How to Manage Yourself Effectively

The 3 essential areas of self-management in remote work

I had a conversation with Matt Levene the other day talking about everything work and productivity. During the conversation, Matt mentioned the term “self-management” that caught my attention.

Think about how good team management can contribute to the productivity of an organization — self-management plays a similar role to our personal performance.

As the world shifts to remote work, self-management becomes increasingly crucial in our day-to-day work and life. Suddenly we’re left on our own to manage ourselves. No boss to tell you what to do. No clock-in and out. No peer pressure. Nothing. It’s just you and your work.

It’s good news for people who want to work remotely, but bad news for those who haven’t learned to manage themselves well.

To help, I broke down self-management into three areas that I believe are the most essential. And offer some high-level tips and action steps you can take.

The 3 areas of self-management

Manage your energy

Most people focus only on time management because it’s easier to measure. But time management has its limitations:

  1. We value time differently. One hour spent at work versus one hour with the family feels different to different people.
  2. the output you create varies from time to time even if you’re doing the same thing. We get different outputs due to various factors.

Instead of measuring and managing your time, a better approach is to manage your energy.

There are many contributing factors to your level of energy at any given moment. I would suggest you first keep a pulse on the fundamentals. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I sleep enough? If yes, how well was my sleep?
  • Do I exercise and workout regularly?
  • How was my diet? And what have I eaten this week?

These are the fundamentals to your energy level. I know how it feels wanting to optimize something that sounds more interesting: I tried to design new digital systems, test different tools and apps, experiment with new productivity hacks. They worked at first, but eventually all of them failed when I slept poorly or had a poor diet for a few days.

Optimally, you want to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep, exercise for at least 30 minutes, and keep a balanced diet—every day.

The work you put into maintaining good fundamentals also creates a baseline routine to give your day a solid structure to work with.

Manage your environment

When you have your baseline routine in check, especially the fundamentals: sleep, exercise, and diet, now you can move on to the next step: manage your environment.

Our environment shapes us more than we think. The things and people around us impact our output, especially our energy, to great degrees. For example, research shows that people eat less when given a smaller plate and eat more when a bigger plate is being used.

The key reason this happens is because, under the influence of changes in environment, our brain does not behave rationally as much as we would like it to be. Instead, all of us fall into the same mental flaws and cognitive errors again and again. And often we make decisions unconsciously based on default or the triggers that are closest to us — in many cases, it’s our environment.

I usually break down the concept of managing my environment into two parts: 1) physical environment and 2) digital environment.

  • Physical environment. Everything around you. For example, your home office, your living room, your bedroom, and people around you in different settings and different spaces.
  • Digital environment. As our work depends on a computer and the internet more and more, learning how to optimize our digital environment becomes essential. Some examples of the digital environment: your desktop, Dropbox, Gmail inbox, calendar, what you have on your web browser, and apps on your mobile devices.

The goal is to manage and optimize them in a way that you can make better choices easily and take action quickly with little to no distractions. In other words, you still make decisions based on default but this time, you optimize the default to align with your goals by developing a winning environment.

Manage your psychology

You’re likely performing at your peak when you nail both the fundamentals and the environment. The last key here isn’t so much of a management, but more of having the awareness of how your mind works.

Managing your psychology can mean a lot of things. Here are a few things I have in mind now:

  • Motivation and willpower. Your motivation level is usually tied closely to how you approach your work (and your energy level), you can read more about it here.
  • Attention and focus. Productivity equal to time multiplied by focus. We can spend a ton of time on a task but without focus, we hardly make any progress. Again, your energy and environment play a big role here. Here’s an extensive post I’ve written on how to increase your attention span and how to overcome procrastination.
  • Decision-making. Personally, I break decision-making down into two parts. First, how our minds and brains work — it’s important to understand the flaws and errors we have so we’re better equipped to process the decision-making problem in front of us. Second, the decision-making framework — it’s kind of like the system or formula you have in your toolkit when you want to make choices. Most people make decisions based on how they feel. Having a decision-making framework helps you process all the information you have (and if you don’t have them, help you identify and find them) prior to making a decision.
  • Principles and mindsets. Having sets of principles and the right mindsets can help you navigate the new work setting better. You can learn from your own experience but you need to have a routine to write things down (AKA journalling) to make use of your experiences. However, the real shortcut is by studying what works and what doesn’t work for other people.
Mistakes can be a great teacher but others’ mistakes can be the best teacher.

Remote work is both a skill set and a mindset

It was tough when the world went remote suddenly when Covid hit two years ago. It changes how many of us work and many people still aren’t ready for it.

While many have gone back to the office, some prefer to adopt the new normal given the benefits of working remotely. But it also means we need to approach work with a new mindset and level up our skills in managing ourselves effectively.

As a recap, here are the three high-level steps to do just that:

  1. First, manage your energy by keeping a healthy sleep, workout, and diet routine.
  2. Then, develop an environment that makes it easier for you to work productively.
  3. And finally, master your psychology so you can make better decisions.

Footnotes

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