Are You Micro-managing Yourself?

| | Personal Leadership

micromanageMy to do list was huge. After all I had big plans. I was going to have to get a lot more disciplined if I was going to accomplish it all.

Determined to do a much better job than I did last year of managing myself, I searched for technology that could help me. I tried a few time management apps and finally found one that seemed to work for me.

I started posting everything I thought I should do just so I didn’t forget. It was all organized neatly into categories based on my strategic goals. It all made perfect sense. In the beginning I was very productive and couldn’t believe how much I was getting done each day

Then things took an unfortunate and unanticipated turn. The list that had been motivating me, had gradually begun to feel like that bad tasting medicine your mom made you take when you were sick. It was awful, but you took it anyway only because you believed it would make you feel better. So I kept trudging along.

My “to do” list had become like a tyrant stomping the passion out of me daily in the name of productivity.

I had gotten so focused on the tasks that I lost track of why I was working so hard.

And then I had one of those “aha moments” – I realized I had actually been micromanaging myself. Micromanagement is inevitable when you focus people on tasks alone and fail to help them stay connected to what they are really at work on and why it is important. It just had never occurred to me that I could actually micromanage myself!

The real goal of using a new process and tool was to increase my productivity. Except I forgot something very important along the way.

Productivity is not about the number of tasks you cross off your list, but rather the progress you make toward your goals.

The key for me has always been to set intentions – simple, clear, compelling intentions.

The problem wasn’t that I had too much to do and had to find a way to be more disciplined to get it done. The problem was that my intentions were not clear and focused enough to guide my actions and motivate me to keep doing the work one day at a time that ensured I made meaningful, satisfying progress.  While I still need a list, a clear and focused intention keeps me on track naturally doing what I need to do.  For me, the list is there so I don’t forget some of the details.

This year my intentions are back in writing the script, with my trusty to do list back where it belongs – as supporting cast.

What about you – have you ever fallen into the trap of micromanaging yourself? If so, how did you find your way out?

A special shout out to my friend and colleague Dana Theus because it was her program on Intention Setting that really helped clear the fog and set me up for what has already been an extraordinary year! She is doing some really amazing work so go check her out at InPowerWomen.com.

Also, in case you are interested…I still love my time management app – it’s called OmniFocus. If you have an iPhone and/or iPad it is worth checking out. Thanks to my friends Robyn and Juergen over at Polymash for continuing to enlighten me about the mobile world!


Image credit: Krisdog / 123RF Stock Photo


Enter A Comment

Bill Benoist   |   29 August 2013   |   Reply

I went down the same path several years ago. Working full time and beginning a side career, I was keeping a list of everything I *thought* I needed to learn about. Of course, between the hours of 8-5, I was focused on my primary job, so my list had to wait until the evening hours and weekends.

The list became overwhelming, but somehow I trudged through it. Funny thing, only a small number of items were ever incorporated into the business.

Today, I still use a list but it’s much more refined and more focused – a side benefit is my list has also become more economical in time and money.

Susan Mazza   |   29 August 2013   |   Reply

Great points Bill! That list of what you think you need to do or learn can really make your to do list seem overwhelming. I like Kat’s solution to that- keeping those things on and idea list and only moving them to the to do list when you are clear they are mission critical.

Congrats on making a successful transition to your own business. It is not for the faint of heart!

Emanuel   |   04 November 2014   |  

What a good criteria to chose your task Susan “Mision critical”. Thanks for all your ideas!

Kat Tansey   |   29 August 2013   |   Reply

Great post, Susan!

I have been the victim of my “lists” most of my life — until I finally realized that I was putting way too much in the to do list, which meant I had to see these things every day when I went through my list. PRESSURE. Not good.

Now I have an “Ideas” list — where I put a huge portion of my “to do” stuff. Turns out my stuff needs seasoning, time to languish, time for me to go through several other “states of mind” before I look at it again. Probably 70% of the time it was just one of “Oh that is so cool, I should do that” or my “I want to learn more about this because my curious mind wants to play with it more” things.

Nothing wrong with being a very high “P” on the Meyers Briggs (as in INFP), but it means I am not discerning enough sometimes and I fall down the rabbit hole A LOT. . .

So now — I can still be me, I can still collect cool stuff, but I put in in the IDEAS collection for seasoning. I now see this collection as sort of a mindfulness practice — reading it is like seeing how my mind truly is like a flea, hopping from idea to idea. Got to love the flea, but don’t have to be driven crazy by it.

Sometimes I look at items in the collection and can’t imagine why I thought they were so cool — that part of my persona who was attracted to it is no longer in charge. Imagine what it was like when all these things went on my TO DO list!

I to would have gone for that organizing and pressure-making software — with my Virgo personality and systems background, it would seem like the perfect tool to whip myself (selves) into shape. Fortunately, sanity prevails and I will not get it, as my to do list is quite short these days (although I confess I couldn’t resist putting the software website in my IDEAS collection).

I just realized that my old collection of to do’s was sort of like clothes. We don’t throw stuff out because we might need it later, or it represents a part of ourselves we would like to hang on to, or a projection of how cool we could be if we just found the right belt to wear with it . . .

Here’s to freedom from the tyranny of those big to do lists!


Susan Mazza   |   29 August 2013   |   Reply

I can relate to pretty much everything you share here Kat! I love your distinction that some things belong on an idea list not a to do list. That is a great way to solve the problem for those of us who are insanely curious and prolific idea generators. Bill gives a great example one of the culprits for me – putting things on the list you “thought” you needed to learn about.

Your metaphor of the old clothes – you hang onto them past their useful life. Time to clear out the old to make room for the new!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is great to see you!

Solomon Abate   |   29 August 2013   |   Reply

Susan, It’s great article. Most often I give precedence to the to-do list and compelled to perform them and those things practically sapped all my energy. Micromanaging oneself makes one a slave of it’s to-do list rather than liberating him or her. Thanks for sharing.

Susan Mazza   |   29 August 2013   |   Reply

Thank you Solomon. I too was giving precedence to the list and still have to e mindful of not falling into the trap. The key indicator I’ve slipped is, as you point out, when I notice it’s sapping my energy.

Carl   |   30 August 2013   |   Reply

Susan, a great post – it is so easy to slip into that frenzied ‘get things done’ mental state that we lose sight of the bigger picture or why we do, what we do.

Thanks for the reminder –
Best regards,

Susan Mazza   |   30 August 2013   |   Reply

Thanks Carl! Frenzied is a good way to describe the state that has me know it’s time to elevate my focus and evaluate what’s on my list.

Alli Polin   |   30 August 2013   |   Reply

I love this, Susan! I felt like I wanted to amp up my productivity and a few months ago I decided that the secret to my success would be a paper-based planner. Haven’t gone with paper in years and thought it would change my relationship with my to-dos but letting me make notes, comments and reminders to myself etc. I found the perfect planner! I used it for a week! Now, like you, I’m thinking about what I want to create and asking myself if where I’m focusing my time is moving me towards that or not.

Loved your story, could really relate. Intention matters!

Susan Mazza   |   03 September 2013   |   Reply

Thanks Alli! Paper was one of the things I tried, too, and for similar reasons. The problem I had with a paper planner is that it wasn’t easy to change and rearrange. Now I use a combo of Omni Focus and paper. Omni Focus for planning and keeping track of things (including details I need to handle in the future) into the future and one sheet of paper for what’s on tap for today. At least that doesn’t change quite as much and it keeps what I need to focus on front and center. I also find that the process of planning the day and writing the todo’s for my day by hand and has a way of connecting me to what I really must do.

Tammy Schaefer   |   30 August 2013   |   Reply

Susan, I am right in the middle of turning away from my focus on the to do list. This was just what I needed to hear today. What an awesome confirmation to know I am on the right path. Thank you!

Susan Mazza   |   30 August 2013   |   Reply

Glad this was timely for you Tammy.

Sunrise Guided Visualizations   |   30 August 2013   |   Reply

It’s so hard to give myself “permission” to move through the day as I please!

Susan Mazza   |   30 August 2013   |   Reply

Thanks for your comment. I don’t think it’s about being a slave to your to do list vs. moving through the day as you please. In fact if you only do the latter you likely aren’t reliably making progress. Although when I am connected to my intention I find even the things I would rather not do but must are more satisfying because they contribute to progress.

Mike Henry Sr.   |   31 August 2013   |   Reply

Great post and wonderful connection. Micromanaging is a drag.


Susan Mazza   |   02 September 2013   |   Reply

Thanks Mike! It most certainly is a drag – self inflicted or not!

LaRae Quy   |   31 August 2013   |   Reply

You bring up a real problem for most of us…we get so caught up in the activities that we forget the reason we’re doing it in the first place! Tunnel vision can ruin our health as well as our careers if we become obsessed with the activities…for me, it did take a health crisis to remind me of all things important in my life, and then prioritize them. I still do this: on a weekly basis I prioritize what needs to be done, and then re-evaluate as the day moves on. For this reason, I keep my list of tasks on a paper in front of me, and when I’m done, or overwhelmed, I start crossing items off the list.

Susan Mazza   |   03 September 2013   |   Reply

Yes LaRae, it can certainly take a toll on your health. Unfortunately it isn’t until we become debilitated or face a life threatening illness that many hear the wake up call. Our culture seems to reward a frenetic pace as somehow heroic. Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom.