Using Your Strengths For A Productivity Gut Check


Lead Through Strengths Facilitator Strother Gaines Shares How CliftonStrengths Can Help With Productivity

When it comes to work or personal goals, it is one thing to plan out all the things you intended to do and another to carry them out as committed. How we manage time, and how consistently or effectively we accomplish the tasks in our calendars, often determine the level of our productivity at work. 

Are we prioritizing the important and urgent issues when we need to make that decision?

Productivity is tough. Time management and calendars and overflowing to do lists create a lot of angst. Good news! You can use StrengthsFinder to help you do a gut check on your productivity and effectiveness at work.

Here’s the transcript of Lisa’s interview with Strother as they further explore this topic.

Lisa: You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings and I'm also joined again by Strother Gaines, one of our Lead Through Strengths facilitators, who is here for the last interview in his series.

Next up, we'll be introducing you to another one of our facilitators. In this last one with Strother gotta tell you, my favorite thing is how he's calling me on this topic, commitments and calendar, and Maximizer be damned. It's the one that gets me. It's productivity and his "C's" that he'll tell you about.

I have so many commitments in my head about what I want to get done, what I hope to get done or to fulfill these high expectations, or this giant amount of potential all around us that I know could be realized. 

And it leads me to turn these ideas into commitments in my head. And when I allow them to become commitments in my head, and then I don't prioritize them as things that get done on the calendar because one human can only accomplish so many things, and I start to feel like productivity is a mythical force that cannot be attained. I'm the example of the person who would come up with the work of 10 humans for each one human, for every one human. 

Strother does a really good job of taking you through this prioritization exercise. And it's not just like the day-to-day prioritization of how you choose how you're going to spend your time and be productive over a few hour block. But it's looking back over your life and asking yourself:

“Am I prioritizing the things that I say are important to me as a person?”

“Am I living the life I say I want to lead?”

“Am I showing up with the values that I say I hold dear? Am I showing that I hold them dear?” 

It's the deeper level stuff. It's not just, “Do I do what I say I'm going to do?”

And it's not just a matter of whether you can prioritize one activity over another in a given day, as urgencies come up. It's not just a matter of holding productive meetings.

This is not that tactical. This is a much more strategic view of your life. And it's a great way to do a bit of a self-audit and see —

Are you living a life that is true to the one that you say you're setting out to live?

The 'Big C' And The 'Little C' In Commitments And How Intention Makes You Productive

Lisa: I love how you talk about calendars, burnout, "Big C, Little C..." Talk a little bit about how, when it's tough to manage time, and you're doing an audit of yourself and you're trying to get real with why you're overbooked all the time. Tie that into strengths and how you can take a good honest look at yourself leading to what you really do when you're at your productive-best...or...not!

Strother: This is Lisa, ladies and gents, this is her own individual issue but... 

Lisa: I may or may not have this issue personally (wink, wink).

Strother: She's working on it. We're doing a lot of work on her big picture productivity. Big C, Little C is something that I use all the time. The Big C, the C is commitment and what are your larger commitments. The Big C is the big stuff that aligns with your values and how you want to live your life.

The Big C is what you'd like to put down when you're telling people, “What are you committed to?” Family, growth, strength...

Lisa: Dog rescue...

Strother: Yeah, these are the things that I am very committed to them. And so the Big C is usually the high-minded, and it's the thing that would get us the thing that actually we do want because we don't have these high-minded commitments if we don't value them. 

The Little C is what I would think were your commitments if I followed you around quietly for 48 hours. What would I think you were actually committed to.

I wasn't able to interact with you. I couldn't talk with you. I was judging exclusively on my webcam vision of you for 48 hours. What would I say you were committed to?

For a long time, one of my struggles is the phone addiction piece because you know, you're in the lift, you're on your way somewhere, you've got a little break. You don't have enough time to really do deep work. So you're just going to pull out your phone, check in, scroll, all those sorts of things. 

And that would have been... 

Lisa: People would say you're committed to Instagram. You're totally productive with your social media games.

Strother: You're committed to your phone. Yeah, you're on it all the time. Piddly little iPhone games. I used to play iPhone games all the time. And I had to delete them because I recognized so much of my time….if an external Alien Force was coming down to see what I was doing, and they'd be like, “You do that thing a lot. What's that thing?” 

That's not forwarding the high-minded ideals that actually matter at the end of the day. It's not productive in a life sense. So when you are calendaring and seeing... The question that I think is most powerful in coaching, that I resisted very much when I first started coaching, but now I really do like it is: 

“What's that in service of?” rather than asking “Why do you do something?” Because that puts us on the defensive to defend why we've made that choice, saying — “Well, what's that in service of?” “What do you hope to gain from doing this thing?”

And sometimes we can't help but be reactive.

You have an inbox that's full. It's just a crazy day. It's not to make you wrong for ever doing that. But when you can be intentional, and you can tie your actions to a Big C as opposed to a Little C or no C at all, which is probably even worse when you're just like, "Whatever, I'm totally reactionary all the time." 

But when you can put intention behind it and tie them in, then the things that you do take on, the things you allow into your calendar, and sometimes that is intentionally blocking the calendar, so that nothing may enter that space, giving yourself as you've called it the white space in the calendar where you're like, 

“No, this is a protected time.” And I recognize if I don't put in something that says “Block this” that I will fill it with everything. 

Keeping A Commitment To Yourself Means You Can Keep A Commitment Towards Others

Lisa: I literally had to call it "untouchable." And it's a message to self, not just to other people. Literally untouchable. This is where I'm forcing productivity on the non-tactical items.

Strother: Don't mess with it. 

Lisa: And if I break that commitment to myself, what kind of commitment could I ever keep if I touch the untouchable? That doesn't sound like productivity at all.

Strother: And I mean, I need to start to reveal a little bit of this. Like, I remember how hard that was for you at the beginning. We've had that technique for a while where you're like, 

“I'm gonna block out an hour here and now and I'm gonna make sure...” 

And then we'd get back on the phone and you'd be like, “I didn't do it.” 

And it's because I had this really good reason, and there always is a good reason. 

Lisa: "My favorite customer called..." 

Strother: "I couldn't say no..."

Lisa: "I love them... What am I supposed to do? My productivity on strategic projects should not trump a client's simple, urgent question." 

Strother: The thing is you always have the choice. You all, like you are in control of your decisions. And if something did come up, and it was like your appendix has to come out, obviously, touch the untouchable. 

But it is when you've set those commitments in place and you say, "This is how I want to live my life. This is what productivity is."

Again, it's almost like a stoicism piece pulling back from the emotion of the immediate emotion and planning things out in advance before you're there. 

So then when you get there, it's the whole idea of like, set up your running shoes before you go to bed so that when you wake up, they're there. And you don't have to make that decision. If your calendar is already booked, you don't have to make that decision. And if you do, you have to really own what that means and go in and saying —

“I'm touching the untouchable and this is what that's in service of. And I have deemed that that is more important for me right now.” 

When that pattern just continues and continues and continues then you might need to put something new in place. If that doesn't again...

Lisa: It’s not working. 

Strother: Right, it's not working.

Lisa: Because really what you're saying is, "I am breaking my commitment to myself. And if I can't keep a commitment to myself, who can I keep a commitment to?"

Ultimately, no one. You're trying to keep it for everyone and that's probably why you're doing it. 

But in the end, you're not keeping a commitment to anyone if you can't trust yourself. You can trust yourself to be productive with your 3-item to-do list, but you can't trust yourself to earnestly live out the life you say you want.

Strother: Put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help the kids.

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, it's a difficult one to do.

Strother: It's so hard because you care about the kids. But if you passed out as you're putting along them, like, then they're dead too. So it’s not... What a dark way to it…. “And then the children are dead..”

Lisa: And the episode is over because the children are dead (reader note: that was sarcastic humor that works better in the video version).

Strother: There's nothing else, burn it to the ground.

Lisa: And this is it you've been listening to Lead Through Strengths where all of the children are dead, but your strengths are alive. 

But really, thanks for listening to Lead Through Strengths where you can apply your greatest strengths at work. 

Hope you get at least one tip that you can take today in terms of keeping your commitment to yourself, keeping your commitment to your strengths. 

And if you want a little help with that, get Strother on the house. He's good at keeping you honest at doing this stuff. Bye for now. 

Have Deeper Conversations On Productivity And Other Strengths: Ask Strother To Facilitate Your CliftonStrengths Training

Lisa: So what did you think about while you were listening? Did you have an oxygen mask moment? Did you think of a thing where you went —

“Yeah, yeah, yup. I have not been setting boundaries... I'm taking on this thing for Joe in this thing for Susie Q and this thing for Ahmet at work and the look, I have not taken on the things that I say I want... Why can't I let my own things be my urgencies right now? Why am I constantly busy, but struggling with productivity?”

This goes back to that urgent and important quadrant concept from Stephen Covey — it goes way back. 

And Strother has a way of making it really practical and real. If you want to have some important conversations like this, either one-on-one coaching or CliftonStrengths conversations with your team, about what your priorities

are, but beyond the moment-to-moment priorities to reach the goals, your priorities as people so that you really understand each other and what drives each person on the team, consider bringing Strother in for one of your events. He facilitates both in-person and virtual events. 

At the time of this recording, virtual is hot. So, feel free to come on over and request Strother for one of your events so that you can make the most of the environment that we're in. 

With that, you've been listening to Lead Through Strengths and we look forward to hearing how you have begun to claim your talents and share them with the world.

Dig Deeper Into Productivity Through These Resources

In his book Smarter, Faster, Better, Charles Duhigg defined productivity as a choice between being “merely busy” or being “genuinely productive.”

When you’re someone who leads through Discipline, Achiever or Responsibility, chances are you are committed to completing tasks and achieving your results at the deadline intended, but you might get in the trap of completing many projects without experiencing productivity in your bigger life goals (because you've let other people's priorities take on a disproportionate chunk of time).

If this sounds like you, learn about the circumstances that could lead to your talents being starved, fed, honored and insulted. Focus on letting your natural talents shine in order to live your best life. These pages on will be helpful to you whether or not you lead through Discipline, Achiever, and Responsibility.