In speaking with a client the other day, he expressed his frustration that he was stuck. That he didn’t have time to do the stuff he wanted to be doing — and, in some cases, the stuff that was important to the organization — because he was caught up in a never-ending cascade of ‘busy work.’
I asked him to create a simple two-by-two diagram where what he wanted to be doing was along the x-axis, and what was important to the organization was along the y-axis.
As we look at the four boxes, they are: top right — the intersection of what he is good at AND what is important to the organization; top left — things that are important to the organization but not things he wants to be doing; bottom right — things he wants be doing but are not important to the organization; and, finally, bottom left — things that are not important to the organization and he does not want to be doing them.
The right half of the grid are those things that I call your Zone of Genius. These are the things that call upon your skills, experience, motivation, and passion. I’d like to take a bit of time to walk through each box.
Let’s start with the lower left. I call this box organizational artifacts. These are things that, at one time, were important to the organization but have never been revisited or reevaluated. A former client had a wonderful example of this. Every month she spent 4 hours pulling together a report that was disseminated to a standard distribution list. It had been well over a year since she’d received any response (questions, comments) to the report. I typically suggest one of two approaches to items that fall in this box, and that is to either implicitly or explicitly stop doing them. Continuing with the example I just shared, I suggested to this client that she could either stop doing the report and see if anyone noticed (implicit) or send a message out to the distribution list asking how they were using the report and, if it was no longer being used, then stop doing it (explicit). In either case, it was likely that she saved herself 4 hours per month that she could dedicate, at least in some part, to items on the right side of the grid.
The top left box represents opportunities for delegation. These are items that are important to the organization and so they need to get done. But, my guess is that not all of them have to be done by you. Is there someone for whom this task is better suited, either because it represents a zone of genius for them or because it is something they need to learn for the role they aspire to? Or, best case scenario, it’s a combination of these two.
My bet is that your knee-jerk reaction is, “it takes longer to teach someone to do it and I already told you my platter is overflowing.” Yes, you are right. In the short-term, it does take longer to teach someone else to do it… but, in the long-term, you are no longer the one doing it. Even if it takes you three months to teach them (e.g. I’ll show you in month one, we’ll do it together in month two, you’ll show me in month three), by month three you’ve already begun to create space to be able to focus on things in your zone of genius.
The bottom right box are things that you are passionate about but that are not important to the organization. Sometimes, these are not important to the organization yet. In these cases, it may be a matter of timing before the organization is ready to have you focus energy and attention on these tasks. In other cases, these things truly do not align with organizational priorities. This is where board service, volunteering, and continuing education can fill that gap.
The top right are the confluence of the organization’s vision/goals and the work you want to be doing. It is the highest and best return on the organization’s investment in you. This, though, requires you and the organization to be intentional about your priorities. Take the time to dialogue with key stakeholders to make clear and build alignment between your zone of genius and the organization’s goals.
When you are able to spend the preponderance of your time in your zone of genius, you have the energy and fortitude to do those things that fall outside of that zone but are still required of you. This top left box work no longer wears you down or frustrates you.
I’m curious, how have you been able to spend more time in your zone of genius?