What is the greatest way to test your abilities to manage people, organizations, structures?
Whether it is managing the bottom-line of the business or its horizons, short terms or long terms, one should start from managing oneself. As complicated as it gets managing oneself involves managing one’s time, resources, allocating these resources, creating measurable impact and taking a decision relevant to one’s life. Management covers a broad spectrum of activities we perform in our both personal and professional life, hobbies and volunteer work. We commit ourselves to a mission to accomplish something that is important to us as individuals. Having a purpose and goal to pursue we always face the challenge of managing the right things and at the right time.
Records show that only individuals with effective self-management become successful entrepreneurs. It makes a lot of sense as being a CEO of a startup is not very different from being a CEO of your own life, it’s about planning, organizing and making good decisions. Just like other businesses startups rise from an individual or a group of individuals who commit themselves to creating a product or service that will win or even explode the market. They are driven by the idea of change. Change motivates individuals to start forming the strategy and achieve goals. There rises a need for managing all processes, from initiating and planning stage to execution and completion stages. Management requires structuring one’s team, or organization, mobilizing and allocating all resources that are attainable and efficient and further monitoring, measuring change and reporting impact. Besides it involves management of communication and relationship between all elements of the value system.
Managing oneself is the very first challenge at the beginning of something bigger. It is the starting point of development, and without realizing it we choose to manage ourselves one way or the other. The rules that we establish for ourselves, the boundary conditions, the standards lay the foundation for the progress we make. Effective self-management is a prerequisite for success. I believe managing oneself is an art. I find some people are naturally good at it and they manage their lives so effortlessly but this is just an impression. Managing oneself is hard work and requires consistency, self-discipline and character. Maintaining the habit of doing the things that need to be done and not letting your focus swing requires a great level of commitment towards one’s own tasks.
Focusing all time and energy and doing one thing at a time is one of the greatest advise of a prolific educator and writer Peter F. Drucker. In his book “The effective executive” Drucker pointed out the need of “knowing where one’s time goes” (Drucker, 1966).
I used to think that I am good at multitasking, it turned out that in fact I am just good at getting distracted. Whenever I start with a task I easily switch to other tasks, and the reason is my wandering mind and lack of focus. Trying to combat with a bad habit I discovered a technique of recording my own time. Recently I have been practicing to-do list more often, but what’s more important I reflect on how I spend my time and what I achieve. One of the solutions is to keep a track of all tasks I do throughout the day. I find it helpful to categorize all tasks into high-, medium- and low-priority tasks. It is worth separating important from urgent tasks as well. Self-discipline starts with small tasks. Allowing myself to procrastinate with smaller low-priority tasks quickly gets me into a habit of procrastination, and makes me disorganized. Tracking time helps me to avoid procrastination and concentrate on the things that need attention most.
Another technique is about having clear work breakdown structure. If I have more complex task or a project I approach it from a project management perspective. I define the stages like planning and initiation, execution and completion, set milestones and deliverables and I try to break down the workflow in a simple algorithm. Every bigger task can be broken down into smaller ones. It is important to attach deliverables to every task, so that its achievement can be measured. “What gets measured gets managed” said Peter Drucker (Drucker, 1954).
Managing oneself is not only about time management. It’s also being effective and efficient. Good self-management is ability to prioritize or doing “the right things” at the right time that characterizes the level of efficiency. “First things first” – another famous quote by Drucker (Drucker, 1966). Sometimes I feel tempted to rely on how I am feeling at the moment and go with the flow. It’s very easy to break consistency if you let yourself give up on a task once, because you know it will happen again. Sometimes it feels like following your heart and migrating mind works like a compass. You start when you have passion and motivation to do something, then you lose your interest, possibly start doing other things, then resume when you feel good about it or quitting it forever. But it doesn’t make me feel satisfied if I fail to accomplish what I started or not deliver it on time. There are peaks and troughs of motivation, so I realized that motivation alone can’t keep me going. At times I experience all lows and I try to stay focused on the results, rather than processes and it boosts the drive to achieve. So developing a practice of committing myself to deliver constantly what I expect from myself is the biggest challenge, but I can say I am on the right path now. Once this habit is strong it is easier to work on everything else, and deliver better performance at the workplace and outside work.
One last quote from Drucker that I find important and relevant is “Successful careers are not planned. They develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values” (Drucker, 1999). Identifying strengths and understanding oneself is also a part of self management journey, not to mention that working out values as guiding principles for oneself is the subject that deserves a discussion on its own, but that would be another essay.
Drucker, P. F. (1966). The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done. Chapter 2
Drucker, P. F. (1954). The Practice of Management.
Drucker, P. F. (1966). The Effective Executive: the definitive guide to getting the right things done. Chapter 5
Drucker, P. F. (1999). Managing Oneself. Harvard Business Review, 77(2), 64-74