Two people at the office work

Coping with work through good self-management

Just five minutes to go. Four minutes. Time to go home! But as soon as you want to turn off your computer or laptop, you suddenly realise that you’ve forgotten to answer an important email. Or did you accidentally sweep an entire project under the table at work today?

If that’s something that often happens to you, you need to work on your self-management! It’s a bit like learning to play a musical instrument: it’s not usually enough just to learn it from a book or online. To ensure you have well-structured working processes, you need to set certain guidelines, which you then practice, regularly review and optimise.

Learn self-management in 5 steps

A popular method to improve time management is known as ALPEN. Each letter stands for an action:

A = Activities
L = Length estimation
P = Planning
E = Establishing priorities
N = Next steps

Write a task list by hand in a notebook
  • Activities: As they can now also be in digital format, to do lists have recently become popular again. What needs to be done? What deadlines are coming up? Here you can have an overview of everything! If you prefer to use an analogue version, you can also write down the most important tasks of the day, for example on a whiteboard.
  • Length estimation: It's only by knowing how long a task takes that you will be able to estimate realistically how much time is left in the day/week for other tasks. Set yourself (intermediate) deadlines. 

  • Planning: It isn’t necessarily your fault if timings are not being complied with. Things can often come up that could not have been foreseen. The best thing to do is plan only 60 percent of your work time and leave the remaining 40 percent as a buffer.

  • Establishing priorities: This is where you need to be realistic about which activities have priority. What needs to be done straight away? What can wait? Which tasks can you delegate to others?
Personen arbeiten auf dem Fußboden
  • Next steps: If you can manage to stick to the four points above, you have already achieved quite a lot. But that’s only half the battle! Once your work has been done, you need to assess your self-management. Were your estimates realistic? Where were the sticking points and why? What could you make better so that your time management is more realistic?

Changing habits in daily work routines

When assessing your self-management techniques, perhaps you have realised that it would be better to start agreeing your own estimated timings with other people who are also responsible for the tasks? If, for example, you work with creatives, they will often be in a better position to estimate how long a job will take. Or maybe you’ve noticed that work processes within your team could be better structured in general? If so, address this directly and get together to develop structures to suit all of you. Perhaps you have caught yourself time and again losing focus when it comes to prioritisation? So work at it! Always admonish yourself if you notice that the smaller tasks are getting in the way of your actual job.

These are just a few examples! Perhaps you will find some completely different “critical points” in your own self-management. The first step is identifying them. Ask yourself how you can improve on them and keep practising the changes until they stick and become a habit.

Tools and tricks for observing your own behaviour

If you work with Microsoft Outlook, you already have the best framework in place for working with a structured approach and optimising your time management. After all, Outlook can do a lot more than just deliver your electronic mail. You probably already use the calendar. Use it to remind you of the most important activities and deadlines. Are you familiar with Lync? This program is part of Outlook and can be used instead of phone calls or for chat or online meetings. Evernote can also be used for notes.

There are also all kinds of tools such as Todoist or Getting Things Done, which can be used to record all your tasks and help you to get better organised. Remind yourself of deadlines and ensure that regular work processes happen automatically. You might be interested in these tools for organising appointments.