Self Management Skills
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Self-management skills are key to getting ahead in the workplace. At its very basic level, self-management is the ability to get things done without being prompted, reminded or managed.
You probably are familiar with this in your personal or home life, where self-management is part of being an adult and dealing with your personal and financial affairs.
Examples of self-management skills include not falling behind on the payment of your bills or thinking ahead to purchasing toiletries before you run out.
These examples may seem obvious, and some people will have been taught to do these things as a matter of course. But not everyone has.
The good thing about self-management skills is that they can be taught and are endlessly improvable.
Self-management does not require you to be blessed with a superb memory – instead, you can devise systems that work for you.
You can be your own manager by deputizing certain things to systems and devices. That might mean diarizing events or tasks in an online calendar so that you have a regular reminder to, for example, pay your credit card bill.
Taking self-management at home to the next level might include once-a-year auditing of all your finances, to ensure you are making the most of your money and getting the best rates.
In other words, being proactive and seeking out solutions, not just waiting for things to happen that you must then react to.
In the workplace, self-management is similar.
Everyone finds it frustrating when a manager must constantly remind an employee to turn in their work on time or that a meeting is about to start.
At a basic level, self-management skills are the ability to carry out your work without having to be reminded or reprimanded.
The best employees possess, through learning or innate tendency, more advanced self-management skills and utilize these to progress their career.
Essentially, self-management is the difference between keeping your job and being replaced.
In this competitive job market, businesses and employers do not have the time or resources to carry employees who cannot keep on top of their own time and complete their work without being reminded.
Employees who require micromanaging are a time and resource drain.
Employees with ‘can-do’ attitudes, who quickly understand which tasks need carrying out first, think about and improve working processes, and make the lives of their clients and coworkers easier, will stand out to managers.
To put it another way, it makes you a more valuable employee and more likely to progress upwards in your career, rather than out of the door.
Employees with good self-management skills can be trusted with clients.
They have demonstrated that they can make a call or decision when required and will quickly be allowed greater access to clients. They will bring in new business and find new improved ways of addressing tasks.
Self-employed and freelance people will quickly find that they are unable to run a successful business if they just wait for work to come to them and only behave in a reactionary manner.
The best and most successful businesses are run by driven people who understand what needs doing, and crucially, get it done.
Taking charge of your life and setting goals is the first step.
It is necessary to have a plan – not for the day-to-day tasks but what you want to achieve in your role during, for example, the quarter, month or year, as well as more generally for your career.
It is a good idea to set out what you should achieve, and by when, to keep you motivated and on track.
Keep these goals measurable – by the end of the time frame you should be able to measure if you achieved them.
Following the SMART framework for goal setting is helpful for this – each goal should be:
You should be able to set out precisely what you want to achieve, in what time frame and how you will measure this.
Use a metric that is realistic, achievable and appropriate – this might be financial (for example, $5k profit from new business in Q1) or otherwise numerical (for example, 5k page views or 45% more sign-ups in Q2 than Q1).
Such measurements will allow you to see how close you are to your goal and directly compare two time periods to see what method works best for success.
It is crucial to be able to prioritize.
It is no good writing an absolutely superb report if you have forgotten to book the copyeditor and printers, leaving it too late to get the report delivered for the deadline.
This is an example of confused priorities – putting too much effort into one area (the report’s quality) and neglecting other areas that allow the task to be executed (the editing and printing).
To an extent, prioritization will take practice, as you will need knowledge of what is expected from a given task, but it is something that employers look for when hiring new staff.
At the very least, you should be able to look at the list of tasks for that week or day and order them by importance and necessary completion order.
The skill here is identifying which tasks or requirements are most important and factoring that into your decision-making.
Employers use in-tray or e-tray tests to assess this skill in job candidates.
The ability to plan ahead and utilize your organizational skills is essential.
It is worth developing a mental, or even physical, checklist* when you first start.
This will serve two purposes. One, it will not let you forget something crucial. Two, it will help you plan in which order you need to carry out your tasks.
Say, for example, you have been asked to prepare a presentation to be given to a client.
You may need to remember to book an appropriately sized meeting room, send the meeting invitations, order refreshments, prepare the slide deck for the presentation, have your manager sign it off, upload it to a suitable device to play in the meeting room and, finally, ensure that all the technology works.
Being able to plan means not missing out any one of these tasks and carrying them out in an appropriate and timely order.
Being organized also includes making sure that:
- You do not lose items
- You have created a system for filing your work documents, either physically or on your computer
- You do not miss or misplace crucial emails or instructions
In your day-to-day working life, you will encounter difficult situations. From irate clients to outraged managers, there will be days when your blood pressure feels constantly raised.
Working out how you deal with stress and pressure while being able to remain calm and still make logical and clear decisions is a key self-management skill.
This involves honing the ability to stay calm when facing criticism and not reacting defensively.
This may feel insurmountable for some people but with practice is possible.
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Time, as the song goes, waits for no one, and, especially in a workplace, can slip endlessly past in a sea of procrastination and seemingly pointless meetings.
The key to time management is as it sounds – managing time in relation to what you need to deliver.
It is working out how long a piece of work might take and ensuring you allocate a large enough part of your day to it – but equally not spending too much time working on unimportant tasks.
If you frequently find yourself working long hours, it could be an indication that you are poor at time management (although it could also be because you are being asked to do too much, so you will need to assess if your workload is reasonable).
It is worth spending time with your manager when allocated a new task, such as to give a presentation, to understand how long they expect the work to take – this will give you details concerning your manager's expectations regarding working speed and also the level of detail required in the task.
For example, a piece of detailed research may be expected to take at least half a day but a higher-level report, much of which can be found in work already done, may only be given an hour.
Hand in hand with time management is efficiency. If you are struggling with time management, it can be worth considering whether you are working most efficiently.
Consider if you are utilizing the technology and systems at your disposal. Sometimes, it is worth doing things the longhand way to ensure accuracy and gain an understanding of how the process works, but there can often be programs or technology available that can help with tasks such as research or manipulating data.
Do not be afraid to ask if there is an accepted way of carrying out a task, or conversely, recommend a new process or technology that could speed up a process or make it more efficient.
Consider undertaking training such as the Lean Six Sigma continuous improvement certification, which takes the concept of process management from a factory situation and provides training to apply this to office tasks; by identifying process steps, streamlining tasks, reducing touchpoints and, importantly, improving efficiency.
An employee with strong problem-solving skills becomes indispensable.
Problems are, quite literally, unavoidable. With the best will in the world, issues will arise.
The key to strong self-management is accepting this and employing a flexible, can-do attitude, combining the desired outcome and the company’s values with knowledge of the situation and multiple approaches to completion.
Sometimes, it might include deciding which option is least bad or finding a new route to the desired outcome.
By practicing your problem-solving skills, you will be better prepared to deal with any issues.
Understanding how to weigh up options and make a clear decision will stand you in good stead.
There are two parts to accountability:
- The ability to deliver what you have promised when you said you would
- Being able to own up to your mistakes and shortcomings, using the experience to further your learning and deliver better the next time
Accountability, a key part of trustworthiness, goes hand-in-hand with many of these other self-management skills.
It involves understanding how long or intense a task will be, believing in your own ability, carrying out the work required, and then delivering whatever you promised by the time frame set out.
It is about managing expectations, flagging up any issues in time for a manager to act appropriately or to help get the project back on course, and being prepared to do what is needed to get the task done.
Accountability also means you admit when a mistake you made or action you took caused something to go wrong.
Should anything go wrong, you will need to manage your stress levels as well as those around you, and own up to your mistakes, errors and decisions.
Self-management is the ability to reflect on your actions and when appropriate say, “I got it wrong”, “I miscalculated” or “This is because of my error”, then to apologize and, crucially, help find a solution.
Being self-aware is one of the hardest self-motivation skills to achieve.
It is the ability to view how your actions and words affect those around you, including those that you either report to or manage.
Although it can be hard to develop, it is worth persevering.
An employee with a strong sense of self-awareness is also adaptable – self-awareness of their behavior’s consequences allows them to behave in different ways in different situations.
When reporting to a manager who prefers a short, blunt presentation style with the answer spelled out, for example, they can deliver that as easily as the presentation to a manager who wants all the details and options but be left to make their own decision.
The employee lacking in self-awareness might deliver the same presentation to both managers without consideration.
While it is true some people innately have more self-confidence and motivation than others, it can be learned.
Self-confidence breeds self-confidence – once you have some, it is easier to get more.
Having self-confidence means you are less reliant on others for affirmation and are more proactive because you believe in your abilities.
Also, it builds a more positive working environment. Encouraging all employees to be self-aware, not make overly negative comments and improve on giving feedback can make a positive workplace where everyone’s self-confidence grows.
Improving confidence can seem tricky but it is worth persevering as not only is it possible, but it is worth it on so many levels, even beyond work.
Growing your self-confidence is a keystone of strong personal development.
It can help to keep a positivity or gratitude diary where you note down any positive elements from your day.
Focusing on things you do well in your work and life, such as exercising a skill you are good at, will gradually help bring a more positive and optimistic mindset.
Shifting the schema of yourself like this takes work, but in turn, will allow your confidence to build in the areas that you acknowledge you have positive traits in.
The first step is always to become aware of your weaknesses.
Some more obvious ones will no doubt be pointed out to you, either by other colleagues or by your manager, perhaps during one-to-ones, feedback meetings (such as 360 performance reviews) or development conversations.
If you are not receiving any such feedback, then you will need to seek it out. This can be intimidating to do, but worth it, as you can use this knowledge to improve.
Another way to seek feedback is to carry out personality or strengths/skills tests which your HR department or manager may be able to facilitate.
If that is not possible, there are free tests online that you can use to better understand your strengths and weaknesses.
Once you know what you need to work on, then you need to seek solutions.
If you are poor at time management, you could make a system in which you diarize everything – block out your calendar in sections and, every morning, spend time allocating those blocks to the work required in priority order.
You may need to set alarms or use techniques like Pomodoro to keep focused rather than drifting into taking too long or procrastinating.
Other ways to improve include asking other people how they do things, attending training courses to learn better techniques and engaging in self-directed e-learning courses.
Building strong networks is another essential way to improve your self-management skills, as this gives you access to more people that inspire you, and taking on the services of a mentor to support you can also enhance your success.
Self-management is something that some people find easier than others, but the good thing is that we can all improve.
This will be your key to progressing upwards into a managerial role or stepping sideways to set up your own business.
When applying for jobs, you will usually be called upon to demonstrate your soft skills alongside your technical know-how and experience.
Those who remember that these skills are not static and can grow, constantly pursuing the desire to be better, will succeed.