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

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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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    Rethink Productivity: How to Use Your Personality to Reach Your Goals Rethinking Productivity: Why Your Brain May Be Keeping You from Getting Things Done Rethinking Productivity: How Personality Affects Productivity (and Why No One`s Ever Told You)

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    More Tips to Conquer Time Wasters and Procrastination

     

    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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