Your strengths are your superpowers and will help you move through the transition of managing work and home life.
Strengths aren’t just things you’re good at, first and foremost they’re things that energise you. They should leave you feeling brilliant when you use them.
If you want to figure out what yours are start by asking yourself
What are you doing when you feel positive and relaxed?
What do you find fun? What do you love doing? What keeps your focus and attention? Your strengths are driven by your values, so you’re more likely to stick to doing something if it’s in line with your own beliefs.
When you have a list of things to do, what are you drawn to first?
What makes you pick those things? Is it who you’re working with, the environment, a particular way of working (creatively, being in the detail, collaborating with others etc), the type of activity?
Have a really good look over 7-10 days and you’ll start to notice patterns that will help you answer those questions and pin down when you feel great.
Consciously tuning into how you’re feeling when you’re doing something is a really good way to figure out what you’re energised by. It’s so easy to let things become transactional and background noise but paying attention to your energy levels is a sure-fire way to pin point those oh-so-important energisers.
Using your strengths more
Let’s use an example. If you found from your list that you really love working with other people, it’s time to do a bit of an audit on where you’re spending your time. Are you working with others enough? If you spend most of your day solo but you know you’d be more energised with other people around, how can you make that happen? It might be changing where you work – if you’re home based, can you go into an office a couple of days a week? If you can’t, do you want to put in some virtual meetings? You might need to speak to your employer if it comes down to logistics outside of your control but explaining that you need a bit more collaboration and human interaction will make them sit up and listen. If you’re a one-person band maybe co-working spaces or even pitching up to a coffee shop for a couple of hours is the way to go. It doesn’t have to be costly, lots of places offer free trials and it’s amazing how long you can stretch a drink out for! Beyond the work context, you might want to put in some more outings for either you and your hangers on, or just you by yourself when you can. It doesn’t have to mean costly baby groups, it can be a walk where you know you’ll see some different faces and get some fresh air, whatever works for you.
What skills can you share? If the goal is to do more of what you love, you can get a bit creative with how you do that because regardless of who you’re helping, at the centre of it, it will always directly link back to your wellbeing. You might be one of those people who is great at talking to others and pitching ideas, being at your best when you’re needing to persuade someone to come around to your way of thinking. There’s always someone who is drained by this particular type of interaction and you could absolutely make their day by offering to help – you get to use your strengths and someone else gets help…winner winner. You can insert pretty much any other strength to this example!
A personal favourite of mine is planning your day around your usual energy levels and your strengths. For me there are peak times in the day when I know I’m at my best (energy and productivity wise), so I use those times to pick off the tasks that don’t fire me up – that way I’m not on a double whammy of feeling low energy plus doing something that is going to leave me drained – and vice versa. If you consciously observe for about a week / 10 days your energy patterns, you’ll start to tune in to how you fluctuate.
What about when strengths go too far though?
That phrase about having too much of a good thing really comes into play with this. If you use your strengths in the wrong situation or just generally go too far, you’re likely to switch other people off and end up getting the gift of ‘constructive’ feedback. For example, if you feel energised by getting to a result but you get there at the expense of engaging other people, what was a good thing (getting the outcome) becomes distracted by the desire to achieve. Make sense? Here are some tips and questions to help you get to grips with when this kind of thing happens…
Feedback. Now, I think feedback and knowing how you’re doing is incredibly important, however I’ve seen some truly horrific examples of ‘helping’ with apparently constructive thoughts. Someone once said to me that feedback is yours to do what you want with, and you can be open to receiving feedback without agreeing all the time – so please, hold on to this before we go any further!! It’s not always easy to spot in yourself where you’re going too far or to figure out the consistent triggers, which is why it can be helpful when you ask for someone else to input. Being specific about what you want help with is really important though, so just asking ‘how am I doing’ will rarely get you any quality stuff to work with. Phrasing your request with something like; ‘I’m working on ‘xxxx’ (insert whatever is relevant; things like working with bigger teams, building relationships, coaching others etc) – what do you see me doing well with this at the moment? What could I do more of? Is there anything I need to do less of?’. That way, you get feedback that should directly impact what’s important.
What brings you balance? Thinking about your strengths, are there any that can work together to stop you going too far? I gave the example of being too focused on results before, so let’s use that to bring this to life. You might like getting stuff done, but if you also like working with other people and being collaborative then reminding yourself that delivering as part of a team will also energise you will help you balance the need for the result. That’s one example, there are thousands of combinations of getting your strengths to work together, but hopefully that gives you a flavour for it.
Focusing on 3 is your start point – of course you’ve got more than 3 strengths but starting small will limit any overwhelm. Doing more of what you love isn’t about needing to take up loads of time, it’s about looking at what you’re already doing and changing your mindset on how you approach it.
If you’re heading back to work after any sort of extended leave, this growing list of strengths is a great conversation to have with a line manager. You can let them have a handy reminder of where you’ll add lots of value, be at your best and ultimately it has a mega impact on your engagement (which for those of you who are interested, employers who are engaged in what they’re doing will work harder and results will improve!)
Talk to your ‘team’ using the strengths language. When I say team, I mean any interpretation – home, work, virtual, utility companies, neighbours…anything goes.
Explain to them / casually drop in what energises you, what leaves you feeling great and what you’d love to do more of. In turn you can ask them the same thing, always making sure you frame it as what makes them feel good rather than the things they’re skilled at first and foremost (remember you can become great at the things that motivate you though if you’re not already).
Then have the other side of the conversation – the things that drain you. You’ll start to find that you tune into them more, the longer you work with your strengths and suddenly conversations will open up that could get some of those drainers off your list. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure and all that…there could be something that you put off doing that your friend / work mate / partner loves to do and would welcome taking it on for you.
Again, if you’ve had some time out of the workplace and projects / tasks etc have shifted while you’ve been away it can feel incredibly daunting, especially if you’re asked what ‘role’ you want to go back to. However, take out the competencies and replace it with what you’re energised by and suddenly you’ll have a brighter picture of where you’re going to be happy and performing at your peak.
Plan your day around your strengths. I can’t say I do it all the time, however when I do I really feel the difference. It takes a bit of planning but it’s totally worth it…
Have a look at how you work during the day, whatever ‘work’ is for you. You’ll have peaks and troughs of energy, yes? If you don’t already know when you work at your best plot it over 7 – 10 days to get a good idea. So for example, when people describe themselves as a morning person, or a night owl, or always needing a sugar hit at 3pm? Yeah, all of those clichés are clichés for a reason!
Now you have a picture of your energy levels you get overlap your tasks and strengths in two ways. The method I use is to pick off things I’m drained by and usually put off into the times of the day I’m most energised. I’m not going from a low base and there’s much less chance I’ll get distracted, and vice versa. The link between strengths, values and beliefs means that you’re more likely to stick at doing something you enjoy (sounds obvious doesn’t it) so those times when I know I’ll do anything other than want to work, I save the best bits for then!
There is a school of thought that would suggested doing what you love when you’re at your most awake and energised because you’ll be massively efficient and flying high already, so you can always give that a go too and see which way round works best for you.