Workplace Essentials

Self Management

Self-management is a highly-ranked employability skills. Employers look for self-management skills in potential employees.

What is Self Management?

Self-management is the ability to manage your time, your mental and physical health, and your impact on those around you. In the workplace this means being able to stay calm, work with different personalities, and receive feedback.

Self-management skills include:

  • Time management, goal setting and prioritizing
  • Avoiding and managing stress
  • Initiative, responsibility and accountability
  • Willingness to accept change
  • The ability to learn from mistakes
  • Managing your mental and physical health
  • Managing your moods and emotions

This chapter focuses on two of those skills: stress management and time management.

Stress Management Skills

You already know that school is stressful, work is stressful, life is stressful. The secret to enjoying life and being more productive is not eliminating stress, but learning to manage it. It’s easy to find lots of good stress management techniques online. Here are a few that I find particularly effective:

  • Time management
  • Physical exercise
  • Getting outside
  • Healthy eating
  • Self-calming
  • Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries

Find several strategies that work for you and then use them regularly. They’ll help you manage the stress of school and work,  and make your life more enjoyable.

Time Management

Time management is a key self-management skill. Organizing your time well means you can achieve goals and be productive at school and in the workplace. An effective schedule also makes sure you have time to relax and do things you enjoy.

Time management methods

Everyone has 168 hours a week. How do you spend your 168 hours? Never use the excuse I didn’t have time! That’s immature and unprofessional. I didn’t make the time or I had other priorities is professional and takes responsibility.

1. Do the most important things first

Make a list of all the things you want to accomplish tomorrow. For example:

  • Buy groceries
  • Attend class
  • Pay bills
  • Exercise
  • Social media
  • Study
  • Eat lunch with friend
  • Work
  • Watch TV
  • Text friends

Now prioritise it using the ABC model (A=related to my long-term goals, B=supports my well-being, C=want to do)

Task Rating
Buy groceries B
Attend class A
Pay bills B
Exercise B
Social media C
Study A
Lunch with friend C
Work B
Watch tv C
Text friends C


After prioritizing, the to-do list now looks like this:

  1. Attend class
  2. Study
  3. Work
  4. Pay bills
  5. Exercise
  6. Buy groceries
  7. Eat lunch with friend
  8. Text friends
  9. Social media
  10. Watch TV

2. Use the Pomodoro technique

3. Use the Eisenhower matrix

The Eisenhower matrix divides tasks into four areas based on their urgency and importance. The number in each quadrant tells us which items to do first, second, ect.

Urgent Not urgent Important House fire Family emergency Some calls/texts Health & fitness Career Planning 1 2 Not important 3 4 Interruptions Distractions TV Time wasters

Look at your task list, and decide what quadrant each task fits into. For example:

Urgent Not urgent Important Work Class Groceries Study Exercise Pay bills 1 2 Not important 3 4 Lunch with friend Watch TV Social media Text friends

Using the example above, I’d work first, then attend class, buy groceries and study. Afterwards, I’d workout and pay my bills. Then I’d lunch with my friend, and end the day by watching tv while texting and looking at my social media.

Of course, some of those tasks may be scheduled; maybe class is at 10am, and I don’t work until 5pm. In that case, I still work through my tasks in order of importance, until time for class. After class, I continue the tasks until it’s time for work.

4. Match your biology

Some people are morning people, others are best if they sleep until noon. Maybe you’re working night shift or getting up with a baby. You may find that scheduling according to your body and brainpower is most effective. Studying when you’re alert is much more productive.

Make a table with 4 rows:

Time of day Task

Then fill in the activities that match your brain and body preferences. For example, if you’re an , your schedule might look like this:

Time of day Task
Morning Study

Pay bills

Afternoon Work
Evening Groceries


30 min tv, texting & social media

Night Sleep

If you’re a , your schedule might look like this:

Time of day Task
Morning Sleep
Afternoon Exercise


Evening Groceries

30 min tv, texting & social media

Night Pay bills


Sleep late

If you work nights, schedule sleep for the time that suits your body and brain. Your schedule might look like this:

Time of day Task
Morning 30 min nap


Afternoon Sleep
Evening Exercise

Study (tv & social media on two 15-min breaks)


Dinner with friend

Night Work

Pay bills (on your break)

5. Limit your time

Another way to increase your efficiency is by limiting the time for each task. Write your to-do list and add a time estimate, or time limit, to each item. For example:

Task Time needed
Buy groceries 1 hour
Attend class 3 hours
Pay bills 15 min
Exercise 1 hour
Social media 30 min
 Study 4 hours
 Lunch with friend 1 hour
 Work 7 hours
 Watch tv 2 hours
 Text friends 30 min
 Total time needed 20 hours and 15 minutes

Unfortunately this schedule doesn’t leave enough time for sleep. Lack of sleep reduces brain function and can harm your mental and physical health so you need to remove some items or give them less time.

Your new list might look like this:

Task Time needed
Buy groceries 1 hour 30 min
Attend class 3 hours
Pay bills 15 min
Exercise 1 hour
Social media 30 min
 Study 4 hours 3 hours
 Lunch with friend 1 hour
 Work 7 hours
 Watch tv 2 hours 1 hour
 Text friends 30 min 15 min
 Total time needed 16 hours and 30 minutes

Now you know that you can get everything done and still have sufficient sleep.

Time management pro tips

Double your time

Look at your list: is there anything that takes only a few minutes, that you can do while waiting for the bus or for your coffee to brew? Can you text and look at social media while transiting to work? Can you record your study notes and listen to them while you’re exercising?

Break Goals into Small Steps

I have to write a long essay is demotivating for most of us. I have to get fit feels impossible. So split the task into small, do-able chunks. For example: today I’ll write my research question and spend 30 minutes finding valid resources. I’ll bookmark them and read them tomorrow. I’ll also create my draft document and outline my thesis statement and key points.

Or maybe I’ll workout for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening.

Don’t look at the long path ahead; just concentrate on the next step. Keep placing one foot in front of the other and suddenly you’ll be at your goal.

Reward yourself often: Schedule breaks and meals

Your task list includes studying for three hours. But what if you study for ninety minutes before and after lunch with your friend? You might feel rewarded and re-motivated. Also, the shorter time limits might make you more motivated to be productive.

Add your assignments to your calendar and make plans for completing them before they are due

Don’t just hope that one day you’ll wake up inspired to write that giant essay. Plan for it. The less excited you are to do a task, the more important it is to schedule it.

A note about procrastination

Everyone procrastinates. Don’t waste time feeling bad about it – create solutions instead. There are 4 main reasons we procrastinate:

I don’t wanna. I’d rather play. This happens when we’re burnt out, which is why scheduling rests and rewards is so important.

Perfectionism. This won’t be perfect so why bother? This is ego. Tell your ego that it’s better to do something imperfectly than not at all. We’re humans; perfection is impossible.

Lack of confidence. A depressed form of perfectionism, this is when we tell ourselves I’m going to do a bad job, so we have no energy to get started.

I don’t know how to start. The task seems so confusing that we have no idea how to start. Or it’s so big that we know it’ll take forever; like when you have a giant essay due and can’t imagine that one hour’s work will make a difference so you never get started. If this is the case, keep breaking the task down until you can see a simple action. For example: I need to write a research essay can be broken down into:

  1. Find 7 valid resources
  2. Read the resources and note the key facts
  3. Create a draft document
  4. Organise the facts
  5. Add the citations
  6. Draft the thesis statement
  7. Draft the key points
  8. Draft the overview
  9. Draft the summary
  10. Draft the recommendations or next steps
  11. Review the draft – does it make sense, is it logical?
  12. Proofread and format
  13. Review
  14. Edit as needed
  15. Final touches
  16. Submit

Now that you have a list of do-able items, start with the first one. Give yourself a time limit, and take regular breaks. You’ll be happily surprised how quick and painless the process is.


  Canadian Workplace Quiz 

This chapter introduces the Canadian Workplace Quiz. It’s to help you understand how to fit in and stand out at work.



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Professional Business Practice by Lucinda Atwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.