Self-Management Tools to Keep You at Your Best

By: Jeff Cowart, MAH | jcowart@barlowmccarthy.com

Most often when thinking about tools to make our jobs and lives easier, we tend to forget one of the most foundational needs – ourselves. The truth is collecting, adopting and adapting available tools will do little to help without spending some time to focus on better routines of self-management.

And, it is truly worth the investment.

TIME: The first issue is time. It has been said that nobody has enough, but everybody has all there is. So why are some people so much more productive that others? Training is typically the answer. It seems today that fewer and fewer managers and leaders get formal training in time management which includes the principles of organization around email, phones, mail, social media, meetings, human resources and much more. One of the longest-running best books on the subject is “The Time Trap” by Alex Mackenzie and Pat Nickerson. They cite the Top 5 time traps as: 1) Management by Crisis; 2) Inadequate Planning; 3) Inability to say No; 4) Unclear Communication; and, 5) Poorly Run Meetings. If any of these are on your trouble lists, take some time to invest in yourself on how to get a better grip on inefficiency.

Learn to interpret and leverage experience and opportunity.

Urgency:  If you’ve ever felt like your iceberg is melting, you’ve probably come across John Kotter, one of the leading thinkers about managing change. As we all know, change is one of the greatest current disruptors in healthcare. Kotter wrote “A Sense of Urgency,” a short read for those who are time-challenged, that distinguishes between complacency, a false sense of urgency, and true urgency. With practical wisdom and examples, Kotter helps sort out the differences and guide you personally toward working and living with true urgency, where the sky is not always falling. The key elements are priorities and focus and being relentless in the pursuit of smart objectives, “purging irrelevant activities to provide time for the important and to prevent burnout.”

Flow:  Enjoying the experience of everyday is like a natural river moving from its source to its destination within defined boundaries of expectation. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did pioneering work on achieving the optimal experience every day in his still best-in-class book called, “Flow.” It‘s a little bit of a thicker read but his key point is “people who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives.” He says those who achieve flow at work and outside of work are not controlled by events, but rather learn to interpret and leverage them for experience and opportunity. This is a cultivated skill, and like any skills, to get good at it one must practice. The reward in the practice is a process to help sort out “what is important and what is not.”

Finally, don’t forget to Read – something other than just business books and industry-specific articles and magazines. As the multifaceted writer Ursula LeGuin says: “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” Our work lives are a process of evolution and a good book every now and then tends to help add perspective to what sometimes seems like chaos.