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Success Mindset

12 Rules to Master Self-Management and Take Control of Your Time and Life

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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What is Self-Management?

Self-management is the ability to consciously control your behaviors, habits and focus to align with your priorities. It includes managing emotions, overcoming distractions, avoiding procrastination and more to take charge of your time and life.

The Relationship Between Self Management and Time

Self-management is inevitably tied to mastering your time because time is life.
Your lifespan represents the total time you have available. Every second that ticks by is time you cannot get back. How you choose to spend those precious moments determines the sum total of your life’s experience.

Yet most of us feel we have little real control over that time. Hours get lost indiscriminately to distractions, low-value activities, obligations out of our control. Days blur together without tangible progress on the goals that matter most.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. But with poor self-management, two people’s experiences of that time can look drastically different. One person squanders it aimlessly while another invests it towards meaningful outcomes.

This is why learning to take active ownership over your behaviors and attention is so important. External demands will always be competing for your time. You can’t eliminate all distractions or responsibilities that drain your hours.

But what you CAN take charge of is how you respond to those demands. How you filter opportunities based on priorities that align with your long-term purpose. How consciously you choose to invest the next hour, day and week towards elevated life experiences.
That ability to self-regulate your time in harmony with your goals and values is at the heart of self-mastery. It’s what separates those who actualize their potential from those who remain stuck in perpetual reaction and distraction.


The good news is self-management can be systematically improved through the 12 rule framework below.

Stage 1: Regain Self-Control

When’s the last time you found yourself falling down an Instagram rabbit hole when you should have been working? Or clicking over to check emails while in the middle of an important project?
We’ve all been there. Our phones ding, websites beckon, colleagues drop by our desks at just the wrong moment.

Like forces of gravity, these distractions constantly threaten to pull you away from activities that move your highest priorities forward. And over time, they lead to compounding frustration as your most meaningful goals remain stuck on your Someday/Maybe list.

Reclaiming your time starts with eliminating these attention black holes. By setting limits around distracting apps and websites and designing distraction-free environments, you can free up hours previously lost each day.

Rule #1: Eliminate Digital Distractions

Unnecessary digital distractions have become the plague of modern productivity. One study found office workers are interrupted or self-interrupt every 3 minutes on average. Other research showed the average person touches their phone 2,600 times a day — often toggling between useless apps.

This scanning impulse is human nature. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved to constantly survey terrain for potential threats. But with notifications and mobile apps, there is no longer any meaningful threat — just wasted focus and a constant feeling of low-grade anxiety after hours of scrolling.

To eliminate digital distractions:

  • Take a week to categorize apps/websites as Always Useful, Sometimes Useful or Rarely Useful and organize your devices accordingly. Remove the bottom tier from your daily flow completely.
  • For the middle tier, use website blockers fomo.com to set strict time limits on access. Schedule access during non-critical work periods.
  • Establish 1 or 2 Distraction-Free Zones where phones/laptops are physically banned for focus sessions of 60-90 minutes. Libraries and remote cabins work well!
  • Set phone to Do Not Disturb for extended periods and schedule set phone check intervals 2-3 times a day.

The goal with distraction mitigation is not to achieve some impossible state of permanent hyperfocus. But rather to consciously contain channels where your time and attention unintentionally leaks out. Achieving even 30-60 minutes of additional undistracted time per day compounds to incredible new levels of productivity over months and years.

Rule #2: Overcome Procrastination Tendencies

We all have important projects we can’t seem to start. Intimidating to-do list items that perpetually get pushed down to the bottom. Just thinking about finally tackling them makes us anxious, overwhelmed, frozen in place.

So we distract ourselves with less important but more fun tasks instead. We tell ourselves we’re just gathering energy or ideas to eventually complete the bigger priority.

But as days turn to weeks turn to months, that goal remains unfinished. Our procrastination tendencies leave us stuck in limbo, unable to move forward.

To break this paralysis and avoidance cycle:

  • Step 1: Identify a goal you want to achieve and the first 3 actions required to start. For example, start running regularly by buying shoes, mapping a route, scheduling run days.
  • Step 2: For each action, uncover what’s stopping you from doing it now. “I can’t start running until…” Capture all the objections and avoidance statements.
  • Step 3: Turn those avoidance statements into opportunity statements using this format: “All I need is… and I can start…” For example, “All I need is to try on some shoes at the store today…and I can start running…”

If you chronically struggle with procrastination, also analyze potential root causes like fear of failure, negative self-talk, poor time perception skills. Identify the source, then address it rather than repeatedly battling the symptom.


With consistency over time, individual proactive steps snowball into completed initiatives. New potential unlocks as unfinished business no longer weighs you down. Anticipation is usually worse than action itself. By overcoming procrastination, you prevent daydreams about possible futures from distracting you from creating actual futures aligned to your priorities today.

Rule #3: Assess Where Your Time Actually Goes

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. But at the end of each week, why do some people feel like they have accomplished so much while others feel they’ve been running hard just to stay in place?
The answer lies in truly assessing where your hours actually go. Without conscious intent, time gets wasted on low-value activities — losing hours here and there to distractions, inefficiencies, poor habits.

An hour per day may not seem like much on its own. But compounded over months and years, that quickly adds up to thousands of lost hours that could have achieved meaningful outcomes.

To diagnose these black holes of lost time:

  • Conduct a life audit by tracking all activities for 1 full week — meetings, calls, tasks, errands along with recreation, family time, sleep.
  • Categorize activities into waste vs. value buckets:
    • Waste = distracted, fatigued, repetitive
    • Value = aligned, energized, progress
  • Identify patterns around where you lose 3+ hours per day and determine root causes.

For example, you may notice late night Youtube binges undermine sleep quality. Or spending 20 minutes daily debating what to wear reduces decision-making energy for bigger priorities later.
Address the source rather than repeatedly fighting the symptom. Over time, reclaimed hours here and there snowball into transformed days, weeks and years. The compound effect works both for and against you. Where is it currently working in your life?

Stage 2: Build Self-Discipline

Once you’ve reclaimed hours lost to distractions, procrastination and other time drains, the next imperative is saving more time.

This means increasing your capability and stamina for focused, creative and strategic thinking. It’s not just about doing more in less hours — it’s about achieving more impactful outcomes aligned to your biggest goals and priorities.


Strengthening your mental focus and clarity accelerates ideation, decision-making and task efficiency. It unleashes your ability over both the short-term work in front of you and long-term objectives guiding your days.

Rule #4: Strengthen Your Mental Focus

Your mental focus determines the quality of your time and output. Those with strong focus can enter deep flow states — immersed for long stretches in productive work. Their sustained concentration drives exponential progress on meaningful outcomes.

Unfortunately, we live in an age of constant interrupts vying fiercely for our attention – most of which provide little long-term value. Phone alerts, email pings, colleagues swinging by your desk, external drama.

Over time this destroys baseline focus stamina. Fractured attention prevents us from harnessing the compound benefits of undistracted hours. It frazzles our mental energy faster trying to context switch between disjointed activities.

To regain super power focus and clarity:

  • Practice mindfulness meditation in the morning and evening. Start with 5 minutes and increase up to 20-30 minutes over time. This strengthens your bench press for concentration stamina.
  • Throughout the day take 60-90 second mental breaks — a brief walk, listening to a song — as palate cleansers to hit reset after mentally intensive sessions.
  • Before starting important initiatives, purge extraneous browser tabs and apps, declutter your physical space and create a distraction-free environment. Reduce external chaos to enable internal calm and strategic thinking.

Transforming even 30 minutes of scattered, semi-distracted time into unbroken flow yields exponentially more value long term. Actively strengthen mental faculties and you process higher volumes of creative work in less time. The savings compound.


Rule #5: Design Consistent and Effective Actions

Beyond strengthening mental focus, we can further self-manage time and energy by designing consistently effective actions tied to clear priorities.

Without conscious systemization, we default to reacting based on whatever demands the most attention in that moment — often accordingly to the exterior squeakiest wheel.

This reactive approach scatters precious mental energy and fractures progress on our most important projects. We end up with partially started initiatives accumulating across days and weeks without reaching completion.

To break this cycle:

  • Break large intimidating goals down into smaller milestones with realistic deadlines based on actual work required rather than arbitrary durations.
  • Batch activities requiring similar mental processes, tools or research together in chunks of 60-90 minutes. Your brain retains momentum and reuses neural connections saving setup/switching effort.
  • Book Focus Time on your calendar before responsibilities fill it up. Start with 30 minutes per day, then increase to 60-90 minutes for priority project execution.
  • Limit daily execution to 2-3 Most Important Priorities rather than overwhelming your cognitive bandwidth trying to juggle 7+ priorities.

Saving time and energy through conscious work design is the only way to carve out space for both diversions and big picture thinking amidst 60+ hour work weeks. You sustainably avoid burnout while driving consistent progress on long-term goals.

It’s not glamorous like dreaming up ideas or winning new deals. But structure and discipline separate those who turn aspirations into tangible realities from those who remain stuck brainstorming potential.


Rule #6: Master the Art of Saying “No”

The more critical your skills and the further you advance in an organization, the more people vie for your attention. Everyone wants a slice of your attention to align on initiatives, weigh in on decisions, discuss new proposals.

This leads to days saturated back-to-back with meetings and requests. Not all those requests deserve the same level of attention at the same time. But lacking assertive self-advocacy skills, we say “yes” too much, overcommit our time and constantly work in a frenzied reactive state.

To master the art of No:

  • Audit your commitments and honestly assess if you have capacity to deliver excellently given existing bandwidth constraints. Less than 50% free buffer means overload danger.
  • When new opportunities arise, deliberately evaluate tradeoffs required against current priorities before committing bandwidth. What can’t you do or would suffer if you said yes? Make constraints explicit upfront.
  • Delegate by explaining how others can help resolve the issue without direct intervention from you. Point them to appropriate resources.
  • For non-critical requests, batch communication windows to preserve focus time. Respond to inbound messages at 10am, 3pm and 6pm rather than constantly context switching.

The most successful leaders run their schedule and attention — not the other way around simply reacting to incoming demands. They consciously assess opportunities and constraints then allocate their time deliberately to drive disproportionate impact.

Say no by default. Then say yes with intention.

Stage 3: Make Time For What Matters

As you reclaim lost hours and sharpen ability to save time, you create capacity for the ultimate priority: Making time for what matters most.

This means taking charge to transform your calendar from passive obligation to intentional investment in elevated life experiences. It’s consciously channeling freed up hours into personal growth and meaning rather than more empty consumption.


Making time requires regularly saying no to good opportunities in order to say yes to great opportunities aligned with your core values and purpose. The ROI of attention and life energy here outweighs easy diversionary pleasures.

Rule #7: Commit Time to Personal Growth

In a world obsessed with extraction — taking from others or the environment to enlarge our own experience — the most revolutionary act is conscious personal growth.

It requires swimming against social currents that seek endless external validation through likes, followers and constant comparison. True evolution comes from within — systematically bettering who you are, expanding what you can create and increasing how you can contribute.

To make time for self-investment:

  • Schedule at least 1 hour daily for deliberate practice to build skills. Consistency beats intensity. Use commutes for self-education listening to audiobook summaries.
  • Wake up earlier than necessary to journal, envision your ideal future self and take proactive steps towards that vision before reactive obligations take over.
  • Set quarterly outbound reach goals to connect with mentors and colleagues 1 level up who inspire excellence in your field of impact. Let their greatness rub off on you.

Making time for personal growth ensures you don’t lose days, weeks and years waiting for change to happen passively from outside forces. You intentionally direct time towards bettering who you are, creating the future life you wish to experience.

Rule #8: Practice Regular Self-Care

Personal growth is incomplete without self-care. It seems noble to sacrifice sleep, relationships and health in service of ambitious projects. But no external achievement lasts long without internal fuel to sustain it.

Depleted willpower, fractured relationships and physical exhaustion eventually undermine even the most finely crafted goals and priorities. We are holistic systems, not productivity robots judging days merely on output tallies.


To maintain equilibrium and consistency with self-care:

  • Disconnect digitally for blocks of 2+ hours to unplug with family and friends without distraction. Presence nourishes soul and relationships in a way notifications can’t.
  • Wake up early enough to move your body vigorously 3-4x per week. Stack this before reactive work rather than hoping for motivation at the end of an already long day.
  • Implement weekly screen free, work free “sabbath” moments to unwind and recharge. Use the pause to reflect on longer term aspirations easy to overlook in daily shuffle.

Think of your energy like a smart phone battery. The higher the charge, the greater the potential output. Run your battery too low for too long through lack of sleep, activity, connection and you limit capacity exactly when ambition calls for more. Like a phone, you have to recharge consistently.

Self-care ensures you have the resilience, focus and drive for bold projects needed to create the life and impact you envision. Deprioritize self-care and your vision inevitably shrinks to daily survival.

Rule #9: Align Actions to Big Goals

One major sign of strong self-management is alignment. Do your daily choices move you towards longer-term goals? Or does time get lost reactively just trying to stay afloat?

Without consciously connecting opportunities and actions to purpose, weeks and months can slip by feeling busy while little real progress happens towards your vision.


Here’s how to embed higher alignment:

  • Define 1-3 bold 5-year vision goals for your professional or personal life. Revisit this vivid vision daily as your guiding North Star when deciding short-term priorities.
  • Break these down into 12-month rocks, 90-day hills and 30-day sprints. Use this cascade to link levels of goals and objectives.
  • When evaluating new options, filter for purpose, economics and passion fit. If something doesn’t align with and drive your vision forward, redirect that time elsewhere.
  • Build in monthly and quarterly personal reviews. Examine where your allocated time created traction or distraction from core goals. Course correct accordingly.

Channeling each day towards greatness requires embedding regular alignment practices into weekly and monthly planning. Otherwise distraction inevitably creeps in and days devolve into reactionary survival.

Stage 4: Maintain Self-Mastery Over the Long Haul

Sustaining exceptional self-management and tightly aligning how you spend every hour isn’t realistic 365 days a year. Setbacks happen – you get sick, life demands swell, motivation fluctuates.

When these inevitable curveballs hit, people lacking intentional structures to rebound quickly can lose weeks or months of progress before regaining momentum.

The bedrock for maintaining consistency is embedding durable motivation routines, smart goal pacing and accountability systems to get back on track. Rather than judging setbacks, focus energy on designing rituals that quickly reorient efforts back to true north.

Rule #10: Create a Motivation Engine

Motivation fluctuates – some days we’re energized, others we’d rather hide under covers. Sustainable effort requires something more reliable.

Design your motivation engine consciously around three key elements:

  • Purpose – Connect each daily action to meaning beyond yourself. Clearly define how your vision creates positive impact for others then reorient efforts daily towards that North Star. Example: Referencing your mission to provide clean water solutions before making sales calls.
  • Enablers – Engineer conditions and reminders that facilitate action into your environment. Surround yourself with people who reinforce strengths. Example: Displaying a photo of a finished book while writing daily word count goals on a whiteboard.
  • Acknowledgement – Note small daily and weekly wins towards broader goals. Identify hidden progress as fuel. Give yourself a literal or metaphorical pat on the back. Example: Taking a moment to celebrate sticking to your workout regimen for a full month.

With intentional practice, motivation shifts from fickle feeling to calibrated engine powering aligned action – despite distractions or resistance. Atomic purpose, enablers and acknowledgement drive consistency.

Rule #11: Leverage Tools and External Resources

Beyond your own motivation, learn to accelerate progress with tools and people to multiply efforts. Self management sometimes means knowing when to not get involved or how much to get involved with.

For example, technology, when used right, removes repetitive tasks. This frees you to focus energy on high value priorities aligned with strengths and interests.

Collaboration lets you co-create solutions together beyond what any one person can achieve alone.

Here are some ways to effectively leverage tools and external resources:

  • Identify administrative tasks with no meaning or outcome. See if you can fully automate them with simple no code tools. Let technology handle repetitive (and less meaningful) rote work.
  • Know your skills and which abilities need strengthening for your goals. Seek out mentors and collaborators with complementary skills to widen capacity.
  • Publicly share problems rather than trying to solve alone. Allow community intelligence to reveal unexpected solutions.
  • Delegate or remove work not matching natural talents while doubling down on projects and activities with purpose, impact and skill fit.

Collaboration and automation reshape possible pathways and time. But it first requires giving up non-critical control and evaluating collaborative opportunities for purpose, trust and skill balance.

Rule #12: Course Correct with Accountability

When that initial motivation starts fading and distractions pull your attention elsewhere, external accountability helps reinforce consistency and realign efforts.

As human beings, we naturally care a lot about what our peers and mentors think of us. Let’s use this constructively by publicly committing to specific actions and priorities, then reviewing results regularly with mentors or partners. Simply vocalizing your goals out loud cements intention and the likelihood you’ll follow through.

Here are some ways to build that all-important accountability network:

  • Meet with one or two mentors every month to check on recent wins and progress. Openly share what’s working along with struggles. Accepting even gentle criticism or feedback nudges us back on track when we’ve strayed.
  • On big personal development goals, share the objective, timeline and milestones publicly. Getting likes, comments and encouragement from others sustains motivation and effort precisely when most needed — during those long middle miles on the journey when progress feels myopic.
  • Even day-to-day, jot down your most important 3 tasks the night prior, then post on Focusmate. Join an accountability session next morning. Social pressure to not let peers down drives follow through, even when inner inspiration temporarily wavers.

In the end, meaningful self-management relies on both intrinsic positives vision and extrinsic accountability guardrails. Inner purpose and drive coupled with outer supports course correct attention when distractions inevitably arise.

Realizing Time and Life Mastery on Your Terms

There you have it — 12 rules to transform self-management and intentionally direct time towards what matters most. First reclaim lost hours. Then conserve mental energy through ruthless efficiency and simplicity. Ultimately invest freed up bandwidth into elevated experiences aligned with purpose.

The key is starting. Don’t get intimidated trying to overhaul everything overnight. Build momentum with small wins. Regain 20 minutes lost from email by batching communication. Say no to a mediocre meeting to invest time in a budding mentorship. Tiny gains compound.

What we choose to do with the 86,400 seconds each day determines the sum total of a life well lived. It’s easy to forget that while absorbed reacting to the nearest concern. But that reactive near focus ultimately chains us to environments and routines misaligned with potential.

Step back daily, weekly and monthly to check whether constructive action stacks towards scenarios you wish to experience 5 years out. Or assess if despite busyness, little tangible buildup occurs towards envisioned futures due to fractured efforts spread thin trying to please everyone.

Use the 12 rules not as commandments etched in stone, but as guideposts steering back on track when distraction inevitably arises. Customize intentions and accountabilities across areas and intervals to sustain motivation relevant to the season.

Your life is a story only you can write. Self-management gives you the reins to intentionally experience each moment and drive each chapter towards your version of greatness. Master time and attention now to live and lead on your terms.

More About Self-Management

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

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