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Rethinking Productivity: How Personality Affects Productivity (and Why No One`s Ever Told You)

Rethinking Productivity: How Personality Affects Productivity (and Why No One`s Ever Told You)

(Editor’s Note: We’re starting a new series this week featuring new Lifehack contributor Kirsten Simmons called “Rethinking Productivity”. The hope is our readers will ask Kirsten questions about productivity, organization, and time management so that she can provide answers that will make people take a step back and “rethink” productivity. Enjoy.)

Dear Kirsten,

It’s funny that you mention Getting Things Done, because my crash with that system is what initially prompted me to write. I’ve heard so many people rave about it and read so many good reviews, and when I picked up the book it was the most confusing thing I’d ever read! I had to pull out my sketchbook to try to visualize all the steps and even now I’m not sure I got them right.

I started with the collection of outstanding stuff to do, and ended up with an inbox at least a foot high. Then I tried to sort through it all and do the two minute tasks. After three hours my head was pounding and I’d only gotten halfway through! At least a third of my “two minute” tasks ended up taking much more time, and I felt torn between trying to finish them or going back and leaving yet another item hanging in limbo. I took another stab the next day and managed to get all the way through, leaving me with hefty stacks of short and long term projects, subdivided between personal and income-producing.

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But now here’s the thing – I really want to dig into some of my long term projects now! The short ones should have the priority, but going through the materials I had collected for the long term projects simply has rekindled my desire and excitement for them.

I pushed past that and started trying to keep GTD going day-to-day. I spent at least an hour each day trying to keep everything straight and moving tasks back and forth as I completed them, went on to something else, then came back with a new idea for a completed task and reopened it again. On days where I taught workshops, my inbox piled high with tasks and I’d have to work twice as long the next day to catch up. I began to second guess myself and lose track of tasks in the system, especially when they’d been moved back and forth a few times. Finally I crashed after a 3 day workshop when my inbox was full of at least 5 hours of sorting, categorizing and networking tasks. The pile was back to the 12+ inches I’d had when I first started, and it had only been a month!

Reading back now, it feels so silly – why couldn’t I just have done the work? Clearly other people use this system to great effect, but the sight of that mile-high inbox was just so demoralizing! I tossed the entire thing into the recycling bin and felt a bit better, but my inherent problem still remains. I’m ditzy and flakey and I don’t mean to stand people up with work and play, but somehow it ends up happening anyway and I hate to disappoint people. Any ideas how I can prevent that?

Signed,

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G – (aaaah!)

    Dear G,

    Your brush with GTD sounds similar to my own, except that I believe my inbox had reached around 3 feet in height before I bailed. I distinctly remember the thing falling over in a landslide of paper, business cards and post-it notes, and my dogs rushing in to investigate and gleefully grabbing pages to rip apart. I should have scolded them, but it was such a relief to see the remains of what I should have been doing!

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    As I mentioned last time, productivity needs to fit within your own personal ecosystem. That ecosystem includes your goals, your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, your habits and your life commitments. In GTD, productivity is the be all and end all, a blunt instrument which can be effective in the right hands, but which can be overwhelming or even destructive in others. Let’s say you had a tomato and needed to cut it in two. http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/when-to-use-email-when-not-to.htmlWould you choose a chainsaw, a butcher’s knife, a paring knife or a butterknife?  You need to have the right tool for the job!

    You don’t mention much about your goals, habits or strengths/weaknesses in your letter, but you have provided me some hints as to your personality. Given the physical height of your inbox, your need to visualize the steps of GTD and your mention of hating to disappoint people, I’m going to guess you’re Environmental or Fantastical, and I’ll go out on a limb to say that Environmental is your primary and Fantastical your secondary. Everyone has a primary type that comes most naturally to them and picks up secondary types based on the strength of the influences around them growing up.

    • The Environmental Type is an amazing people person. They have the enviable skill of being able to feel and interpret the body language and emotion of the people around them, and they are happiest when those they love and spend time with are happy. This is a double edged sword, however, and I have seen many Environmentals neglecting themselves to the point of ruining their health in favor of supporting those around them instead. Your routinely overflowing inbox is indicative of a classic Environmental conundrum – saving anything that might have value to someone, someday. Let me guess – your email inbox is the same way, isn’t it?
    • The Fantastical Type is a visual thinker, and they bring an impressive problem solving ability to any task they undertake. They have a tendency to get lost in what they do and remain lost for hours on end, regardless of what’s going on around them. This is the author who stays up into the wee hours of the morning writing and the scientist who dives into his lab with an idea and emerges hours later having forgotten to eat, drink or do anything else on his calendar in the intervening time.

    There are two additional types, the Analytical and the Structural.

    • The Analytical Type is a brilliant big picture thinker, and is able to internalize and process information quickly. This is the person who can look at a chart or figure, understand what’s going on and how it fits into her goals, and speak intelligently about the meaning of the data and the next steps. They are also very ambitious, sometimes to the detriment of other pieces of their life when they’re in pursuit of a goal.
    • The Structural Type is the naturally gifted systems person – they can see a situation, understand the pieces, and think through the potential possible outcomes to put together a repeatable process. While I don’t know David Allen personally, the simple existence of the Getting Things Done empire tells me he’s a Structural. And systems like GTD can work great – for other Structurals. That’s why you see so many Structural systems in the productivity arena – it’s a natural response when you see others struggling to want to help, and if you have a productivity system that works for you then you’ll naturally tell others about it when you see them struggling with productivity. But when an Environmental or a Fantastical tries to use a Structural system, we see the frustration, stress and eventual abandonment that you describe, G – (aaah!). When an Analytical uses a Structural system, they can manage it but it’s not the best use of their time and abilities.

    So what’s the solution for those of us who have differing strengths than our Structural counterparts? Well, that depends on the other elements of the ecosystem – your goals, your habits and your life commitments. Why don’t you write back and tell me about the first and the third, G – (aaah!)? Then we can start to test out ideas that have a greater chance of working for you.

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    With Love,
    Kirsten

    Now it’s your turn – given these type descriptions, which one do you think you are?

    Have a productivity problem? Tell Kirsten all about it and get a solution!

    Featured photo credit: One Green Car Among Many Other Cars via Shutterstock and inline photo by Johannes Kleske via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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    Last Updated on May 7, 2021

    Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

    Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

    I have been an early-riser for over a year now. Monday through Friday I wake up at 5:00 AM without hitting the snooze button even once. I never take naps and rarely feel tired throughout the day. The following is my advice on how to start your day (everyday) at 5:00 AM.The idea of waking up early and starting the day at or before the sunrise is the desire of many people. Many highly successful people attribute their success, at least in part, to rising early. Early-risers have more productive mornings, get more done, and report less stress on average than “late-risers.” However, for the unaccustomed, the task of waking up at 5:00 AM can seem extremely daunting. This article will present five tips about how to physically wake up at 5:00 AM and how to get yourself mentally ready to have a productive day.

    Many people simply “can’t” get up early because they are stuck in a routine. Whether this is getting to bed unnecessarily late, snoozing repetitively, or waiting until the absolute last possible moment before getting out of bed, “sleeping in” can easily consume your entire morning. The following tips will let you break the “sleeping in” routine.

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    Relocate your alarm clock.

    Having an alarm clock too close to your bed is the number one reason people simply cannot get up in the morning. If your alarm clock is within arms reach of your bed, or if you can turn your alarm clock off without getting out of bed, you are creating an unnecessarily difficult situation for yourself. Before I became an early-riser, there were many times that I would turn off my alarm without even waking up enough to remember turning it off. I recommend moving your alarm clock far enough away from your bed that you have to get completely out of bed to turn it off. I keep my alarm clock in the bathroom. This may not be possible for all living arrangements, however, I use my cellphone as an alarm clock and putting it in the bathroom makes perfect sense. In order to turn off my alarm I have to get completely out of bed, and since going to the restroom and taking a shower are the first two things I do everyday, keeping the alarm clock in the bathroom streamlines the start of my morning.

    Scrap the snooze.

    The snooze feature on all modern alarm clocks serves absolutely no constructive purpose. Don’t even try the “it helps me slowly wake up” lie. I recommend buying an alarm that does not have a snooze button. If you can’t find an alarm without a snooze button, never read the instructions so you will never know how long your snooze button lasts. Not knowing whether it waits 10 minutes or 60 minutes should be enough of a deterrent to get you to stop using it.

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    Change up your buzzer

    If you use the same buzzer day in and day out, you begin to develop a tolerance to the sound. The alarm clock will slowly become less effective at waking you up over time. Most newer alarm clocks will let you set a different buzzer tone for the different days of the week. If you change your buzzer frequently, you will have an easier time waking up.

    Make a puzzle

    If you absolutely cannot wake up without repetitive snoozing, try making a puzzle for yourself. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the longer your alarm is going off, the more awake you will become. Try making your alarm very difficult to turn off by putting it under the sink, putting it under the bed, or better yet, by forcing yourself to complete a puzzle to turn it off. Try putting your alarm into a combination-locked box and make yourself put in the combination in order to turn off the alarm — it’s annoying, but extremely effective!

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    Get into a routine

    Getting up at 5:00 AM is much easier if you are doing it Monday through Friday rather than sporadically during the week. I recommend setting an alarm once that repeats everyday. Also, going to bed at about the same time every night is an important factor to having a productive morning. Learn how much sleep you need to get in order to not feel exhausted the following day. Some people can get by on 4-6 hours while most need 7-8.

    Have a reason

    Make sure you have a specific reason to get up in the morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM just for the heck of it is a lot more difficult than if you are getting up early to plan your day, pay bills, go for a jog, get an early start on work, etc. I recommend finding something you want to do for yourself in the morning. It will be a lot easier to get up if you are guaranteed to do something fun for yourself — compare this to going on vacation. You probably have no problem waking up very early on vacation or during holidays. My goal every morning is to bring that excitement to the day by doing something fun for myself.

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    As I previously mentioned, I have been using these tips for a very long time. Joining the world of early-risers has been a great decision. I feel less stressed, I get more done, and I feel happier than I did when I was a late-riser. If you follow these tips you can become an early-riser, too. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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