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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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    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 April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

    S.M.A.R.T.

    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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