When a business is deemed to be too slow or ineffectual, often management will suggest something called a ‘process fix’. This basically means that they will look at the different processes that the business uses in order to accomplish its tasks and then see how each of them can be improved upon.
This is possible, seeing as most businesses or teams will effectively be able to break down what they do into a series of repetitive tasks. By fixing these repetitive tasks in order to reduce errors, to speed up the process or to make them more enjoyable, a process fix can that way trigger improvements on a massive scale that will be amplified the longer the business continues to carry out those processes.
But what if you were to apply that same logic to yourself? What if you were to honestly assess your morning routine, the way you approach tasks and relationships, the way you present yourself and then look for small changes that could have massive benefits?
This is the general principle behind ‘self-management’. But how exactly would one go about this?
Self-management is a broad term that essentially incorporates a broad range of different subjects. Often, it is used somewhat synonymously with the term personal development. However, there are definitely some distinct differences between the two and generally, self-management tends to focus more on productivity and on the small changes you can make to make yourself more effective.
There are plenty of books and resources that can help with this process but many will focus on the slightly broader subject of self-improvement rather than focussing in on self-management in particular. So if you want to make yourself more effective, how can you go about it?
The first thing to do if you want to make yourself more effective, is to think about what your goals are.
A lot has been written on goal-setting, both good and bad. There is certainly a destructive side to the process of setting goals, which can sometimes threaten to diminish our existence to endlessly chasing after shallow achievements and status. Goals like ‘becoming area manager’ do not tend to beget happiness, although we might feel otherwise. (See the excellent book Happy by Derren Brown for more on this.)
So I’m not necessarily talking about goal setting in the conventional sense but rather in the sense that you must know what’s important to you and what you really hope to achieve. In other words: are you trying to spend more time with your family and loved ones, or are you trying to make a living from your own website?
Because it’s only by defining your priorities that you can then become more effective. You need to be more effective at something, and until you know what that is, you aren’t going to see any positive change.
So think about what makes you happiest and think about what you want to achieve. Then take a look at your day and think about how effectively you are making that happen.
Once you have this end goal in mind, you can start to be much more specific and precise in the way you make decisions. You can now simply ask yourself: does this help you to reach your end goal? And if the answer is no, you simply change track to something that is more in-keeping with your goals.
For instance, I recently received some money from a relative for Christmas and I could spend it on one of two things I really wanted: a virtual reality headset, or a large, widescreen monitor. The virtual reality headset is something I’ve wanted for a long time but it is very expensive and hard to justify. So I asked myself: which will best help me accomplish my goal? (Which is to become a full time fitness YouTuber.)
The answer was the widescreen monitor. And I was happy with that decision.
Now you have your goal, you can make decisions using that as a lens. Likewise though, you can also use this as a yard stick to measure the effectiveness of your various habits and routines and thereby to make process fixes wherever you think they could be useful.
So let’s say your goal is to lose weight. You could then take a look at your routine and score each part of that routine in terms of how well it helps you work toward that goal.
For example, you might find that your morning coffee is not doing you any favors seeing as it contains a lot of calories. A quick fix might be to swap that out for an Americano which has no cream or sugar and thus doesn’t contain any calories.
Alternatively, you might find that packing a morning lunch could help you to eat more healthily. You might find you are more likely to stick to this positive behaviour too if you look for ways to make it a little easier: maybe by doing it the night before or by buying ready-made sandwiches.
Many people will associate effectiveness with productivity though, so let us focus on that for a moment: how might you introduce some process fixes in order to be more effective at the start of the day and get more work done?
This is something that countless ‘productivity’ and ‘self-help’ gurus have focussed on to no end. There is a saying that if you ‘win the morning’ you will ‘win the day’. And thus by ensuring a positive morning routine, you can make yourself more productive throughout the entire day.
Another great book to look at on this subject is Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans. Tim Ferriss is the author who wrote The Four Hour Workweek and who has more recently been running a podcast interviewing some of the world’s most successful people ranging from Warren Buffet, to Tony Robbins, to Arnold Schwarzenegger, to Elon Musk. During those podcasts, he found some ‘patterns’ among the behaviors of these successful individuals and particularly pertaining to their morning routines, which often included:
It seems that the best thing we can do in the morning is to be productive before we respond to emails or even read texts and the news. This allows us to be ‘proactive’ rather than ‘reactive’ and as such, we often get a lot more done. Meditation helps to further clear the mind, while exercise gives us an easy win at the start of the day.
But perhaps the morning routine that will work best for you is different? We’re all different and what makes one person more productive might not work for someone else. The whole point here is to look at your routine, consider the goals you want to achieve and then find tweaks to your routine that can help them to happen.
This kind of self-management, when used correctly, can allow you to gradually hone your approach to any given task to the point where you are more effective and more capable of getting work done. But what some people will find, is that it can be hard to adhere to the changes that they put in place. This takes discipline, which unfortunately is something that a lot of people just don’t have in vast quantities.
Another useful tip then is to start gently and to think of self-management as a skill to be learned. Don’t try to become the world’s most effective person overnight but instead introduce small fixes one at a time and then observe the results. This adheres to the Japanese notion of ‘kaizen’ – that making very small changes can have big impact over time. Even the longest journey starts with a single step.
So look at yourself today and ask what is one thing you could change to make yourself more effective at achieving your goals…