Your personality, organizational style, priorities, and social preferences all affect your work; more specifically, they determine how you work best. The more you know about yourself, the more you can tailor your environment, schedule, tools, and priorities to fit your natural inclinations and strengths. You'll not only be more efficient and productive, you'll also enjoy your work more when you customize how you work to fit who you are.
1. Investigate Your Personality
If you've done any investigating into your personality, you've already started learning a good bit about your productivity style. For example, if you're a bolder, take-action personality, you might have already figured out why you hate meetings that drag on, pointlessly, and why you sometimes get called out for trying to "take over." Really, you're just trying to get things moving and keep everyone from wasting more time.
Introversion and extroversion affect your productivity style, as well. If you're an introvert working in an interactive, noisy, high-energy environment, you may find yourself out of energy halfway through the day. On the other hand, if you're an extrovert working from home, you may have already figured out that you're more productive at the corner coffee shop than alone in your quiet home office.
Of course, personality tests are not all accurate; if you read a set of results and think, "That's not me!" then go with your gut. You know yourself; the point of a personality test is to help you consciously think about yourself. By bringing those intuitions and inner workings to light, you can use them to improve how you operate in work and in life.
Find out more about your personality by taking one of these quizzes or tests:
- PsychCentral Personality Test (50 questions, no sign-up required) is based on the IPIP (International Personality Item Pool) 10-Item Scale.
- HumanMetrics Personality Test (64 questions, no sign-up required) is based on Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ personality typology.
- Dr. John A. Johnson's Personality Test, Penn State University (120 questions, no sign-up required), is based on the IPIP-NEO five factor model of personality. (Here's an article about this test.)
- The Personality Project's SAPA Test (100 questions, no sign-up but several demographic questions at the beginning), is based on the Big Six personality factors.
As you read through your results, think about how they fit into—or clash with—your current job, work environment, and the structure of your typical workday.
2. Think About Your Preferences
Your personality is certainly a big part of your productivity style, but it's not the only factor. You need to consider other important elements, such as how you set goals, how you manage time, how you work with others, and how you learn.
Read the following questions to jumpstart your thinking about your preferences in each area. Take a moment to reflect and record your thoughts.
Goals and Motivation
Do you prefer to set goals for yourself or to achieve goals set by a leader, by a larger organization, for a bigger purpose, or as a group? Are you motivated more to reach the end goal or to enjoy and perfect the process that gets you there?
Do you easily lose energy when faced with distant goals, or does the idea of reaching a long-term, difficult challenge energize you? Do you lose motivation when your daily tasks don't seem to relate to your goals?
Do you tend to relate your work to goals or to ideas? Do you enjoy chasing a new idea even if it doesn't relate to your defined goals, or do you need to tie everything together?
Are you motivated more by recognition, by tangible rewards, by a feeling of achievement, or by the chance to quit working for a while and go do something else that you enjoy?
Do you prefer to plan everything out to distinct times, or simply hit the ground running and deal with the first task you find? Do you use a planner, calendar, or scheduling tool regularly? Do you struggle to keep track of your daily appointments and time-based activities?
How's your time awareness? Do you get lost in projects, conversations, and activities and lose track of time? Can you mentally keep track of elapsed time even when you're deep into a task or interaction? Are you often running late, or do you tend to be on time? Do you get nervous when deadlines approach? Do you feel overwhelmed or energized when you have a busy day with a full schedule?
Teams and Solo Work
Do you prefer to think about problems by yourself before you share your ideas and opinions? Do you like to brainstorm ideas and solutions in a group? Do you feel controlled or relieved when someone sets your agenda or manages your time for you? Do you like to keep your options open? Do you prefer to have someone to follow so you don't have to consider all the factors? Do you feel like team meetings, team work, or team endeavors waste time or result in better work? Do you get more done alone or when working with others?
Do you prefer having background noise when you work, or do you like quiet and stillness? Do you find yourself distracted by conversations, interactions, and movement around you? Are you often upset or irritated by things that feel extreme: loud noises, harsh lights, strong smells, crowded spaces?
Does a cluttered desk or work surface bother you? Do you spend time tidying up before you're ready to begin working? Do you forget about tasks or projects if you don't have a visual reminder in front of you? Do you like to have all the elements of your current project spread in front of you, or do you prefer to keep things put away until you need them?
Do you find your energy spiking or waning at particular times of day? Do you feel ready to go early in the morning, or do you struggle to truly wake up until later in the day? Do you find yourself full of ideas and energy in the evening or later at night?
Do you struggle to go to sleep at a reasonable time, or do you struggle to stay awake after dinner? Do you tend to sleep well? Do you wake up easily?
Do you feel overwhelmed by a long task list first thing in the day, or motivated and energized? Do you feel excited about the idea of a new project at the end of the day, or motivated and energized? If you could set your own work hours, what would they be?
Do you prefer to learn visually, with charts and graphs and drawings and videos and slides? Do you prefer to learn verbally, with written words and more textual information? Do you prefer to learn by hearing, listening to spoken input rather than reading or seeing it on screen or printed? Do you prefer to learn by doing, testing, trying, touching, experiencing, handling the pieces and tools yourself to get a feel for the information?
The Index of Learning test from Professors Barbara A. Soloman and Richard M. Felder at North Carolina State University can help you understand more about your learning style.
3. Determine Your Productivity Style
Carson Tate, author of the book Work Simply, investigates how knowing and adapting to your unique productivity style is the key to having a simpler, better, and more productive work life. Tate says, in this article, that:
"Your personal Productivity Style is your approach to planning and allocating effort across goals, activities, and time periods. This approach is usually unconscious and unsystematic rather than deliberate and rational. Nonetheless, patterns can be detected, which generally grow out of your individual cognitive style—your habitual pattern or preferred way of perceiving, processing, and managing information to guide behavior. Since everyone has a distinctive cognitive style, you also have a distinct Productivity Style."
Tate has delineated four distinct productivity styles:
- The Prioritizer (logical, consistent, goal-oriented).
- The Planner (organized, sequential, action-oriented).
- The Arranger (empathetic, intuitive, people-oriented).
- The Visualizer (visionary, innovative, idea-oriented).
Your growing knowledge of your own personality and preferences might make it easy to know which style fits you best. You can read a bit more about the productivity styles in this article, and take a free assessment at Tate's website (email sign-up required) or here (no sign-in required).
4. Inventory Your Strengths and Weaknesses
There are online tests and quizzes (here's an 84-question test and here's a 56-question test) which you can take to determine your strengths with a somewhat universal approach. You'll get a bird's-eye view of your strengths, which you can then relate to your work responsibilities.
Or you can investigate the other way around: create your own measure, based on your real-life work, by making a list of all the tasks and responsibilities you have. Then rate yourself on your ability and enthusiasm for each task.
Use a 1-5 scale, with 1 indicating the lowest level and 5 indicating the highest level. Go down your list, and rate yourself on your ability at the task: Are you able to do it well? Do you have the necessary knowledge and tools to complete the task? Can you complete the task in a reasonable amount of time, with adequate efficiency? Do you complete the task at an acceptable level of quality?
Next, go through your list and rate yourself on your enthusiasm for each task: Do you enjoy the task or avoid it? Do you look forward to it? Or procrastinate on the task? Do you wish you could delegate it? Do you feel confident and energetic about approaching the task? Do you consider it a core task or a distraction from your priorities?
Finally, mark the tasks which you rated for both a high level of ability and a high level of enthusiasm: these are your current, workable strengths. The tasks for which you have enthusiasm but little ability could become strengths, if you put in sufficient learning and experience to build your skills to proficiency. The tasks for which you have both little ability and little enthusiasms are the ones you should consider weaknesses; ideally, you'll be able to avoid taking on these tasks or delegate them to someone who is more qualified and excited to complete them.
Remember that the point of knowing your strengths and weaknesses is not so that you can "fix yourself" and level out all your weak areas, bringing them up to the level of your strengths. Rather, it's to recognize the capabilities and interests you already have and cultivate them, so you can do more of what you're great at and less of the rest. Bonus: you'll enjoy your work a whole lot more.
Step 5. Evaluate Your Tools and Systems
Now it's time to put all this knowledge to some practical use in your work. At this point, you should have fairly in-depth and comprehensive understanding of your personality, your preferences, and your strengths. Now take a close look at the systems, tools, and methods you use to manage your work and time. Do they match your needs and preferences?
Evaluate Your Tools
Chances are you'll find a few that definitely don't line up with your productivity style. If any of your regularly used tools require you to function counter to your preferences, or to operate primarily in your areas of weakness, look for an alternative. You want your tools and systems to support you, not undermine you. If you're a auditory learner, for example, quit typing in visual notes and calendar appointments; instead, use an app or method (several are detailed here and here) that will allow you to use voice input or even tie a voice memo to a scheduled reminder.
Tools that fit your productivity style will make you more efficient and effective. Tools that run counter to your productivity style will make you feel inept (even when you aren't) and will cause frustration and lost time. Look for resources that give you the inputs, methods, access modes, cues, and aesthetic styles that you prefer; this isn't being self-obsessed, it's being efficient.
Handle Your Weaknesses
The second part of the tool-improvement process is to look for systems and resources that fill in for you on your weaknesses. From your strengths research in step 4, you'll have an idea of what those weak points are. Eliminate what you can from your workload entirely. For the rest—the ones you can't delegate or simply stop doing—use automation, routine, or assistance. If, for example, you're weak at follow-up, look into an automated follow-up service such as FollowUp.cc or an email drip marketing service.
If you're great with getting the big parts of a project done, but struggle to work your way through the finer details, create checklists for each type of project you have. The checklists will guide you through the finishing details, making the process routine and easier for you to complete. You can also look for help from people who have strengths that you don't. For example, if you struggle with reaching out to new clients, you can hire a virtual assistant to compile lists of potential clients and write introductory emails for you.
Improve Your Workflow
Once you've evaluated your tools and systems individually, take a look at your entire workflow. You might simply need to tweak some parts of your regular process so that they work better for your productivity style. Or you might need to redesign your workflow from the ground up: here's a great tutorial on how to do that, which utilises various other areas of Envato Market and Envato Studio.
When you design your workflow, you'll be thinking about how you do what you do. You should also keep in mind the timing. When you do what you do it can make it a success or a failure, depending on your energy levels at that particular time. If you've discovered that you're a morning person, don't stack up your most important work at the end of the day; you'll be drained and lack motivation. If you're more of a night owl, on the other hand, ease your way into the workday with the mundane, repetitive tasks, and tackle your exciting and challenging projects once you feel fully awake and energized.
6. Do Periodic Evaluations
Your essential productivity style will probably stick with you for life; but you'll still change and grow, develop new skills, and refine your preferences. It's important that you evaluate yourself, your tools and systems, and your work on a fairly regular basis. Keep it fresh. Schedule a regular time, perhaps quarterly or annually, to think through your systems and update them as needed. If you crave variety, improve and update monthly. Just don't update so often that you spend more time learning your tools than you do using them.
Work Your Productivity Style
No single productivity system, tool, or method is going to work the same for every person. The more you know about yourself, the better you'll be about choosing the tools that will equip you for better work. Even the most seasoned productivity veterans can be taken in by the next shiny system and think that they'll be able to adapt to it, despite their strong, natural proclivity for something that's different. Working to your preferences and strengths will make you far more efficient, effective, and happier in your work than trying to fit into a system, tool, or structure that fights your natural productivity style.