projects and tasks organized. Using project management tools, such as Planio, is the best way to keep your project and tasks up to date, giving you more time to push your deliveries forward. You can read more about how Task Management features in Planio help turbocharge workflows by visiting our website.

    Screenshot showing some projects organized in Planio
  2. Plan your day ahead of time. Instead of planning every morning, when you’ve likely forgotten what happened yesterday, the most productive people plan their days ahead of time. This way, you can hit the ground running from the moment you log on, helping you make the most of your day.
  3. Arrive at meetings prepared. Ever heard of the 5-minute rule? If not, it’s super simple — arrive at your meetings 5 minutes early to prepare yourself. It takes some extra planning and discipline but helps ensure you come to every session fully prepared and ready to go.
  4. Be disciplined with deadlines. Self-management masters always get their deadlines because they’re great at planning them. The key to not missing a deadline is learning to not over promise and push back to stakeholders to set realistic and achievable deadlines. If you take a firmer stance, not only will you gain respect, but you’ll be known for delivering to plan.
  5. Put yourself first. Taking care of your health and well-being is the number one thing that will help you become, and remain, a high achiever. Set boundaries, keep a consistent diet, stay hydrated, and take regular breaks and you’ll be able to stay on top form all year round.

Become a self-management master to boost productivity

In a world of hybrid working, effectively managing your own time, well-being, and performance will help you stand out from the crowd. And when some studies show remote working actually makes us less productive, we need to do everything we can to keep our deliveries on track.

There’s no silver bullet for self-management. To master it, you need to work on a range of underpinning skills, such as decision-making, time management, and resilience.

While you’re developing those skills, project management tools like Planio are your best friend. With handy features to keep everything you need in one place, your time is freed up to work on your goals, focus on your well-being, and maximize your productivity!

Try Planio for yourself or your team — free for 30 days (no credit card required!)