“It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor.” — Tim Ferris
As a rule of thumb, try to spend 75 percent of your time on your strengths and 25 percent on non-negotiables.
If you’re like most people, you spend the majority of your time on activities that make you weak.
Worse, these activities that make you weak, are interspersed throughout your day or throughout your week.
In Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, Marcus Buckingham writes about spending 25 percent of your day on weaknesses, and 75 percent on strengths.
Do You Play to Your Strengths Most of the Day?
Very few people spend their time on their strengths. According to Buckingham, only 17 percent of the people he surveys respond that they spend the majority of their time in their strengths:
“Today, despite more than two million people taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder Profile, when you poll people with the question ‘What percentage of a typical day do you spend playing to your strengths?”’only 17 percent answer ‘most of the time.’”
Pulled by Colleagues, Customers and Organization’s Shifting Expectations
One of the challenges most people have is that their time is not their own.
“Now, I’m not a Pollyanna. I didn’t expect 80 percent of people to say that they have the chance to play to their strengths most of the time.
Our time is not our own, as we are pulled in different directions by our colleagues, our customers, and our organizations shifting expectations.”
25 Percent for Annoying Non-Negotiables
Consolidate the non-negotiables activities to 25 percent of your day.
“Still, 17 percent? This number seems wastefully low. Let’s say, in a bow to the challenges of the real world, we’re granted fully a quarter of our typical day to fill with those annoying non-negotiables we all have in our job.
We can have 25 percent of our day – from the time we arrive through eleven in the morning, each and every morning – to fill with the calls we don’t like making, the emails that drag us down, the mundane reports that refuse to write themselves, the grumpy guy down the hall who daily insists on barging into our office and uploading his problems on us.
Twenty-five percent of every day bequeathed to activities, that bore us or frustrate us or just leave us cold””
75 Percent for Strengths
The other 75 percent of your day should be spent on your strengths.
“All right, but this still leaves vast stretches of time, 75 percent of our time, that could be filled with activities that call upon some aspect of our strengths.
What these data reveal is that only 17 percent of us have managed to fill this time with activities such as these.
Only 17 percent of us have our strengths in play most of the time.
The truth is, we are not our organization’s greatest asset, or at least not nearly to the extent that we could be.”
I’ve Got Far Too Many Responsibilities to Do That
There will always be lots of reasons you can find why you can’t spend your time on your strengths.
“I recently presented the 17 percent figure to a group of chief executives and finished my talk by saying that, as yet, large organizations have proven themselves to be an inefficient mechanism for getting the most out of each employee.
At which point, one of them started laughing. ‘Do you really think,” he said, “that in my position I can carve a role for myself where I really get to play to my strengths most of the time?
Come on, I’ve got far too many responsibilities to be able to do that.’”
A Ton of Discretion
It’s easy to cop out. It’s easy to make excuses. A lot of excuses may be good.
The test is, what can you accomplish if you actually try?
“He does indeed have lots of responsibilities. He also has a tone of discretion. He of all people should be able to take control of his time at work and gradually steer it toward his strengths and away from his weaknesses.
If the newest frontline employee struggles to fill his day with activities that call upon his strengths, well, he has our understanding and our sympathy.
He’s not off the hook, by any means, but we can certainly see why he might feel a little constrained by his circumstances.”
It’s Your Responsibility to Put Your Strengths Into Play
You have to own it. You know your strengths best. You need to get creative and find a way to play to your strengths. At the end of the day, you are your own best champ.
“The chief executive, on the other hand, has no such constraints. If he laughs at the notion that it’s his responsibility to figure out how to put his strengths into play each and every day, then perhaps it’s little wonder that so few of the rest of us manage it.”
Join the Two out of Ten
A little less than two out of ten people spend the bulk of their time playing to their strengths.
How can more people use their strengths throughout their day?
“And yet clearly it is possible. A little less than two out of ten people succeed in capitalizing on their strengths, but at least there are these two.
And, as the research reveals, those two are significantly more productive, more customer focused, and more likely to stick around than the rest of us.
So, for the large organizations, once they’ve figured out how to get the chief executive to stop laughing, the profitable question to ask is ‘How can we build the kind of workplace where more than two out of ten people use their strengths for most of the day?’”
How I Try to Spend 75% in My Strengths and 25% in My Non-Negotiables
The main strategy I use is to put a time limit on how much time I will spend each day on activities that weaken me.
It’s my timebox.
I make this timebox a maximum of 25 percent of my day.
Next, I consolidate the activities to this timebox, and batch them.
Then spend the rest of my day on my strengths if I can.
This is an exercise that forces me to figure out the activities that weaken me and the activities that make me stronger.
This exercise also forces you to be more deliberate about my discretionary time.
If I can do “worst things first” then spend the rest of my day on what I enjoy and grows my strengths, I have more energy and engagement throughout my day.
I get pulled in a lot of directions. One of the most important things I do is design my day. I consolidate and batch my non-negotiable activities.
Rather than let draining activities leak all over my work week, I schedule them into timeboxes.
Once I have the activities consolidated, then I find ways to optimize them. For example, I turn some of them into a game. For some I find a mentor and make it an opportunity for improvement. I love learning effectiveness secrets from people. For example, I hate dealing with contracts. I then found one of our administrative assistants who manages many, many contracts. She showed me some basic ways to improve staying on top of the contracts. Nothing beats a good mentor.
I still don’t like managing contracts, but at least it’s less painful than it was.
Here are my key takeaways:
- Most people spend too much time in weaknesses and not enough time in strengths. Very few people spend the majority of their time on their strengths.
- Limit the time you spend on non-negotiables. Create timeboxes for your non-negotiables.
- Your strengths bring out your best. You’re not your organization’s greatest asset until you spend your time on your strengths.
- Limit the time you spend on weaknesses. Activities that you don’t like, hurt less, if you compartmentalize them to a smaller chunk of your day.