One of the pandemic’s legacies has been long hours for many workers. We’re logging more desk time and, in some cases, getting more done. But overwork has diminishing returns. A smarter way to get more done is to look for ways to apply our strengths effectively in addition to managing our time and energy.
But what does that look like in action? Even accurately identifying our own strengths can be a challenge, says Maika Leibbrandt, senior workplace consultant at Gallup, which is the parent company of CliftonStrengths, a strength evaluation assessment. “I think, as human beings, no one is naturally, really good at knowing how they show up in the world on their own,” she says.
Here are six ways to help you identify those personal strengths and let them make you more effective at work.
Start with your talents
At Gallup, a “strength” is defined as near-perfect performance at a given activity. In other words, Leibbrandt says, it’s something you’re good at; it’s something for which you’re known. The first indicator that you have the potential for strength in a certain area is what they call “talent.” Talents can be developed into strengths, but sometimes that times time, training, experience, and other factors. But those things for which you just have a knack? Those are good indicators of your talents and strengths.
And keep in mind that having some weaknesses isn’t a bad thing, Leibbrandt says. It’s more a matter of understanding how your brain works and where you can excel. “People live better lives when they are building upon strengths than when they are obsessing over weakness,” she says.
Examine your patterns
We all have tendencies and those can be indicators of how we do things, says business coach Damon Brown, author of Build from Now: How to Know Your Power, See Your Abundance & Nourish the World. “I don’t remember who said it first, but how you do one thing is how you do everything,” he says. So, if you tend to be an all-or-nothing person in your personal life, you are likely to be that way in your professional life, too. If you tend to look for permission to embark on a new project, you’re likely going to need permission before proceeding in other areas of your life, too, Brown says. Once you can see patterns in how you do things, you can begin to look for those that can be maximized to your advantage and those that are holding you back.
Look for the overlap
Once you have a sense of what you’re good at, look at the ways you can build those muscles, Brown says. Are you an excellent writer? Do you dazzle during presentations? Are you an organizational wonder? Make a list of the things at which you excel and note where your work overlaps with those skills. Then, look for ways to delegate the tasks at which you’re not as adept. That’s not always possible, Brown says, but ultimately, the goal is to spend more time doing work at which you’ll be able to excel and less time doing other work.
Brown points to one of his favorite books, The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks. Hendricks coined the term “zone of genius,” he says, to refer to areas where we thrive. “If you know where that zone of genius is for you—genius, not in the sense of ‘Albert Einstein genius,’ but more like where you where you blossom—if you know that, then you can start to pivot, or lean into those things that that matter more to you,” he says.
Engage your leaders
To begin to shift your work to include more of your strengths, you’re likely going to have to engage your team members and leaders in your organization, Leibbrandt says. “It’s about having a conversation with people you work with about, ‘Here’s when you get the best of me, here’s when you get the worst of me,'” she says. “Here’s what I need from you, here’s what I can offer.” Leibbrandt says she’s had success using this approach in her own work life. “It still surprises me, the moments that I fall into those habits of thinking that just working hard as all I have to do,” she says.
Brown says that there’s an element of coaching up that comes into play. “If you have the right metric, the right framework, right rubric, whatever—it’s whatever you want to use—then you can go and say, ‘This is what you need to give me, for me to really thrive and therefore, for the workplace to thrive,'” he says.
Track your results
As you begin to better understand your strengths and focus on more work that reflects them, track some of the measures of success in this effort. Is your work improving the way you want it to? For example, are you able to get things done more efficiently or with fewer errors? Are you more satisfied with your work? Make sure your strengths work is paying off in ways that matter, Brown says. Then, keep investing in building your strengths through training, mastermind groups, professional development, and other ways.