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The 70/20/10 Rule for Your Career


A few months ago, I wrote about the big mistake that many of us make at work--managing our current job at the expense of managing our overall career. We spend so much time trying to please our current employer, we forget that there's a future that will most likely not be in our current role and organization. 

In part, this is a question of how we spend our time and where we're focusing our attention. Kyle Westaway argues that the best way to think about how you invest time in your career is to adapt Google's 70/20/10 rule:

  • 70% of your time working in your core competency areas.
  • 20% of your time working in side projects related to your core competencies, but that stretch those competencies into new areas. 
  • 10% of your time learning new skills and developing side projects that are related to those new skills

I think this is a fantastic way to to divide your time and attention. That 30% of your time spent in stretch assignments and side projects will pay great dividends in keeping you nimble and flexible moving forward.

One of the reasons we're doing the Leadership Lab is because we want to help people take greater charge of their own leadership and career growth, particularly in terms of developing new skills. In my career work I see so often that when people lose their jobs it becomes harder for them to find new work because they spent 100% of their time on the job they have today, rather than spending part of that time on the job they would need tomorrow.

To me, leadership starts with taking charge of ourselves, and this framework for thinking about how to spend your time is a great place to start. 

What are your thoughts? 


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I agree with the sentiment of this post entirely. As industrial age thinking employers increase pressure on all their employees to contribute more, employees have just "put their heads down" and let their "jobs" consume themselves. In my experience of working with knowledge workers, I've found this is especially true of those unbound to well-managed production processes, highly susceptible to change, and increasingly displaceable by advances in technology. And I've come to strongly believe that 100% dedication solely to the bounded fulfillment of one's job is a systemic problem for both employee and employer. However, I'm not crazy about the notion of simply constructing a rule-of-thumb ratio of professional development pursuits as prescribed here.

Instead, I advocate that knowledge workers take on their futures more systemically, as a "value providers." Essentially, the employee-to-employer relationship is an assumed and too narrowly defined value transaction that can/should be opened up to new thinking by both employee and employer, but especially too narrow for the knowledge worker employee under the pressures mentioned above. If knowledge workers can realize that what they really do is to provide value to their stakeholder's outcomes from their informational-based work, skills, and insights, then they can optimize their competency development based on the value they intend to create, from outcomes they intend to make, for the stakeholders they intend to serve (including, but not necessarily limited to their current employer, boss, team, and peers). Using this more systemic mindset, the "job" no longer constrains the true nature of what the knowledge workers contributions could/should be, or what they might be, within a wider scope that just the current employer or conversely narrowing upon the most value creating companies for the employer. Using this lens, the knowledge workers professional development is more grounded in their own stakeholder's outcomes directed value intentions and personally developed strengths rather than leaving a certain percentage to be bound by the narrower employee-employer job description transaction mindset that remains unchanged. I just prefer this way of thinking.

Does this value-based thinking make sense for you, or is that line of thinking just too impractical and you simply prefer pursuing a prescribed ratio of competency development? What say you?

Regarding the previous comment: TYPO - SHOULD READ: most value creating -competencies- for the employer. RATHER THEN ; most value creating -companies- for the employer. Thank You!

Tyelmene--I completely agree with you that formulas are not the entire answer. Ideally, people are looking at where/how they want to develop themselves so they are moving in the direction of their aspirations and the value they want to bring in a more fluid way. Sometimes this can mean they are putting more attention on the future, sometimes less.

However, I'm also aware that for many people, a formula can make it easier for them to think about how they are spending their time. Are they devoting a percentage of their attention to the future, rather than just being completely consumed by the present and getting by? That's where the 70/20/10 rule can be helpful--more as a guideline than anything else. I see it as a reminder to not be 100% focused on meeting today's requirements with no regard for what the future might hold.

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