Assess Yourself with the Onion Exercise

September 6, 2022

In many Braintrust classes, one of the exercises that we do together is called The Onion Exercise. It’s a simple way to focus on your priorities, shed the responsibilities that are sucking your time, and instantly increase your satisfaction as a Leader.

We incorporated The Onion Exercise after talking to Leader after Leader with the same complaint—not having enough time to get everything done. After all, time management seems to be the one thing that we all struggle with. This simple exercise helps Leaders identify where they are wasting time and visualize how they could be delegating.

Here’s how to do The Onion Exercise

First, sit down and brainstorm all of the work that you do on a regular basis (e.g. coaching others, expense reports, attending meetings). This list should be whatever you do on a regular basis in your Organizational role. Write each task or responsibility on a single post-it note—one idea per post-it note. That first step is usually shocking to people when they really stop and think about all of the things that they do on a daily or weekly basis. It’s a great way to visualize why you never feel like you have enough time.

Next, take a large sheet of paper and draw three concentric circles/rings (your onion).

The inner ring represents the work that you love to do. This is where you will place things you never want to give up or that you would be sad to lose.

The middle ring represents the work that you don’t mind doing. This is where you will place things that you are okay with doing and that don’t suck your time and energy.

And finally, the outer ring represents the work that you don’t like to do—the work that lowers your energy. This is where you should place things that you would be happy never doing again.

Now you place all of your post-its on one of the three onion layers. Take a minute to really think about each task or responsibility. Is this something that brings you joy and uses your talents best? Is it something that you don’t mind doing and are okay keeping? Or is it really something that you should not be spending time on? Is it draining your energy?

The last step of the onion exercise is the hardest. It’s time to take action. The work on the outer ring needs to leave your to-do list—this will free you up to work more on the inner two rings and add more energy to your life. Your goal as a Leader is to delegate the outer ring items to those on your Team.

As an Agile Leader, an even higher goal is to share your onion with your Team and let them choose what they take off your outer ring. When done successfully, this can be a win-win situation for everyone. You remove items that drain your energy while others on your Team get to learn a new skill and add to their responsibilities.

What can you peel off of your onion?


Tanya Twerdowsky

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