When you play to your strengths your perform well and you learn when you work on your weaknesses. Both have their up and downsides, so you need to find balance. In my experience, 5:1 is the perfect ratio.
How Does the 5:1 Ratio Work?
What does the 5:1 ratio mean? It means for every unit of time you spend on improving upon a weakness, you spend five times as much on using your strengths. Let’s say you’re strong as a designer, weak as a developer, and each unit of time is one hour. That means you’d spend five hours a day on design and one hour practicing your development skills. Most likely you’ll spend another two work hours on menial tasks or communication. Add that all up and you’ve got a full work day.
The 5:1 Ratio Helps You Better Manage Your Time and Feel Better
I look at each unit of time as an hour, and so the above example should clue you into why 5:1 makes sense as a time management scheme. Furthermore, I think it makes a lot of sense to spend more time working on tasks you can easily complete and make you feel accomplished. This way you get many things done and don’t feel like you’ve wasted a day, plus you get that one hour of learning time. Learning doesn’t have to mean you don’t accomplish a task, but it does mean that you focus on improving a skill more than exerting effort to finish an item on your to-do list. You get the freedom to improve without the stress of a deadline and you’ll eventually accomplish a tough challenge: turning a weakness into a strength.
That’s not the only reason 5:1 makes sense. Working on a weakness can often come with frustration. Spending minimal time on it can help because you’re not putting too much pressure on yourself, but it does mean that, in many cases, you’ll improve slowly. Most people will see this as a negative thing, and our brain favors negativity. Hara Estroff Marano, over at Psychology Today, explains how this negative bias can have a serious effect on how we feel:
Because of the disproportionate weight of the negative, balance does not mean a 50-50 equilibrium. Researchers…have found that a very specific ratio exists between the amount of positivity and negativity required to make married life satisfying to both partners. That magic ratio is five to one. As long as there was five times as much positive feeling and interaction between husband and wife as there was negative, researchers found, the marriage was likely to be stable over time. In contrast, those couples who were heading for divorce were doing far too little on the positive side to compensate for the growing negativity between them.
This is the other reason for distributing only one hour to your weaknesses: the process can often feel frustrating and just generally bad. That won’t always happen, but it’s likelier to happen because you have to work much harder and may not succeed day after day. In order to balance out that negativity, you’ll want to spend five times doing something you can accomplish and that is less likely to frustrate you.
Adjust According to Your Needs
Believe it or not, we’re all quite a bit different. This ratio exists as a good starting point and may work just fine for you and a lot of people, but you may need to adjust it based on a variety of factors. At some points in our lives, we need to spend more time learning than simply playing to our strengths. We may also have crazy workloads that require cutting down on learning time for a little while. Some may require a more aggressive ratio (e.g. 7:1) because they can’t tolerate frustration as well as some. You’ll have to try and see what works best for you, but 5:1 is a great place to start.