If there is one fundamental principle I live by, it is to remember the second law of thermodynamics: that everything is subject to entropy and decay.
In less intense terms, it literally means everything is falling apart slowly.
After a certain point, the majority of your energy is not spent on creation, but maintenance. This means preventing orderly systems from falling into disorder.
Existence, as it seems, is chiefly maintenance.Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable
How often have you experienced a situation where you start the day happy and sunny, coffee in hand but it quickly devolves into a day with helmet on, water hose attached, and you, face smeared and hair singed, putting out rapid fires in succession?
That, my friend, is the chaos that must be so actively managed. The takeaway here is the value in managing oneself, to maintain order.
One of the biggest life lessons I’ve learned so far is the importance of managing myself to stay focused and attentive to my goals.
Without expending energy on self-management, you won’t be able to keep order and subsequently, intentionally plan for optimal outcomes.
My 5 rules for self-management:
- Actively manage key categories.
- Focus on systems and routines.
- Treat yourself like your own CEO.
- Prioritize the organization of your headspace.
- Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.
Rule #1: Actively manage these four things.
Our lives continue to grow increasingly complex due to the many data inputs we receive in our day to day. This becomes subject to overwhelm and anxiety. The easiest way I’ve found to quell this is to have things grouped together in an organized format.
I’ve found that ensuring these four are organized is one of the best ways to minimize stress and anxiety:
- Physical items
- Digital items
This way, I can a) reference things quickly when I need to, and b) add updates to layer on existing foundations.
By focusing on these four large categories, it becomes an easier decision making process and something that requires less mental energy to maintain.
This advice is related to the #konmari philosophy, but extended beyond Marie Kondo’s focus on the home. Having a place to store and organize the items mentioned above allows for easy access that encourages productivity, saves time, and most importantly, reduce stress.
In my home, every item (physical and digital) has its own unique category or place.
What this means: my home items are routinely organized and decluttered, and the same goes for digital items. Physical items are designated their assigned place and routinely put away. Digital items are filed away (at some point) and routinely deleted or cleaned up.
Every Sunday, my husband and I have a ritual of re-organizing the house and our phones, computers, and key documents to ensure things are properly cleaned up.
Take action: What areas feel messy? Take mental inventory of the things that feel disorganized in your life. Once you’ve identified the categories, you can begin working on organizing one category at a time.
Time to declutter, assign a space, and file away promptly.
Rule #2: Systems and routine help automate recurring tasks.
Systems are important. So, so important. As James Clear eloquently paraphrases:
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.
Your brain energy should be dedicated to creative work and decision making or analytical tasks only. Trying to remember recurring tasks and your to-do list is, in my not-so-humble-but-should-be-humble opinion, a waste of mental energy.
What helps scale organization as life become more complex is creating specific systems and documenting the steps you need to follow. What I’m talking about, in essence, is standard operating procedure (SOP).
SOPs are put in place in large organizations as a way to provide detailed instructions to carry out a task. By applying this concept towards your daily life, you’ll be able to follow a checklist that, over time, can become automatic.
That my friend, is the sweet spot you want to be at. Where the consistent frequency of a behavior becomes habit.
This way, brainpower is no longer needed to stop and remember rote tasks. Before long, due to repetition they become automatic and save us significant time.
Additional Reading: Systems Thinking, Systems Tools, and Chaos Theory
Take action: What are rote tasks you do that remain consistent over time? For ex: Morning routine? Packing list? Cleaning checklist?
Figure out what you can begin compiling into a checklist that will save you the headache of trying to remember later.
Rule #3: Treat yourself like your own CEO.
I might be slightly biased here as I’m also a startup founder and CEO, but I see very similar mentalities when it comes to CEO life and self-management.
CEO’s are required to understand at a high level what is going on within their business on a daily basis — the financial, operational, sales status of the business as a whole.
As such you should be prioritizing understanding at a high level, the status of key aspects of your life (which are up to you to determine).
Take action: Using the analogy of a business, what are the key categories in your life that you need to consistently maintain? For ex: Physical Health? Financials? Relationships? Personal Growth? etc.
Identify these categories and begin asking yourself what do you need to get these categories in order.
Rule #4: Beyond organizing your digital and physical items, it’s important to organize your mind.
Out of these five rules, the most complicated to manage is perhaps this one. Rule #4 applies to multiple aspect of your headspace: managing your knowledge and thoughts, your emotions, and managing attention.
I’m pretty sure this can be an entire post itself down the road.
But in the meantime, I just wanted to highlight the importance of maintaining these components.
It is important to establish a centralized repository to house all your thoughts, ramblings, knowledge, notes, etc that is organized in a very searchable format. (Think Google search life hacks)
How important is it to know Aunt Ida’s favorite ice cream? If it’s important, jot it down somewhere that can be easily searched and filtered.
I have three systems: OneNote for general note-taking, my own online journal for stream of consciousness brain dumps to organize my thoughts, and TextEdit as a catch-all. Notes from TextEdit are usually then filed away or organized elsewhere.
Take action: How do you currently keep your thoughts organized? What do you do to clear your head? is it currently working for you, or can it be improved?
Rule #5: Nothing is forever, the key is maintenance.
None of these tasks are a do-it-once-and-you’re-done type deal, conscious effort is required to continually maintain and keep things up to date.
Remember: things are always falling apart. Make sure to put them back together again when they do.This means setting a consistent cadence.
Don’t get me wrong, this can get exceedingly exhausting, so it’s important to justify a cadence that works for you.
For ex: we review finances daily, and then at the end of the week we commit to a deep end of week review to assess how our budget looks going forward.
Take action: Of the things that require constant repetition, what cadence is required? For example, what are daily activities, weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
If this is overwhelming, I understand. It’s important to take things in stride: start small and focus on one item at a time. Assess progress, adjust and tweak as necessary and proceed only when the level of mental challenge has reduced enough for you to tackle the next category or rule.
And remember, life is meant to fall into chaos. It’s inevitable. But choice is yours to prevent it.
The 5 Principles of Self-Management:
- Actively manage these four things: physical items, digital items, thoughts, and time.
- Focus on systems and routine to automate recurring tasks.
- Treat yourself like your own CEO.
- Beyond organizing your digital and physical items, it’s important to organize your mind.
- Nothing is forever, the key is maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.