This article was based on episode 158 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get access to episode guides and guest bonuses when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase individual full episode guides at themodernmanager.com/shop.
When people spend the majority of their time in their optimal work zone, positivity and productivity are at their highest levels. But, what does it mean to be working in your optimal work zone and what can you do to get yourself and your team members there?
START WITH YOUR ZONE OF EXCELLENCE AND GENIUS
In the book The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks describes four zones:
The Zone of Incompetence is an unpleasant place for most of us. In this zone, what feels like a no-brainer to someone else may feel exhaustingly complicated to you. While there are times we need to develop skills or knowledge in this zone, usually investing time to improve in your zone of incompetence isn’t worthwhile.
The Zone of Competence is where things come relatively easy to us, but aren’t tapping into our greatness. We are fully capable of these activities, but no better or worse than the average person. Most of us spend the majority of our time in this zone. But, to truly be working at an optimal level, we should delegate things in this zone so that we can make room for higher value activities.
The Zone of Excellence includes all of the things you’re extremely good at doing. It’s in these areas that recognition is earned and careers are built. At times, we can get stuck in our Zone of Excellence because it’s comfortable, even though we have more to offer.
The Zone of Genius is where your talents overlap with your pleasure so that you are truly working at your highest level. Many people experience a state of flow when doing these activities. We completely lose track of time as the task feels effortless.
But, while Gay Hendricks believes that we should strive for all our time to be spent in the Zone of Genius, I don’t completely agree. Working in the Zone of Genius feels extremely satisfying, but so does the Zone of Excellence. Plus, it’s highly unlikely that every work task or responsibility you have will fall in your Zone of Genius. (Fortunately, there are opportunities to work in the genius zone outside of work, which for me is anything crafty!
To identify tasks in each of your zones, spend some time reflecting on the various activities you do each day, week and month. Which feel effortless? Which do you excel at? Which feel tedious?
LAYER ON YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES
For work tasks, it’s helpful to think of the intersection between talent, enjoyment and responsibility. It’s this final component, responsibility, that separates your Zone of Genius / Excellence from your optimal work.
When it comes to the tasks or responsibilities within a given role, there are typically tasks that only this role (or you) can do, and those which others could do. The magic happens when the tasks that don’t fall into your Zone of Genius / Excellence are also tasks that someone else *could* do and you’re able to delegate them. This relieves you from work that doesn't tap into your natural talents, allowing you to enjoy your work and increase the value of your contributions.
For tasks that you can’t delegate because they are essential for your role, and which fall into your Zone of Competence (and hopefully not Incompetence!), you’ll need to decide if it’s worth investing in developing yourself, shifting your role, or letting it be. The answer will depend on your specific situation, future aspirations, and resources available, among other things.
ENGAGE YOUR TEAM IN THEIR OPTIMAL WORK
The optimal zone is not just for managers. Every member of your team can benefit from discovering which activities fit into their intersection of enjoyment, talent, and responsibility, and which ones could better be delegated to other team members.
Encourage everyone to reflect on their tasks and identify what they wish they could do more of and what they’d prefer to get off their plate. Sometimes, you’ll discover a perfect match where one person’s Zone of Competence tasks are someone else’s Zone of Excellence.
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This article was based on episode 158 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.