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In the Zone: Are You Making the Most of Your Time at Work?

April 12, 2021

Reading Time: 11 minutes

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What does it mean to be In the Zone? Typically what comes to mind when we hear “in the zone” is being in a totally focused, flow state – where we’re knocking things out, getting things done, and honestly – doing work that we get kind of lost in – in a good way.

And we know what it feels like when we’re not in the zone, too – right? It’s awkward, it’s scratchy. We get distracted easily because we either don’t like what we’re doing, or we’re not that good at it so we fumble through it and it takes forever.

The secret to spending more time In the Zone is knowing exactly what’s in your Genius Zone, and what’s not. And that, my friends – is the focus of today’s episode.

Keep reading to find out

  • Why knowing what’s in your genius zone will unlock a whole new level of productivity and effectiveness in your work – enabling you to move the needle on the projects that matter most

  • What exactly a Genius Zone is, and what it’s not.

  • How to figure out what’s in YOUR unique Genius Zone, plus how to sort everything else into your Danger Zones.

  • And finally, I’ll share the three next steps you should take once you know what gets you in the zone.


Getting in the Zone. Other than the fact that it feels good, and you get stuff done – what’s the point? It’s just a thing that happens. We can’t possibly do all that much to control when “the zone” happens, right?

Wrong.

And here’s why we need to learn how to “create the zone” during our workday.

To start – let me be Captain Obvious.

There are a limited number of hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year, etc etc. We can do anything, but we can’t do everything. So we have to choose.

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle aka the 80/20 rule tells us that some stuff is more important than other stuff-  so it should follow that some work is more important than other work.

And if you need a quick refresher, The Pareto Principle states that in many cases, 20% of causes create 80% of the consequences. In a workday context, 20% of the stuff on your to-do list creates 80% of your results. So if you’ve got 10 things on your to-do list today, chances are only 2 of the things on your list are super important, super impactful and will actually create the big results you’re looking for.

So it’s up to us to figure out what on our list is the important stuff v. what’s the unimportant stuff – aka the busy work.

And by the way, that busy work on your list can be divided into three different categories, and I’ll tell you all about that in just a bit.

What is Your Genius Zone? 

First – let’s talk about the important stuff. It’s likely that the most important things on your plate are also in your genius zone. And if they’re not… then that’s exactly what we want to work toward.
So what exactly is your Genius Zone, and How do you know if something is in your Genius Zone?

Well – Your Genius Zone is your sweet spot. It’s the intersection of proficiency and passion. It’s the stuff you’re good at doing, that you’re skilled at doing, and the stuff you LOVE doing.

  • This is the stuff that gets you in a FLOW state, where time stands still and moves fast at the same time.

  • The activities that fall in your Genius Zone are the reason why you were hired to make the big bucks at your job, or the reason why you started your business in the first place.


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The Problem

The problem is that if we’re not paying attention, non-genius zone stuff can creep onto our to-do list and start to take over, like a bunch of weeds overgrowing a garden. All of a sudden, you look up and you’re spending most of your time either doing stuff that you hate or are indifferent to, or you’re wasting your time muddling through work you’re just not good at.

Another reason why we might lose sight of our Genius Zone work? We’ve said yes to too many things for fear of upsetting someone or not seeming like a team player. Your calendar, and your to-do list is full of other people’s priorities.

Another time when our genius zone seems to disappear? When we change as a person. Maybe when you graduated from college, writing late night emergency press releases and putting out fires for crisis clients was in your genius zone. You loved the work, and you were amazing at getting it done. But over time… life changed, you changed – and even though you’re still good at it, the work just doesn’t bring you joy any longer. And maybe it’s time for a career change…

So how do you figure out what exactly is in your genius zone? 

We start by making a list. Or if you keep track of your past to-do lists or submit status reports or time logs, take a look at the last few weeks.

What are all of the things you do for work? And not just the big things – alllll the things. Even things like planning office birthday parties, ordering supplies, scheduling social media, status meetings – all of this stuff goes on the list.

Once you’ve got your list, every single thing on your list fits into one of four categories. Three Danger Zones and a Desire Zone, your Genius Zone.

The Danger Zones

  • The three Danger Zones are

    • The Drudgery Zone

    • The Distraction zone

    • The Disinterest zone

So let me tell you about each of these three Danger Zones. And as I’m explaining each one, think of at least one item on your to do list, or at least one thing that took up your time in the past week that fits into each of these zones. We’ll start with drudgery.

THE DRUDGERY ZONE

The Drudgery Zone is the stuff you hate doing, and you’re just not good at it. It’s low proficiency, low passion work. This zone is full of energy killers, and usually the stuff that you procrastinate the most.

  • For me, that would look like doing my taxes. Dear lord, I’d rather go to the dentist that do my own taxes. I hate doing it, and I am not good at it. Shout out to all the CPA out there who have this in your genius zone. You are all heroes.

So what’s something that falls in your Drudgery Zone? Something that you don’t enjoy, and you’re not particularly good at either.

THE DISTRACTION ZONE

Next up, the Distraction Zone – this is the stuff that you really like doing, but you’re not good at it! High Passion. Low proficiency. These are the serious time wasters. And the reason why these are time wasters, even though you like doing them is because you’re tinkering or piddling. This can be a tough fact to face, because you have to be honest with yourself about whether you’re actually good at this thing.

So here’s an example. You think graphic design is fun, so you like creating fun graphics and things in Canva to post on Instagram or to jazz up your website or something like that. The problem is, you’re actually not very good at it – so even though you’re having a great time tweaking and editing and swapping out colors and fonts – you’re actually wasting a ton of time that could be spent on more impactful work.

Instagram “research” falls in this category too. Time wasted scrolling to see what other people are doing to “gather inspiration” is a total distraction.

What is something that fits in your Distraction Zone? Something that you enjoy doing, but you’re not very good at it – so it becomes a time waster for you?

THE DISINTEREST ZONE

The third Danger zone is your Disinterest Zone.

This is stuff you don’t enjoy – low passion, high proficiency. These are also energy killers. The reason why this zone is a problem is because a lot of times, these things stay on our to-do list for way too long because we’re good at them, so we might as well do them instead of outsourcing or delegating them, right? But again – the problem is that because we don’t like doing these things, we like to put them off or do them last – when getting them off our plate would free up more time for impactful work.

For me – this is anything PR related. I know how to write a press release. I know how to pitch media and schedule interviews, but I just don’t enjoy doing it. And as a result, it usually just doesn’t happen, because I avoid doing it. Knowing this about myself, whenever I launched this podcast back in December of 2019, I hired a public relations freelancer to handle this for me. She wrote the press release, she created the media list, sent the release and coordinated media coverage. All things that – yes – I could have done, but probably wouldn’t have because I don’t like doing it.

So what’s something in your Disinterest Zone? Something that you’re actually really good at doing, but it doesn’t light your fire. It’s just kind of eh or worse.

The Desire Zone

So now that we know what each zone looks like – The Danger Zones – drudgery, distraction, disinterest, and our Desire Zone – our Genius Zone. What’s next? What exactly do we do with this?

WHAT’S NEXT?

So let’s fast forward and say that you’ve spent time making your list of all the things you do and figuring out where everything on it falls. You know what’s in your Genius Zone, and you know what’s in your Danger Zones.


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Right now, you might be feeling pretty awesome because yes, you spend a ton of time in your genius zone.

Or your head might be spinning because you’ve realized that you’re not spending much time in your genius zone at all… and that’s why you’re not happy at work, or you’re not being as effective or productive as you want to be – or maybe that’s why you’re thinking about giving up on your business… because you’re not even doing the stuff that made you want to start a business in the first place.

Your next step is actually 3 steps:

  • Eliminate. Automate. Delegate.

STEP 01: ELIMINATE

  • Step 1: Eliminate – Take a hard look at everything in your three danger zones, and look for things to eliminate.

    • Is there anything that you can just cut? Stuff that’s a total time waster, that doesn’t make an impact in your work or business, or that’s just busy work? I like to encourage my time management clients to completely cut 10% of the things on their list, or to look for creative ways to replace or reduce time spent in their Danger Zone.

      • For example, one of my coaching clients realized that she was spending a few hours each week driving to the post office to ship materials for onsite trainings she conducted across the country. This was cutting into time she could be spending on impactful work, or honestly – time she could spend resting or with her family. Our solution was to completely replace these multiple times a week trips to the post office by scheduling USPS package pickup once a week. No more trips to the post office and she got back between 4-5 hours a week she was spending driving and waiting in line.

STEP 02: AUTOMATE

Once you’ve found things that you can eliminate, Now we look at what’s left. What can you automate? Are you doing anything manually that could be automated with a service, software or template.

  • A great example here is automated bill pay. If you’re sitting and spending time each month or each week manually paying your bills – what can you automate with autodraft?

  • If you’re spending time each month manually creating invoices and emailing them to clients, what can you automate with a CRM – client relationship management system. I use Dubsado in my business to generate recurring invoices and send monthly invoice emails to my coaching clients. All I have to do is set it up once, and they magically land in inboxes every month.  No, services like this aren’t free – but what’s the trade off? How much time can you get back by making a small monthly investment in a program that’ll do it for you.

  • Another great example of automation that’s totally free is templates. Email templates, invoice templates, proposal templates, report templates, contract templates. Any email that you send more than once, any document that you send more than once should be templated so you can copy/paste, customize and send on it’s way – saving you time and brain power. No more reinventing the wheel! Just copy and paste the wheel instead!

STEP 03: DELEGATE

  • Finally – after you’ve identified what you can eliminate, and what you can automate – what can you delegate? Can you hire a contractor or a new team member? If that’s out of the question, can you work with an intern or talk with your supervisor about giving some of your danger zone responsibilities to another member on your team?

  • For many of us – delegating our danger zone work is going to seem tough or impossible, but this is going to be so worth it because it will enable you to actually do the work that you were hired to do – or the work that inspired you to start your business in the first place. One of my time management coaching clients, Corinn, took bold action on her Genius Zone and worked with her supervisor to identify opportunities to offload some of the danger zone work that she’d taken on – work that had started to gradually eat away at time she should be spending on her most impactful projects – The work she was hired to do that really moved the needle for her organization.

  • I would tell you Corinn’s story and how she started spending more time in her Genius Zone, but I’ll let you hear it straight from her. Be sure to tune in next week, for Episode 77 to listen in as Corinn shares firsthand how she took her Genius Zone and ran with it, eliminating, automating with checklists and templates, and finally working with her supervisor to create a plan and a job description to delegate some of the time wasting energy killers that were holding her back from making big moves in her Genius Zone.

RECAP

  • Ok – so let’s recap

    • Knowing what’s in your Genius Zone, and what’s not – is so important because it can open our eyes to how we’re spending our time, and whether our time is going toward impactful work or time wasters. We’ve got a limited number of hours each day, and we’ve got to spend our time where it counts.

    • Your Genius Zone is made up of the things that you’re passionate about and proficient at doing. You love this work, and you’re great at it.

    • The way you find what’s in your Genius Zone is by taking an inventory of how you’re spending your time, and then putting everything into one of four categories:

      • Your Genius Zone –  High passion, high proficiency. The things you love doing and you’re great at doing.

      • Drudgery – Low Passion, Low proficiency. The things you don’t enjoy doing, and you’re not great at this stuff anyway. These are energy killers you tend to avoid.

      • Distraction – High Passion, Low proficiency. The things you actually like doing, but you’re not good at them, so they’re super fun time wasters.

      • And Disinterest – Low Passion, High proficiency. The things you’re actually really good at, but you just don’t enjoy doing it, so you often procrastinate and avoid doing this stuff too.

    • And then – once you know what’s what – take a hard look at everything in your Drudgery, Distraction and Disinterest Zones and eliminate, automate and delegate so you can spend as much time as possible working in your Genius Zone, doing work you love, that you’re good at – that truly matters.

And there you have it! What’s in your Genius Zone? 

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK

If you liked this episode and want to learn more about how to spend more time in your genius zone, be sure to tune in next week for Episode 77 featuring Corinn O’Brien, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Birmingham Education Foundation.

Corinn is proof of what’s possible when you take the time to identify what’s in your Genius Zone and then take action to spend as much time in that Zone as possible. She shares how she created opportunities for others within her organization by delegating work outside of her genius zone, as well as how she prepared for the conversation with her boss that enabled her to take back hours of her time each week to focus on the important, impactful work she was hired to do.

If you want to spend more time in your Genius Zone, or if you want to delegate, but you’re not sure where to start – do NOT miss this episode featuring Corinn.


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