Self-management: definition and methods

Selbstmanagement: Definition und Methoden

Whether at work, at school and at university or in everyday life, we have to face numerous tasks every day and master them. Resources can be scarce at times. But with the right self-management, you will succeed in almost every task and even larger challenges can be managed much more easily.

In our article on the topic of self-management, we try to explain everything about the different approaches and methods of self-management in order to give you an optimal overview. On the one hand, we will go into what self-management is and then give you important information and advice on how to find your way to your personal self-management.

the essentials in brief

  • Self-management refers to the ability to use various methods and strategies to manage pending tasks independently of external influences.
  • Self-management is about consciously taking upcoming tasks into your own hands, whereby the basis for efficient work consists of a combination of planning, organization, motivation and goal setting.
  • There are a total of eight different methods you can use to actively manage yourself. You have to decide for yourself which self-management method suits you best.

Background: What is self-management and why is it important?

Good self-management is important to achieve desired performance and achieve success. In our guide, we explain exactly what self-management means and why it is so important. Below you will find the most important information about self-management and the most frequently asked questions regarding self-management.

What is self management?

The term self-management comes from psychology and was originally developed in clinical behavioral psychology and therapy. Self-management basically serves to set up methods in order to be able to cope with tasks in a targeted and effective manner.

In addition, an important aspect of self-management, in addition to motivation, is the ability to regulate one's own needs and make external targets achievable. (1)

So it's about finding a technique and method that you can use to perfect your way of working and make it more efficient. Self-management is about taking over the organization and planning to achieve your own goals and all externally imposed goals and shaping them personally.

What is the difference between self-management and time management?

Self-management and time management are often compared or even confused with each other. Although the correct timing is part of self-management, you should remember that time always runs out in the same way and therefore cannot be actively changed.

What is time management?

Time management is about using your time wisely. (Image source: 123rf / alextype)

Time management describes the effective approach of distributing upcoming tasks sensibly over the time available to you. It is important to note that time is a fixed quantity and is considered a resource that cannot be changed or repeated. Time management is about being aware of your own use of time and adjusting your goals to the given time as part of self-management. (2)

So self-management starts with you. Self-management focuses on how to get the most out of your work time. The personal challenge here is how you deal with time, how you plan your daily routine and how you organize your everyday life. When planning your time, you can work with so-called buffers.

How does self management work?

Self-management is based on four important factors that are closely related: The planning of tasks and goals ensures efficient work and, with the right organization, brings structure to work and everyday life. However, tasks can often only be completed efficiently if you have enough motivation to pursue your goals.


You should think in advance which tasks you need and want to do and create a plan accordingly. For example, this can be a to-do list for the day or for the whole week. Try to work through this plan in order to avoid getting confused between different areas and stay on one thing efficiently.


Organizing your plans brings structure to your day. It helps you avoid detours and get to your destination directly. With a few planned breaks, you can sharpen your focus and increase your concentration to work effectively. If the work quickly becomes too much for you, adjust your organization accordingly and possibly incorporate a few relaxation exercises against stress every day. Only the right timing plays an important role here.


Self-management is not only about efficiency at work, but also about regulating motivation. Nobody likes to do tiresome and difficult tasks, but nobody can avoid them either.

Find a way to motivate yourself, for example by completing particularly complex and difficult tasks first or by concentrating on the associated success when you sense when this goal has been achieved. Tasks associated with a positive sense of pride are much easier to complete. (3)

You can also use your planning to put a positive aspect on your tasks by realizing: If I have done point one, I can devote myself to point two, etc.


Personal goals can be high, but they should always be achievable. Setting clear goals is sometimes the most important task of self-management.

Ask yourself what you would like to have achieved at the end of the day, what goals you are pursuing and what you might still want to improve on. Setting goals for yourself not only sharpens your focus, but also plays a significant role in your motivation to achieve the goal.

It also makes sense to keep goals that you want to work on to yourself. According to a study, people who didn't disclose their goals worked more diligently on their tasks than those who were asked about their goals beforehand.

You shouldn't put additional pressure on yourself by telling your colleagues about your goals, rather focus on your own success when setting goals. (4)

Why is self-management important?

Effective self-management allows you to work in a structured and much more efficient way. If you can organize and manage yourself and your tasks without outside help, you avoid additional work and, above all, stress.

Without the right self-management, you will quickly lose track of upcoming tasks, appointments and activities and quickly become dissatisfied. Through structured and well-organized planning, you will be able to perceive successes much better in self-management and thus mobilize much more motivation for tasks that extend over a longer period of time.

self management No self management
  • Complete tasks quickly and efficiently
  • avoid stress
  • Increased motivation
  • More satisfaction
  • Maintain control and overview
  • Quickly lose track
  • chaos
  • Forgot tasks or didn't complete them on time
  • miss appointments
  • High risk of procrastination

The right self-management will help you to choose the right goals and to achieve them with as few resources as possible.

You will quickly find that the time you have gained, in which you do not have to worry about what is coming up next and whether everything is ready, means that you can invest much more attention and time in the things in your life that are are important to you.

Why self management?

Motivation also plays an important role in good self-management. Find a way to motivate yourself to reach your goals or expand your goals. (Image source: Carl Heyerdahl / unsplash)

With every task, it is important to always keep a clear head and always be able to act self-determinedly, responsibly and confidently and to be independent of others.

How can I improve my self-management?

Self-management is fundamentally about how you use your own resources to organize your tasks and your life efficiently and effectively in order to achieve and increase your goals. A wide variety of strategies can be used for this. For example, certain rules can be set that say you do something specific when something specific happens.

According to a study, it has been shown that people reach their goals much faster when they have a strategy for how they work in advance. For example, you can set yourself the following: When your cell phone rings, you ignore it until your tasks are successfully completed. (5)

Below we have put together a few exercises and guidelines to help you manage your tasks and your everyday life better.

  • Set priorities: You have to learn to make decisions. The most important discipline in self-management is to separate the important from the unimportant. It is not always easy to make the right decision. Think about which tasks and activities have priority and act on that assessment. But stay true to your decision, it has been made and you should stick to it. This will make it easier for you to make the right decision and set priorities in the future.
  • Get an overview in the morning: Your decisions don't always have to be made spontaneously. Some things are much easier to do when they are built into a routine. Think about your personal morning routine , which you can use at the beginning of the day to get an overview of what tasks you still have to do and what goals you can set for the day. Not everyone finds it easy to get up early , and maybe you don't have to. With a well thought-out plan, you won't waste time and can approach each task in a focused manner.
  • Set up a time buffer: However, if the plan does not work out or a new task comes up spontaneously, there is a solution for such cases. Plan some time buffers in your time management so that tasks that you may have forgotten or tasks that are new do not put you under time pressure. There can always be a change of plan, be prepared.
  • Maintain discipline and patience: Sometimes your plan can be as well designed, but you just don't get any closer to your goal. Learn to be patient while still maintaining your motivation and discipline. Not every task can be completed quickly and in just one day. Some goals require a little more stamina and you should still be realistic. Admit one or the other mistake to yourself, take a deep breath and pay attention to where your strengths and weaknesses lie. Next time you may be able to assess the situation much better.

What tools can I use for my self-management?

Apps and computer programs

  • Appointments can be shared online
  • You always have your smartphone with you
  • Fast and flexible
  • Memories
  • Clear and no scribbles
  • Less privacy
  • Notes not haptic and separated from the computer in front of the eyes
  • Technical dependency

Classic tools such as to-do lists, sticky notes and calendar entries can all be created digitally these days and no longer necessarily require pen and paper.

With a virtual notepad and your Google calendar, you can record your thoughts, tasks and appointments with all the important details and share them with your colleagues and easily vote online.

Digitally created notes can be changed and added to at any time without having to cross anything out or running out of space. There are also various apps and digital tools that have been created exclusively for self-management and are designed to ensure a systematic and productive way of working.

notebooks and calendars

Notebooks and calendars have always been ideal tools for planning and organizing your self-management, as they can be optimally adapted to your personal preferences in different designs and sizes. Many prefer to use a large calendar pad as a desk pad, which means that all appointments and tasks are never out of sight.

Self-management tools

You can always have a small notebook or your calendar with you wherever you go, regardless of what resources you are working with and what you are currently working on. (Image source: Emma Matthews Digital Content Production / unsplash)

In addition, it is not always enough to write down just one word or sentence, sometimes small symbols or drawings are very helpful as clues. In a paper notebook or calendar, you can let your creative display options run wild and just have to pull out the pen and start drawing.

What methods of self-management are there?

Once you have understood the basics of self-management, you can move on to the different methods. There is quite a large selection of different methods with which you can actively carry out your self-management. In the following we will introduce you to the eight most important methods of self-management.

The ALPEN method

The ALPEN method was developed by the auto Lothar J. Seiwert and is used specifically for daily planning. This is a fairly simple and straightforward method of self-management.

With the ALPEN method, a simplified form of a to-do list is created that contains all tasks, appointments and planned activities without prioritization or a fixed order. Periodically recurring tasks or uncompleted tasks from the previous day are simply included in the new to-do list. (6)

The term ALPEN is an acronym and describes the first letters of the five steps of the method.

A Write down tasks and deadlines
L estimate length
P Schedule buffer time (maximum 60% of the working time)
E make decisions
N Check what I have achieved

The Eisenhower principle

The Eisenhower principle distinguishes between urgent and important tasks. Important tasks are those that bring you closer to your goals, dreams and desires.

Urgent tasks, on the other hand, are those that you have to do by a specific time or date, requiring your immediate attention. A distinction is made between A tasks, B tasks, C tasks and D tasks. The interaction of urgency and importance of the tasks is relevant. (7)

  • A tasks: These tasks are important and urgent. You should take care of them immediately.
  • B-Tasks: These tasks are important but not urgent. While you don't have to do them right away, they're important enough that they need to be firmly factored into your schedule.
  • C tasks: These tasks are urgent but not important. You should either complete these tasks after the more important tasks or possibly delegate them to a co-worker and not do them yourself.
  • D tasks: These tasks are neither urgent nor important. You can easily cross them out, they don't have to be done.
The Eisenhower principle

To achieve his goals, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower invented a method by which he organized his tasks according to importance and urgency. The method is based on the following quote: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent ones aren't important, and the important ones are never urgent." (Image source: Science in HD / unsplash)

The ABC analysis

The ABC analysis is quite identical to the Eisenhower principle, but in contrast to this principle it only includes three categories into which the pending tasks are divided.

This is a fairly simple and quick method of self-management. With the ABC analysis, tasks are largely sorted spontaneously and intuitively. All tasks are prioritized according to their importance. (8th)

  • A-Tasks: These tasks are very important, you should do them immediately.
  • B-Tasks: These tasks are less important, you can do them later or delegate them.
  • C-Tasks: These tasks are hardly or not at all important, you can either delegate them or discard them completely.

The GTD method

The Getting Things Done method can be traced back to the author and productivity consultant David and describes a self-management method in which all tasks are recorded in lists and planned using appointment calendars. The basic principle lies in writing down the tasks.

The focus should only be on the tasks themselves, so that you no longer have to think about your planning without forgetting a single task. It is important to categorize the tasks into the three W-questions: when, how and where. (9)

The GTD method follows five steps, the order of which is precisely defined:

  1. Collect: All pending tasks and appointments are noted and collected in one place. You can do this both analogue and digital.
  2. Process: The collected notes are then sorted and classified. You pay attention to the questions about which task it is, whether you can currently do something and what you can currently do.
  3. Organize: Now you organize your listed and sorted notes. Appointments are entered in the calendar, tasks that require action are placed on the clipboard, tasks that require a long period of time are marked as projects and reviewed regularly. Set fixed dates for the tasks and projects in your calendar and create a reminder list for all tasks. It is best to do tasks that are particularly quick to do directly.
  4. Check through: Since all appointments and tasks are carefully listed, you should check your calendar several times a day and see what's coming up next. In addition, there can often be changes and new dates can be added. You should therefore regularly review and add to your lists and check that they are up to date.
  5. Get done: To find out what task will be done next, you should use four criteria: context, available time, available energy and priority. Create additional context lists so you always know what context you are in and which tasks might fit together. In addition, you should always have an eye on the time and know which task fits into which time frame. Tasks should also always be adapted to your performance level. You should not do difficult tasks when you are permanently tired or increasingly listless , but schedule them at times when you also have a lot of energy. However, it is always important that you put the tasks with the highest priority first.

The SMART method

The SMART method is about choosing your goals correctly and smartly. In addition to successfully completing your tasks and improving your concentration , successful self-management also includes a meaningful definition of your goals. Your goals should be measurable and, most importantly, actionable. (10)

The SMART method itself is an acronym and stands for the following guidelines:

acronym Meaning
S Specific Goals must be concrete and clearly formulated, i.e. as specific as possible
M Measurable Goals must be qualitatively or quantitatively measurable and verifiable
A Action oriented Goals should be action-oriented and relate to specific actions
R Realistic Goals should be set realistically and be achievable with the given resources
T Terminated Goals should be timed and have a specified end date

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, was established by the economist Wilfredo Pareto in the 19th century and states that you can often achieve 80 percent of your goal with just 20 percent of your effort.

This is a self-management and time management method that makes you work more efficiently and only focus on the tasks that are really relevant. This method is particularly helpful when there is a lot of time pressure to avoid spending too much time on the wrong or less important subtasks. (11)

  • Identify the really important tasks
  • Focus on one task
  • Accept your resources

The Pareto principle can also be optimally combined with the Eisenhower principle. You can use the four tasks of the Eisenhower principle to decide which tasks need to be prioritized and how. The two principles pursue the same goal.

The AMORE method

AMORE - This method is also described by an acronym and focuses specifically on the formulation of goals. This method of self-management sets five priorities, according to which you can analyze and set your goals. Not only will this method help you achieve your goals more easily, but it will also make you think more deeply about your actual interests.

With a concrete formulation of your goals, it will be easier for you to focus on your tasks and to stay motivated. However, make sure that your goals remain realistic and genuine.

Words that are too exaggerated will not get you anywhere, and even goals that you may not really want to achieve or that you only want to set for a secondary reason only take away additional time for the relevant tasks. (12)

acronym Meaning
A ambitious Goals are formulated in a challenging and interesting way
M motivating Goals are adjusted to the situation and your abilities
O Organized The organization is involved in the formulation
R Realistic Goals are based on your innermost desires
E Real Stand behind your goals 100%

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro technique is a method based on a fixed time management. Based on a resolution to work more efficiently, the Italian Francesco Cirillo developed this method during his studies in the 1980s. The basis and the only tool in this method is an alarm clock.

The Pomodoro technique is always the same. Your working time is divided into individual work intervals, the duration of which is set at 25 minutes each. There is a short break of five minutes between each interval.

The entire cycle of this working method consists of a total of four work intervals and takes a total of around two hours and 25 minutes. When all four work intervals have been completed, a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes is taken. (13)

The steps of this method are simple:

  • choose task
  • set an alarm
  • 25 minutes work
  • Check off completed tasks after the alarm clock rings
  • 5 minutes break
  • Repeat
  • After the fourth round, take a 20-30 minute break

You can repeat this cycle as often as you like and use it for several different tasks. Since this is just a form of time management, the Pomodoro method can be optimally combined with other self-management methods to decide which tasks need to be done.


Since, despite everything, self-management always depends on your own preferences and your own person, it is not possible to say what exactly constitutes the best self-management. Everyone has to make this decision for themselves. What is crucial, however, is that you can successfully complete and achieve your tasks and goals and that you can work efficiently and with concentration due to the method and strategy you choose.

It's important to make sure that you always have your goals in mind, that you plan and organize effectively, and that you always stay motivated as you complete your tasks. Try different strategies and methods and in the end you will quickly recognize your suitable approach. However, you should still be open to new things and develop yourself further in the way you work.


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