I Will Be Dead Before I Stop Making Lists: CliftonStrengths Achiever Strength

CliftonStrengths Stories In Action—Talent Theme: Achiever

I have lists everywhere: in my phone, in my productivity planner, on my notepad, on post-its, and random scraps of paper. And, despite all these physical manifestations of lists, there are about a thousand more of them in my head. I will be dead before I stop making lists, all thanks to my CliftonStrengths Achiever strength – the #1 talent theme on my report.

CliftonStrengths Achiever Strength - Quote about getting things doneWhen asked to share a moment or example of my CliftonStrengths Achiever strength in action, I freeze. It genuinely seems an impossible task because I am always using it (see mention of constant list making above). I can’t open my eyes and not see the world through my Achiever lens. It’s almost like asking me to tell you the big picture when my nose is glued to the canvas, and I have a sense it would feel that way for many of us!

But, when push comes to shove, there is one thing in my life I know to be a manifestation of this talent: busy-ness. I am always busy, which I don’t think much of. It’s just a state of being for me. I’ll never forget the look on my significant other’s face when we first met, and I told him I was a full-time student who had four jobs. To him, someone without the Achiever talent, I was crazy. To me, it was the only way to exist in the world—I must always be doing.

If you have Achiever in your top talents and you’ve been nodding along thus far, then I know you’ll emphatically agree that this compulsion to do, do, do not only reaps great reward, it also has the tendency to get us into trouble. Which leads me to why it’s important to invest in building this awesome Strength!

Why You Need To Invest In Your CliftonStrengths Achiever Strength

If you lead with Achiever, you probably know the pain of having too many things on the list and not enough time to finish it all. When I worked at Trybal Performance, we focused on “Sophisticating” our Strengths. In other words, there is a spectrum ranging from Unsophisticated (the talent is probably showing up as a weakness) to Sophisticated (you’re productively applying your talent to produce results). This is true for all 34 StrengthsFinder themes, so it’s worth our time to invest in understanding how Sophisticated our Strengths are now so we can show up at our best moving forward.

For me, having too much on the list is a constant battle. Early on in my career, I was convinced the more “things” I got done, the more successful I would be. Checking off 20 items in one day was a much better day than only checking off 10. Where I was being Unsophisticated was in my efficiency—I was working hard, no doubt, but was I working smart?
As I became aware of how my Achiever showed up for me (agreeing to do more tasks than I could physically manage, not asking for help, not delegating, treating every new thing as an emergency, trying to do ten things at one time), I started to focus on the quality of time I was spending.

At the beginning of each day, I started asking myself,

What’s most important on my list? Least?(I based this on deadlines and the impact its completion would have on the goal the task was tied to)

What one thing (yes—only one) do I need to complete to feel satisfied with my day?

What’s the second thing I need to get done? Third? (I never give myself more than 5 important task a day now per The Pomodoro Technique®)

Image of Liv Hadden

By slowing down to evaluate my strategy, I’ve stopped being busy and started being productive. Those, I’ve learned, are not the same thing and the difference is important. Instead of doing things just to be doing them, I’m making sure what I’m doing has a direct, tangible impact on my work. The idea is that, if someone came to interrogate me about why I organized my day the way I did, I would have an iron-clad case they couldn’t disagree with. My focus is less on crossing off as many tasks as possible as it is crossing off the right tasks.

As a result, the quality of my work has skyrocketed (it was already exceeding expectations) and my stress levels have dropped. I’ve gotten feedback I’m much easier to work with because I’m not so frazzled and more adaptable.

Sophistication is always possible no matter where you are on the Sophistication Spectrum© today and so worth the work! You might not have fewer lists floating around in your head, but they’ll be better quality and bring you peace instead of stress.

The Superpower of Your CliftonStrengths Achiever Strength

Achievers, when Sophisticated, are highly productive and extremely driven. Even if you aren’t as much of a list-lover as me, chances are you have a subconscious filing system you use to track what’s been done, what you can do right now, and what needs to get done tomorrow. We thrive on completing things which makes us great people to work with, especially as partners to all those Strategic-Thinkers!

The true magic of Achiever shows up in its ability to make things real. My personal motto is, “I turn ideas into reality.” Now, I use that as a filter for what tasks are busy-work and which ones are valuable (does this task directly help me/my team manifest the idea from my leader into a reality?).

The hardest and most liberating part of that process is speaking up and saying when a task is actually off-task. I’ve had to build up self-confidence and work on my communication skills to be able to do it successfully, but the return on investment has been such I can’t imagine working any other way! Now, when someone asks me to do something and I know it isn’t the best or most relevant task, I simply ask questions. For example,

  • What results are you looking for?
  • Can you help me understand how X task is different or more appropriate than Y task?
  • What’s important to you about this task?
  • What if we do it this way to get the same result?
  • I’m actually working on X right now—I believe it will get us where we want to go. What are your thoughts?

If you can stay focused on the end goal and complete the tasks that constantly propel you forward, you’ll be the hero of the day, week, month, quarter, and year! Others can’t help but admire an Achiever’s ability to finish things, and then with seemingly abundant energy move on to the next item on the list. We have the self-motivation and stamina to get ‘er done.

Applying The CliftonStrengths Achiever Strength To Your Career

If Achiever is a dominant talent theme for you, consider the power and influence you could have by consciously using it more often. I’m going to continue refining the way I tackle my to-dos and communicate with my team so we can continue producing the highest quality results possible!

What will you do?

Here are three ways you can invest in your CliftonStrengths Achiever talent:

1. Build awareness: Before you start working on something—even just checking your email—ask yourself, “I’m about to do X. So what?” The answer to “So what?” is your impact statement. Now, not everything needs to have some huge, major impact on your bottom-line, but it should serve a productive purpose.For example, checking your email might be more or less of a distraction depending on the particular moment.

You might think, “I’m about to check my email, so what? So, I know that takes at least half-an-hour, sometimes longer with responses, and will distract me from working on Y, which is more important. I can check my email when I finish Y.” Alternately, you may find checking your email now will help you be distraction-free and more focused on finishing Y. Be honest with yourself and answer with what is most true and right for you in that moment.

2. If you are a list-maker: How organized are your lists? Do you prioritize them? If so, how do you know what’s most important? Do you arbitrarily decide, or do you ask? The idea here is to consider who and/or what you’re impacting, and organize your list accordingly. Somethings you probably just know are more or less important, but some tasks may be more complicated.I’ve now set myself up for success with my team by having them supply me an importance rating and “must-have” deadline for new requests.

If I find a new request conflicts with an existing one, I follow-up with that person and say, “Yes, I can do what you are asking, and that means I will not be able to complete X by the original due date”, or “I can’t complete it by this date because of X, however I can have it done by the following week. Will that work for you?”. We’re then able to have a discussion and move along accordingly.As a side note, I highly recommend The Productivity Planner by Intelligent Change. It has completely transformed the way I work for the better. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my old ways.

3. If you aren’t a list-maker: If you’re an Achiever that finds themselves committed to a large volume of tasks and you’re keeping them all in your head, I encourage you to consider some kind of physical list. You are human, which means you will forget things. Everyone is different depending on their unique combination of Strengths, however if you have the Achiever talent you probably have an untapped proclivity for lists.

I use different mediums for different things, but my favorite method is my calendar. I put reminders, events, big deadlines, etc. on my calendar, which makes it easy for me to keep track of and possible for my co-workers to see the days I’m tapped out. You can even have Siri keep track of your to-dos. There is no wrong or right way to keep track of things, you just want to ensure you’re not dropping any balls.