Management Theory, Part 2: Managing Yourself

Last post, I began a discussion of thoughtful management. In management, you should be able to answer the questions:

  • What should I do today?
  • Is the work I do this week purposeful to the long-term goals?
  • Am I working towards valuable long-term goals?

In a company, it makes sense to approach these questions through meetings and other forms of communication. But what if you’re self-employed? What if you’re an autodidact? What if, one way or another, your work takes place without a team? (Or, your team doesn’t fulfill the role of management for you?)

If you’re working solo, you still need to answer fundamental questions about your work’s purpose and productivity. The urgency is perhaps greater than it is in a team; you can’t fall back to “at least I’m making a paycheck” or “I’m phoning it in because I’m focusing on something else I care about”.

Personally, I’ve been defining my own work, goals, meaning, and productivity for over two years. It can be challenging to stay motivated, especially for long-term goals. I’ve seen others take this path and fall into unhealthy habits of binging on work and then leisure. I’ve done that myself.

More recently, I decided to take a closer look at how I was handling self-management. My insight:

Why should managing myself operate in a fundamentally different way than managing a team?

I still need to figure out what I’m doing today, evaluate my progress toward goals, and take time to consider whether my work is meaningful and well-directed.

Common Pitfalls of Self-management

  • Ever-changing goals and deadlines
  • Frustration with lack of progress/wondering where all the time went
  • Thoughtless management of priorities
  • Failure to credit the work that’s done/overplanning for a day + disappointment when not all items are accomplished

Scrum for One

I began with the idea that I should check in with myself each day.

A typical approach might be to make a to-do list at the beginning of each day. But it occurred to me that if I held a daily check-in with a team I was managing, and all anybody said was their plans for the day, there would be something missing. Where’s the follow-up? What did you do yesterday? Is there any context missing– why are the same things on today’s list as yesterday’s? Has anything changed since the last meeting?

I decided to hold myself to the same standard as I would a team I was managing. So instead of just making a to-do list, I made a list like this:

Yesterday

  • What did I get done
  • Yesterday
  • That I can summarize
  • This morning?

Today

  • Specific, individual tasks
  • As distinguished from
  • Any similar tasks yesterday
  • E.g. “code this app’s database”
  • Should look like “ran into this issue with this database” in Yesterday
  • And “Explore this alternative database approach” in Today

Concerns

  • A section I initially hesitated to add
  • Because, don’t I know what blocks my work?
  • In a team setting, I wanted teammates to understand the impact their work had on other team members
  • In a solo setting, I learned
  • “Concerns” is a good place to note which items are high priority
  • To acknowledge what I’ve been putting off and why
  • And to add context like “didn’t get enough sleep” or “that looks like too many items on the Today list”

So far, I find this a very helpful practice. Specifically:

  • I take time each morning to understand my priorities for the day
  • I know exactly what I chose to do with my time (and how it differs from the expectations I set for myself)

For “Today”, a good way to frame the prompt is: “What will make me proud of myself by the end of the day?”

Think, Do, Reflect

I’m giving this a shot for now. In my previous post, I talked about framing check-ins for multiple timescales, but I don’t want to over-manage myself– so this self-scrum is the first experiment.

I plan to reflect on this process, iterate as I go, and write a follow-up once I’ve been trying it for a while.

Let me know if you try self-scrum, and how it goes!