I don’t know about you, but I have a problem. I am ambitious; I am full of great ideas. I am also, however, extremely undisciplined. But the other day I had an idea. What if I became “my own manager”? Not a bad idea. But how, exactly, do you manage yourself?
Contrary to what the multi-million dollar management training industry says, I don’t think management is rocket science (though I am not saying it is easy). A good manager motivates and supports people, and makes people accountable. In order to manage ourselves, then, we simply need to take concrete steps to motivate ourselves and make ourselves accountable.
“The first and best victory is to conquer oneself.” – Plato
Here are 10 easy ways you can start to manage yourself today.
1. Create a Personal Mission Statement
I think that we get so caught up in the mundane details of daily life that we often lose track of why we’re here, what we want and, most importantly, what we value. Manage yourself by finding a way to integrate your values into what you do. Write your own personal mission statement.
My personal mission statement, at the moment, is this: “To live simply and give selflessly, and to work diligently towards financial independence and the opportunities such independence will afford me.”
Your personal mission statement doesn’t have to be profound or poetic – it just needs to convey your core values and define why you do what you do each day. (Hint: If you can’t find a mission statement that fits your current career or life, maybe it is time for a change!)
2. Set Micro-Goals
There are countless benefits to writing down goals of all sizes. Annual, five-, and ten-year goals can help you expand on your mission statement because you know you are working towards a tangible result. But long term goals are useless unless you have a strategy to achieve them. Manage yourself by setting micro-goals.
What is a micro-goal? I like to think of it as a single action that, when accomplished, serves as a building block to a much larger goal.
For example, the resolution to make a larger-than minimum monthly payment on a credit card balance is a micro goal. Each month you successfully increase your payment, you are closer to your big goal of getting out of debt.
At work a micro-goal might involve setting up an important client meeting. Getting all the elements for a meeting in place is one step towards a larger goal of winning or increasing a particular business relationship.
A micro goal is not, however, anything that goes on your to-do list. Responding to a customer inquiry or cleaning out your cubicle is not a micro-goal, unless of course you have bigger goals to specifically involving that customer or to get more organized.
3. Use Lists Wisely
Lists – from simple to-do lists to complex project plans – can be a helpful tool for prioritizing and planning your day. If lists are too big or poorly organized, however, they can overwhelm you and defeat their purpose. Manage yourself by using lists effectively: keep a small to-do list of 5 or fewer items. If it’s not important enough to be on the top 5, leave it off. As you complete activities, you can add more.
One way to help achieve smaller, more manageable lists is to break one big list into several. I often find my to-do lists contain a dozen or more activities than can be grouped. If you’re a blogger for example, and you have 5 great article ideas, writing each one might be on your to-do list. I would recommend putting one item on your to-do list – write 5 new articles. Prioritize it accordingly, and when you sit down to write, break out the list of topics and don’t move to another project on your primary to-do list until all the others are complete.
4. Make Yourself Accountable
Managers hold employees accountable. After all, managers want to make sure employees are earning their salary. If you are a sales rep, managers want to know how many calls you make and how much business you close. If you are a lawyer or a consultant, managers want to know how many hours you bill. Manage yourself by making yourself accountable for how you spend your time.
Some of the most successful people I know review their to-do lists each night and every Friday. They study what they accomplished—and what they did not. Even outside of work, you can do the same. Schedule a time each week to reflect. How were your eating habits this week? Did you exercise this month? What about your spending? Did you stick to your budget or did you splurge? What can you do better next week?
5. Reward Yourself
Great managers know that rewarding employees for a job well done is far more effective than doling out penalties for failure. Rewards range from simple praise to promotions to cash bonuses, but they all achieve the same goal: Rewards make us work harder to get something we want.
If you have a mile-long to-do list, want to start exercising, or want to tuck away more savings, manage yourself by creating a reward for each goal. If you get through your to-do list, leave work early and do something you enjoy. If you get to the gym every day, indulge in a food you enjoy but ordinarily avoid. And if you have a savings goal, tell yourself that when you reach it, you will take a month off of saving and buy yourself something you have always wanted.
6. Do One Task at a Time
How many job postings include the line “must be able to multi-task”? In today’s wired world, it is impossible not to multi-task most of the time. If I were hiring an employee, I would be infinitely more interested in his or her ability to focus and to see tasks through to completion. You can manage yourself by striving to do one thing at a time, and not stop until it is completed.
Working on one thing at a time is easier said than done, but the harder you concentrate on completing one task, the faster you will get it done – even if you are interrupted.
Get in the habit or checking email only two or three times a day and decide to either respond immediately or delete the message. Close your door, mute your phone, or work from home when you need to get through significant projects.
In your personal life, don’t try to give up coffee, smoking, and sugar all at the same time. If you’re tackling debt – or trying to save more – pick the most important debt to pay off, or saving goal to reach, and put everything towards that goal.
You will find that you reach your goals faster, and you will be less stressed.
7. Emphasize Your Strengths, Improve Your Weaknesses
Nobody is born to do everything. We all have natural talents and abilities in some areas, and we all struggle in others. For example, some of us are born writers, but have a difficult time with conversation. Others can work a room or present to hundreds like a pro, but can’t write a coherent email message. Good managers want to help their employees shine, and also develop. To manage yourself, take every opportunity to show off your strengths, and actively seek out ways to improve in improving in weaker areas.
8. Value Your Time
Do you know how much an hour of your time is worth? No matter how much you earn per hour, chances are, each hour is worth far less. After all, you spend time each day getting ready for work, commuting to and from work, and even thinking about work when you aren’t actually working.
When you divide your salary by all that time spend on things related to work, you hourly rate is probably a lot less than you think.
Now, think about your free time – however much of it you may have. What is it worth to you? Could you put a price tag on an hour at the beach with nothing to worry about?
If you’re like most people, the time you have yourself will almost always be more valuable than time at work. Manage yourself by learning to maximize your productivity during the hours you are actually working, and by maximizing your personal time by ignoring your cell phone, Blackberry, and laptop, and focusing on the things you enjoy.
9. Seek Feedback
Good managers don’t only rely on personal observations of their employees. Good managers will seek other opinions of employees – opinions from coworkers, friends, and customers. Such feedback will provide valuable insight into the employee’s competencies and weaknesses, and will help the manager give the employee tools to grow and succeed.
As your own manager, how you see yourself may be radically different from how others see you. Don’t be afraid to ask others how you’re doing. Ask coworkers or friends to provide an honest evaluation of how they think you perform your job, and survey customers to learn what you’re doing right – and where you can improve.
10. Review Yourself
Going back to holding yourself accountable, every manager provides formal feedback to employees at regular intervals in the form of a performance review. Whether quarterly, semi-annually, or annually, make a habit of managing yourself by taking an hour to perform a self-review.
Ask yourself: what have I accomplished in the least year? Have I met my goals? Have I met my micro-goals? Have I built upon strengths and improved my weaknesses? Have I grown as a person? Even this simple, infrequent habit can transform your productivity, attitude, and success.