Play to your strengths and find other ways to deal with the rest - a tip for caregivers

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Think of something you’re really good at and enjoy doing. Chances are that doing this makes you feel happy and fulfilled, successful and productive, energised and ready to do more. For me it’s cooking and baking, planning and checking things off my to do list.

On the other hand, what happens when you spend time and energy doing things that you consider yourself “not good at”? Things that take more time, more energy and effort and perhaps that cost you in other ways. Gardening comes to mind for me, among other things.

What would happen if you concentrated on the things that you were good at and found other ways around the rest? There will always be things that we do out of necessity, but even then there are options.

Recognising your limits

Whilst studying for my Leaving Cert (the exams taken at the end of secondary school in Ireland) I started working towards higher level maths. Why not? Maths was a compulsory subject and I’d done higher level maths in my earlier exams, enjoyed it and got good results. It turned out it was difficult and complicated and it took up most of my homework time, meaning that I was falling behind with the other subjects, most of which I’d picked because they suited my strengths and abilities. After weeks of struggling, I realised I’d found my limits with maths and made the decision to swap to ordinary level maths. I was able to enjoy maths again, and spend time on all seven subjects (yes, we do seven subjects for Leaving Cert) and my overall results were better because of it.

Where are you still persevering beyond your natural abilities? What uphill battles are you fighting? Where are you struggling on with something that doesn’t play to your strengths? Do you have to, and what could you do instead?

What to do instead – some options

Here are some ways to free up time to concentrate on playing to your strengths by outsourcing the rest:

- Find an easier way to do things: like with switching to ordinary level maths

- Work at your own level: I like to cook and will generally prepare meals from scatch, but if that’s not for you, there are plenty of alternatives available, from meal deliveries to ready meals and jars of sauces

- Eliminate or reduce the need to do something: I know people who only buy things that don’t need to be ironed in the first place, and others who are methodical about how they do the laundry so that there is minimal need for ironing

- Pay someone to do it: following a back injury, I started paying someone to do the ironing, because doing it myself aggravated the injury; my back was better, I had more time and someone else was grateful for the business

- Make an arrangement with someone: we have a friend who will happily do DIY in exchange for beer and curry, and I would gladly cook or bake for someone who would look after the garden for me

- Go one further with a domino arrangement: for example, A cooks for B, B does the gardening for C, C does the ironing for A

Be creative about how you outsource and / or minimise the things that take up unnecessary time because they are within your toolkit of strengths and let me know the results by e-mailing me with the subject “Strengths” at

Why playing to your strengths matters for someone who is supporting a partner with mental health challenges

There are 24 hours in a day, minus sleep time. Using that time to the maximum by playing to your strengths and outsourcing the rest will give you more time, and generally make you feel better, happier and in a better position to support your partner.

When my other half was signed off work with stress, my life was turned upside down too. These blog posts are based on the things that helped me, the lessons I learnt the hard way and what I realise with the benefit of hindsight would have helped. I’ve collected some of the other key learning points and tips and made these available to download at

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