What is self-management? (7 skills to improve it)

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia RaeburnMay 3rd, 20225 min read
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Self-management is your ability to regulate behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in a way that better serves you and your work. Learn the 7 most important self-management skills to become a better leader.

Developing self-management is an introspective process. It requires an honest deep dive into your own emotional intelligence, self control, and leadership style where you discover how much you actually regulate yourself.

It’s certainly not easy, but self-management can be learned. And it’s worth doing—as you improve your self-management skills, you’ll naturally grow as a leader. From the top project management skills to your own personal development, we’ll go over what self-management is and the seven soft skills to develop it.

What is self-management?

Self-management is your ability to regulate your behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in a productive way. This means excelling in both personal and professional responsibilities for the benefit of yourself and your team.

[Inline illustration] What is self-management? (Infographic)

Effective self-management leads to better emotional intelligence by supporting your self-awareness and well being. This means staying on top of social cues and respecting your own personal needs.

Self-management is an important leadership quality that doesn’t always come naturally, but with the right tools and practice, you can develop. Let’s dive into the top seven self-management skills to develop. 

Special report: Understanding burnout

What are the 7 self-management skills?

Developing self-management skills requires a certain level of self-awareness—you need to know yourself before you can regulate yourself. Start slow and embrace the process, remembering that these skills are ongoing.

Skill 1. Time management

Time management is when you control how you use your time. This means prioritizing your most important tasks first and managing your daily to-do list. A leader who has good time management skills can manage their time effectively without the need for external help.

Having good time management skills can help you stay engaged and avoid procrastination. As a leader, time management allows you enough time to both stay on top of your own work and empower others to do the same.  

Read: 18 time management tips, strategies, and quick wins to get your best work done

Skill 2. Self motivation

Self motivation is your ability to get motivated and proactively accomplish daily tasks. It takes a certain level of personal responsibility, but practicing self motivation can help you become more self-aware and prioritize what's important to you.

[Inline illustration] Self motivation (Abstract)

This is similar to intrinsic motivation, which is motivation that comes from within. Like self motivation, intrinsic motivation stems from a variety of personal factors. For example, your internal motivator for volunteering could be that it makes you feel fulfilled. External motivators, on the other hand, are influenced by factors outside yourself. For example, working faster because you’re scared of the repercussions if you work slower.

Enjoying the work you do is an important part of staying motivated and engaged throughout your workday. Plus, liking the work you do can help you inspire your team to do their very best. To practice internal motivation, work towards goals that excite you and fuel your sense of purpose.

Skill 3. Stress management

Leaders often deal with stress, but to be good at self-management you need to embody healthy stress management. Without stress management, you can suffer from overwork and, eventually, burnout.

Leaders with good stress management skills approach work in a focused manner by connecting their initiatives to larger goals. When you know which task is most important and how project deliverables are tied to team goals, you can better prioritize work and will likely feel more fulfilled doing it. Engaging with your work in this way is a form of self-care, and it can help reduce your stress levels and keep you level headed.

Special report: Understanding burnout

Skill 4. Adaptability

Being adaptable means you have the confidence and ability to pivot when changes arise. This is especially important for leaders who work in a fast-paced environment where project changes occur often. 

For example, imagine a new project comes up that’s a higher priority than the one you’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks. Instead of becoming stressed or frustrated, you can adapt to this change and move forward with openness and curiosity. This is an important skill to have to maintain flexibility.

While being adaptable may be uncomfortable at times, it can make you a great leader as you have the ability to tackle anything that comes your way.  It also empowers your team to do the same.

Skill 5. Decision making

To be effective, it’s essential for leaders to develop decision-making skills that reduce confusion and increase team empowerment. Problem solving and addressing issues can help you grow your decision-making skills. 

Like all the skills we’ve looked at so far, decision making is something you can learn. Start by sharpening your critical thinking skills and learning how to analyze key information when problems arise. And use data-driven decision making to ensure your actions come from data rather than guesswork, so fewer issues will arise down the road.

Skill 6. Goal alignment

Setting goals means you prioritize the most important projects that have the highest impact on your business. 

This means being able to see the bigger picture and knowing what’s best for your team members and organization. In the long run, this will generate better results and boost team morale.  

Goal alignment consists of three main skills:

  • Goal setting. When goal setting, be sure to identify current pain points, forecast growth objectives, and analyze your current resource allocation plans—all of which can help you set informed goals. Use the SMART goals framework to make sure your goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

  • Goal communication. Not only does this involve managing your team’s goals, but it always involves aligning them to your organization’s overall goals. That way,  your team members understand how their work ladders up to larger objectives. This requires transparent communication and aligned teamwork.  

  • Goal tracking. Not only is it important to set and communicate goals, but it’s also important to track them. This is critical for connecting daily work to larger goals and seeing how your team is progressing over time. 

Skill 7. Personal development

Personal development is key for all team members, but especially for leaders. In order to build your team’s knowledge, you first need to build your own.  This means taking the time to attend workshops, take courses, and connect with industry experts to develop your management skills.

This means taking the time to attend workshops, take courses, and connect with industry experts—all of which can help you develop your management skills. 

By continuing to develop your skills, you can empower your team to do the same. Not only does this mean individual career development, but it also means growth for the good of the company. 

Read: The difference between hard skills and soft skills: Examples from 14 Asana team members

Examples of self-management

Analyzing examples of self-management in the workplace can help you understand the skills you need to develop and embody healthy self-management. 

These examples involve refining the way you see yourself in order to develop strong self-esteem. Here are some examples of self-management to better understand how you can empower yourself to be a better leader in the workplace:

Read: 10 team management skills to start building today

Example 1: Setting goals and aligning them to the larger picture. 

Team lead Daniela Vargas wants to increase returning customers by 10% this year in order to meet her organization’s growth goals. To start, she writes up a business case and schedules a meeting with the head of operations and product development. During that meeting, Daniela walks the department heads through her plan to rebrand an existing product line that hasn’t performed well in the past. The leaders agree to the plan and Daniela gets to work to develop a detailed work breakdown structure

Example 2: Stress management and time allocation.

Ray Brooks starts his day by going through his daily to-do list. He notices he has a few tasks that need to be completed and an overdue task that he didn’t get to yesterday. He also gets a meeting invite for a new project that is flagged as a top priority. Instead of becoming overwhelmed and frustrated with the tasks on his plate, Ray goes to work to reorganize his schedule. Critically, Ray realizes that he can’t get everything done that day. To get his best work done, he prioritizes the new project meeting, since it’s a top priority. He then spends the rest of his day tackling his high priority tasks while maintaining the quality of his work. Instead of working all night, which Ray knows will stress him out and take away from his family time, he decides that his least important tasks will need to wait until the next day. 

In both of these situations, the leader made rational decisions based on what was best for themselves and their teams. They were quick to make intelligent decisions while considering their own well-being in order to get good results. ​

Read: How to lead by example, according to one Asana leader

Managing your behaviors and emotions

Managing your thoughts and behaviors can help you become better at self-management and, in turn, stronger as a leader. By streamlining your individual organizational systems, you’re proactively working towards becoming the best leader that you can be. 

Learn additional ways to support your team with work management software. From increased productivity to team visibility, effectively managing your work doesn’t have to be challenging. 

Special report: Understanding burnout

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