Within weeks of starting my first job out of college, I was sent to the in-house time management training program. I dutifully attended the class and used the planner they provided as instructed. But as the weeks went by, I noticed that my productivity hadn't improved. As I looked around at my colleagues, I noticed that many of them were also struggling with the system.
The reason is simple: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity. Instead, we need personalized approaches. This means employing work strategies that align with our own cognitive styles, and allocating efforts in a way that suits our strengths and preferences.
Ironically, most of us do this unconsciously. After all, these are habitual patterns of perceiving, processing, and managing information that guide our behavior. However, because we're inundated with "proven" programs, tips and tools (backed by a bevy of consultants, academics, and practitioners), we often go against our natural instincts. The first step in making your productivity personal is to identify your Productivity Style, so that you can work in sync with your natural inclinations. Each one has its own strengths and preferred tools based on those powers.
A Prioritizer is that guy or gal who will always defer to logical, analytical, fact-based, critical, and realistic thinking. To increase their efficiency, they will time how long it takes to complete certain tasks in order to more accurately plan their days and weeks. They have never met a goal they did not like and apply a laser-like focus to ensure they accomplish their goals.
They are so focused on execution that they don't spend much time or energy on how it is completed. At times they have a tendency to be controlling and rigid, and may be known in the office for their drive and competitiveness. They hate chit-chat, missing data, or oversharing of anything personal. Their emails are often only a few sentences, or if possible, just a few letters.
Contributions to the team:
• Analyzing data
• Critical analysis and logical problem solving
• Goal orientation, consistency, and decisiveness
• 42Goals: Tracks your daily goals and keeps a log of your daily activities.
• Daytum: Helps you collect, categorize, and communicate any and all of your data.
• Moosti: A timer-tool based on the Pomodoro Technique.
• Witty Parrott: Enables you to create snippets of content once and then seamlessly reuse or share them.
• Wunderlist: Tracks and reminds you of your to-dos.
• Classic low-tech tools, like legal pads and a label maker.
The Planner is the team member who thrives on organized, sequential, planned, and detailed thinking. Though at first glance they may appear as a Prioritizer, the Planner will immerse themselves in the details of a project, while the Prioritizer focuses on only the details that help them complete the project quickly and accurately. The Planner has never met a calendar or project-planning tool that they did not like.
They are not known for their spontaneity, and in fact they have missed opportunities due to their resistance to deviate from plans. They have been known to write something on their to-do list that has already been completed, just so they can cross it off. They thrive on schedules and action plans, and are known for their timely follow-ups. They want you to get to the point; they'll read the fine print later.
They hate attending a meeting without an agenda. Their emails are detailed, often including bullet points and clearly stated next-action steps.
Contributions to the team:
• Action orientation and practicality
• Finding overlooked flaws in plans or processes
• Organizing and maintaining data and project plans
• Toodledo: Lets you make custom lists, create structured outlines, and view tasks on a calendar.
• HabitForge: A habit-forming tool designed around accountability that includes daily check-ins and progress reports.
• Agendas: Creates interactive agendas and broadcasts them to iPad users.
• Objectiveli: Manages and track goals in real time.
• Low-tech tools like label makers, file folders, filing cabinets, drawer organizers, pen holders, and other office organizational supplies.
An Arranger prefers supportive, expressive, and emotional thinking. They are the ultimate team player and excel at partnering with colleagues to get work done. They are a natural communicator and deftly facilitate project meetings. They hate when people lack that personal touch or rely too heavily on data or facts. Arrangers are talkers; they love stories, eye-to-eye contact, expressing concern for others, and asking questions about the way a project or task helps others. They have been known to need to institute a personal chat budget, only allowing a few minutes of chit chat during work hours, and have to avoid adding one more person to the cc: line on their email messages.
Contributions to the team:
• Anticipating how others will feel and understanding their underlying emotions
• Facilitating team interaction
• Persuading and selling ideas
• focus@will: A neuroscience-based music service that helps you focus and retain information when working, studying, writing and reading.
• stickK: A habit forming tool that focuses on incentives, accountability and community (and if you are unsuccessful, stickK lets your friends know).
• workshifting: A resource site that shares ideas to help you shift when, where and how you work.
• Redbooth: A complete collaboration and communication solution that enables you to leverage your existing work flow infrastructure like Outlook, MSProject, Box, Gmail, DropBox, Evernote, and more.
• Visually and kinesthetically pleasing office supplies, things like Moleskin notebooks with unlined pages, and pens in a variety of ink colors.
A Visualizer prefers holistic, intuitive, integrating, and synthesizing thinking. They thrive under pressure and are easily bored if they are not juggling multiple, diverse projects. A Visualizer focuses on the big-picture and broad concepts making connections. At times, they have a tendency to overlook details and tend to value the possibilities over process. Their excessive spontaneity and impulsiveness can lead to breakthrough ideas, but can also derail project plans at times. A Visualizer has probably not seen the surface of their desk in years because if something is out of sight, it is out of mind. And, their emails tend to be long, filled with concepts and ideas.
Contributions to the team:
• Innovation; serving as a catalyst for change
• Creative problem solving
• Ability to envision the future, recognize new opportunities and integrate ideas and concepts
• Lifetick: A highly visual dreams achievement tool where you can create and add to your lifelong "bucket list."
• iThoughts HD: A digital mind-mapping tool.
• AdBlock Plus: A tool that blocks ads automatically and speeds up page download times.
• ZenPen: A tool that creates a minimalist writing zone where you can block out all distractions.
• Visually vibrant, low-tech tools: multicolored Post-It notes, colored folders, notebooks with unlined pages, pens in a variety of ink colors, large white boards, baskets, folders, and bags and clipboards for keeping papers visible while still organized.
These profiles aim to guide you towards which tools will work best for you, so don't worry if you find yourself spanning two or more styles. Try tools from each, mix and match--it's about what actually sticks with you in the end that is important.
Your productivity must be personal. And the moment you discover your Productivity Style as it fits into your personality and instincts, you're working smarter in a way that fits you. From there, you will begin to work simply and live fully.
To take the Productivity Style Assessment ®, please click here.
Carson Tate is the founder and principal of Working Simply, a management consultancy. Our mission is to bring productivity with passion back to the workplace. We do this by providing tailored solutions that help people to work smarter, not harder. Read the full scoop about her and her drive towards personal productivity styles at www.carsontate.com.
Her new book, "Work Simply," was published on January 2, 2015.