Productivity and Personality

Here’s the joke I have made a thousand times: “I want to try Getting Things Done, but first I have to master Finding That Book.”

Thanks! Tip your waitress, folks, gas prices are skyrocketing.

I am slowly coasting towards an acceptance that most systems are not really going to work for me. Here’s my five-step process for trying out a new system, a process outlined more accurately at Hyperbole and a Half (language and awesomeness warning):

1. THIS SYSTEM AND/OR SHORT HAIRCUT CHANGES EVERYTHING. Alert a small group of people who are moderately invested in my success but who will not follow up with irritating “how’s that system workin’ out for ya?” questions down the line. Let them know Change is on the horizon.

2. Perfect the system with some modifications of my own that make it EVEN MORE AMAZING. Maybe some color-coding, spend some time considering font choices for the lists I may need. I will turn heads. “Dorian, when did you become such a task-completing machine? What’s your secret?” “Well, I could tell you, but howsabout I show you in this seven-slide PowerPoint: How This System Changed Everything? I put it together with all of my amazing free time now that I’m so productive.”

I should…maybe start working on the PowerPoint, come to think of it.

3. How the FRANCE do you insert animations in this new version of PowerPoint? This is the least user-friendly program on the planet. Now, where do I file “Learn about animations in PowerPoint” in This System, because I know it’s not a To Delegate or a Tickle File Object, but it’s also not urgent, and @#(*& I WAS SUPPOSED TO PICK UP THE KIDS TEN MINUTES AGO.

4. “Can y’all help Mommy find my book I was reading? It’s called FLYing Your Parachute to Getting Things Housekept with Kids for Extroverts. I think it has an orange cover or an “R” in the title.”

5. Hey, maybe it’s time I finally learned to crochet!

Step 5: System Amnesia is my favorite of the steps, because it’s a better outcome than Other Step 5: Total Despair. I’m 50/50 with which outcome I ultimately enjoy as the result of Project System.

Have you taken the Myers-Briggs test? Like, a thousand times, maybe, in the course of “research?” I have. I try to game the assessment to make myself seem more virtuous but it always comes back the same thing.



From Know Your Type: Perceiving (P):

Inside they may feel very planful or decisive (which they are). Remember, in type language perceiving means “preferring to take in information;” it does not mean “perceptive” in the sense of having quick and accurate perceptions about people and events.

People who prefer perceiving may:

like staying open to respond to whatever happens
look more loose and casual
like to keep laid-out plans to a minimum
like to approach work as play or mix work and play
work in burst of energy, and enjoy rushing just before deadlines
sometimes stay open to new information so long that they miss making decisions
sometimes focus so much on adapting to the moment that they do not settle on a direction or plan

SUPER FUN, amirite? Loose! Casual! Work as play! Bursts of energy! Zap! Pow!

In graduate school, we were given the MBTI assessment for placement as either high school or middle school teachers, which was pretty interesting. The primary factor was whether a person was a “T” or an “F,” but I was able to lobby for middle school placement based on my strong, STRONG “P” tendencies. Comfortable with unpredictability = not completely stressed out by teenagers.

But, of course, in my vocation as manager of my home and small business owner, I can’t be all-P, all-the-time. Here are some tools I have found to be useful despite my inherent resistance to structure. Useful like “keep things from going totally haywire around here.”

UnUsed, is what it is. Still. And this photo was staged.

1. The Uncalendar. The Uncalendar doesn’t hold it against me if I misplace it for a couple of weeks. It doesn’t come back to say “NOTICE YOUR LACK OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS FROM MARCH 23-APRIL 4 OF THIS FISCAL YEAR.” No, it’s blank until I fill it with whatever I want to scrawl into its multicolored boxes, and it doesn’t make me write lists the way The Man says I have to make a list. It lets me be FREE. Sometimes too free.

2. Evernote. I know there are people who combine Evernote with Getting Things Done, and I am vaguely interested in learning more about that, but what I love about Evernote is that it’s basically one huge pile on my virtual desk that lets me instantly find what I’m looking for. Articles, tutorials, PDF’s, notes to myself, all of that good stuff can go into Evernote and I just need to search for a word or phrase to find everything related to that topic. I use Evernote on my smartphone, in my browser, and on my Kindle. When it comes to actual paper, I’m at a complete loss, but Evernote lets me organize all the digital information I process every day.

3. Toggl. Slowly but surely, Toggl is helping me to better understand how long it actually takes me to complete a task. I tend to think that small, detail-oriented tasks will take forever and huge projects will be a matter of hours to complete, which is how I end up staying up until 5:30 Easter morning sewing a dress but forget to renew my car registration. Toggl is pretty no-frills but lets me track my time by project, which is also helpful for web design stuff that I bill by the hour.

4. The Occasional Fancy Supply. I bought a $13 drafting pencil. I know that I could have bought 250 fake wood pencils at Sam’s Club for that amount, but I like the heft of the pencil in my hand, the superhero-titanium-look, the fact that it lets me write really, really small so I can fit more assignments on my children’s assignment sheets when I’m writing out their assignments which I totally do all the time because I’m a great homeschooler. My Uncalendar is so happy that I got this pencil because now I look forward to sitting down to make some sort of plan for the week.

Now, of course, the flip side of this is that there’s always a more functional eco-friendly wheatgrass-scented binder beckoning to me from the office supply department, but I am deliberately cultivating a spirit of No, You Already Have One of Those. It sometimes helps.

Friends, Romans, commenters, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you know your MBTI type? Do you care? And are there particular tools you’ve found helpful in your own productivity, given your personality?

And, once I find it, should I bother reading the rest of Getting Things Done?

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  1. says

    One of the nice things about GTD is its modularity. (Spellcheck is telling me that’s not a word, but I don’t care.) Even if you don’t implement the whole thing 100% there is still something to be gained from implementing part of it. (I say that as someone who has made 3 failed attempts at implementing GTD.) So if you find the book you might find something in it you can use.

    Now that I have abandoned the sinking ship of BlackBerry and further embraced our Google overlords I’m giving Evernote a spin. First impressions: grad school would have been SO much easier with this.

    • says

      Yeah, that’s why I have heard that GTD can actually be good for “P” types, because you don’t have to stick to it exactly the way it’s set up in order for it to work. I need to go into it with an attitude of “even if I don’t stick to this, it can still be somewhat helpful” rather than “this one system could change everything!”

      NO JOKE re: Evernote and school! I have another post in the hopper about a series someone’s putting together for using Evernote to create student portfolios – so, so cool.

  2. says

    I am almost your complete opposite at ISTJ. And I’m VERY J, too…laughing about trying to game the test, because I’ve done that. And my tools: I like Springpad, not Evernote, though I can’t remember what the tipping point was that made me choose one over the other. MUST write in my planner with a Sharpie pen (usually blue though I will color code some items) or a pencil, and I like those Cadoozles you can get at Staples for that.
    As to GTD, if I do it, it gets done. If I don’t do it (or delegate it) it doesn’t get done. That’s how we roll here. I am a big fan of lists, though.

    • says

      Barb! I was reading along, thinking, “hey, we’re not THAT different,” and then…you write down your plans with a SHARPIE? Wow. Wowee wow wow. You ARE a J. Kudos to you. We would probably make a dynamic duo, or cause one another to spontaneously combust.

      • says

        Not only do I write the plans with a Sharpie, but if things change I cannot cross them out. Must use White-Out. I’m OCD that way 😉

  3. says

    I took the Myers-Briggs test several years ago, but I have no clue what my type is because I, um, lost the book where my results were written. All I know is that I’m an “I” someone rather than an “E” someone.

    Evernote has changed my life even though I don’t begin to use it to its full potential. My favorite part is having shared notebooks with each of my family members (we are all in different states/time zones/hemispheres. When we planned my daughter’s wedding the shared planning notebook was the key.

    • says

      I haven’t investigated shared notebooks. That sounds quite promising. It’s one of those things that I assume will take a long time to implement and probably it would take ten minutes and produce a lifetime of results. I love the idea of using it to plan a wedding long-distance.

  4. says

    INTJ, and heavily so, except for N. I have absolutely tried to game the test, but it knows, and sends me back more INTJ than ever. We INTJs do have the coolest MBTI name though – Masterminds. My dad is a INTP, Architect, which he thought was pretty cool till I told him mine! But he is consoled by the knowledge that his type is rarer.

    …my family is very strange.

    I am a relentless list keeper, and it usually must be a handwritten list, although in a pinch I will use either the Notes app or Simplenote. I <3 Simplenote, because it has a web interface as well as an app. I use it more for general drafting of ideas, blog posts, reviews, etc, than for lists.

    I have to write with either my fountain pen or a sharpie, athough uniball Signos are making inroads into fountain pen territory because I don't have to fill them. In fact, the only time I can stand using a pencil is when it needs to be erasable. Art and D&D games and such. I have a fairly nice planner, but I don't use it effectively, except to make more lists, so I roll with lots of moleskine pocket notebooks instead. LOTS. (Mental note, I need a new one.)

    I keep my calendar on the iOS calendar, and I've hacked all my computers calendar programs to talk to it, so it updates uniformly wherever I'm looking from. I have a separate calendar for each person in the family, one for the domestic church liturgical year (we have 3.5 godchildren now, which is lots of baptismal anniversaries and patronal feasts to remember!) and one for household reminders. The household reminder calendar is inadequate of my purposes, and I'm tryg to code a domestic journal app to replace it.

    I've tried GTD (verdict – gimmicky and oddly slimy feeling). and I loathed it. Along with FLYLady and her knockoffs (nausea inducing levels of cutesiness), and A Mother's Rule of Life (#%*¥£&@ crazy lady AND false advertising). So I'm really at a loss for good advice here.

    • says

      Gosh, I forgot two of my most important tools. I keep a cheap magnetic notepad on the fridge for noting down shortages – I also plan menus and write shopping lists on it. And I have on of those Sandra Boyton vertical multi person calendars with columns that run from day one to day thirty one of a month, and the far right column is dedicated to the dinner menu. That way Himself knows what to start for dinner since he gets home a couple hours before I do most days.

    • says

      Let’s come up with some alternate theory, then, of Why Some of Us Don’t Dig FlyLady, because I always told myself it must be a “J” versus “P” thing. I haven’t read A Mother’s Rule of Life because I know myself well enough to know the result of my reading it would…not rule. Heh.

      • says

        I agree with the GeekLady about FlyLady and MROL…hmm, maybe it’s a “T versus F” thing? T is the only letter we all 3 have in common here.

        • says

          I don’t think it’s strictly related to MBTI at all. I loathe FLYLady because its cutesy, peppy, talk down to you attitude makes me break out in a rash. Also, she sells an awful lot of crap on her website for someone whose claim to fame is clutter reduction. GTD gives off similar “create a need, then fill it” vibes.

          MROL is a different case. I have a very well defined objections to the book, but I can’t write them out because they always come out sounding harsher that they are. But here it goes: The book masquerades as both a household organizational method and a spiritual method of motherhood, but really it’s just a housekeeping themed autobiography/conversion story of a rather neurotic woman. My neuroses are not sympathetic to hers, and the misleading title (which I like a lot) makes me resentful and cranky.

          …maybe it is a T thing after all.

          • says

            I am so grateful to hear that someone else relates to FlyLady in this way. Thank you for writing that! I dislike things that are a bombardment of many tools and gimmicks and aesthetic, and prefer really straightforward and simple tools (like those recommended in this article). I’m glad FlyLady works for some people, but it’s far too distracting and involved for me.

  5. says

    Dorian, thanks for being so real! I suggest the audio version of Getting Things Done–it is easier to get through. To be honest, I love certain aspects of GTD, particularly the goal: get things out of your head and into a trusted system. This is why Evernote works so well (hence their motto: “remember everything”). As Jonathan pointed out, you can pick and choose what works best for you. If I really did all of the lists that he suggests in the book, I would go crazy (I wonder what MBTI that makes me?)

    I just read a short spin off written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits called (cleverly) Zen to Done. I think you’ll find it much more manageable and much easier to read. His basic premise is to focus on one habit at a time and slowly integrate parts of GTD (and in his case ZTD) into your productivity system. It has already done wonders for me.

    • says

      I knew you couldn’t stay away if I used “Productivity” in the title. I think you’re the person who introduced me to GTD. In that you motivated me to buy the book. Six months ago. That’s a great review of Zen to Done – maybe I will skim the GTD book and then buy that one next.

  6. Bearing says


    I miss drafting pencils. I gave them up when I had children, because my children eat the leads and chew the erasers when I turn my back. There is probably some kind of forlorn symbolism in this story (I spent twelve years in engineering school before I abandoned it to raise children full time). Somewhere in this house there is a pad of hospital-gown-green calculation paper that I am saving for a really special occasion.

  7. says

    I thought I was INTJ, but your P description sounds more like me. I hate making lists; they just make me feel guilty and inadequate. SO I don’t make them. I do make lots of very detailed plans in my head, but I’m not so great on the follow-through.

    So, I keep hearing about Evernote. Do I need this on my iPhone? What for? Will I like it as much as I like Words With Friends? I have 15 WWF games going now. What does that say about my personality type?

    • says

      I’m not sure what that says, but if you want to play Draw Something, my username is dorianspeed.

      You do need Evernote. It is transformative.

  8. says

    I am an ENTJ.

    Your description of P is just…well, it’s hilarious. It’s why I have come to love the Ps in my life…but yes, it has taken me years and many prayers. 😉 I’m as J as they come (though I’m getting better at planning to be P). I think I’m becoming more I as I live longer with my husband and pursue this working-at-home-in-isolation thing, but…no chance of changing the NTJ. No chance at all.

    I say trash the book. Hire a consultant. Heck, I’ll give you tips for free. :)

    Good luck, in other words!

    • says

      Sarah, Hmm. That explains why you sent me the sweet reminder email about the blog post I owe you. I’m working on it. Yep. I am. I have an idea and everything. I’m not loosly leaving it to the last minute. Nosiree. Gosh how on earth do you J’s put up with us P’s anyhow? 😉

  9. says

    I don’t know anything that has to do with this post, but that’s no reason not to comment.
    My Fabulous Wife knows my four letters, though. I think they are good letters, not bad ones.

  10. says

    I’m an IXFJ. (The X denotes the fact that my N and S fall exactly at 0.) The other three are fixed. I’ve also had to take the test so many times that I can game it without thinking to get a certain result. It’s a helpful instrument in that it can give you some insight into your personality and how you function, but at the end of the day, it’s just one more instrument like the Enneagram.

    As far as what works for me, I’m missing Windows Calendar because I could schedule appointments and forget about them, knowing that there would be a pop-up as soon as I actually had to do anything.

    • says

      Is that snarky? SURELY not. I only respond to people who post their personality types, except when I am telling you it took me about 20 minutes to complete this post.

      • lickona says

        If it was snarky, it was sweetly so. It’ll be a cold day before I take a personality test. Which I’m sure is a data point for personality tests.

  11. says

    INTP. I don’t do getting things done. I mean I don’t get things done. They just mess me up. The one thing that has ever worked for me is having a computer in the kitchen that we keep a shopping list on. Everyone writes stuff there when we run out and then I email the list to my iPhone when I go to the store. This means most Things We Need actually get purchased. And yet somehow the world never ends because of my lack of organization.
    I use Evernote. Kind of. When I remember to put stuff there. But usually I forget. Somehow the awesomeness of it hasn’t transformed my life. What am I doing wrong? Or what am I not doing right?

  12. says

    Didn’t take a personality test, but I just wanted to say that I love you, and this post is part of the reason why. Not the whole reason, because your awesomeness cannot be confined to one forum, but reason nonetheless.

  13. says

    Thanks fro sharing your knowledge about the things from going totally haywire around here. You really have an awesome post thanks a lot.

  14. says

    So Evernote is good? It didn’t grab me and looked overly complicated the times I briefly poked at it.

    Probably the best advice is make a short list each day of things to get done and make it realistic–stuff you can get done. Avoiding all the sidetracks and digressions is another problem. Seems like the only cure is to say no, bunker up, hunker down and focus on the main tasks.

    • says

      Hi, Dan! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I really like Evernote. BUT – I tend to like things that are excessively complicated, which explains…this blog post. I finally convinced my husband to try Evernote and we’ve set up a few shared notebooks for family vacation plans, bill receipts, etc. It’s been very helpful and I think we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as far as cutting down on piles of paper around here. I also really like using Evernote on my smartphone when I happen upon an article I want to be able to refer back to. So I’d recommend it.

      I have read no more of the GTD book since this post but I have taken the radical step of understanding why Gmail has those stars for posts. I never really understood why people were so stoked about achieving “Inbox Zero.” I have Inbox Zero all the time! I read my email constantly! And then forget to follow up! OH – maybe that’s what is meant by Inbox Zero…

      Anyway – just that simple step of having done something to put those emails in a place where I know I won’t forget (the “Starred” folder) has helped me cut down on random time-wasting activities. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by my to-do list my go-to behavior is random Internet surfing.

  15. Linda D says

    How did I miss this? I think we’ve talked about this before, but INF(F!F!F!F!)J. My beloved read GTD and well, you’ve see our office and our desks. he’s a walking example of organization and I’m not. I read part of it, and I can see how it would work, but the part where you take a whole day to sweep everything off your desk and make action files or whatever and then go from there, well, that’s just too overwhelming. I just keep a running list of what I need to do for each client in a notebook and cross things off as they get done. If something is a priority, I know it and eat the frog and make myself do it. Most of the time. And now I must go finish that form 990 that has been a priority all week.

  16. says

    I just found this. I’m ENTP. Google owns me. I use Google docs and bookmarks for everything. I have my to do list on an excel doc at work and everything goes on there.
    I couldn’t see the benefit of Evernote over Google. What am I missing?

    • says

      Hmmm – I haven’t used Google bookmarks, so I may be missing out there. I use Gmail and some other Google products but I’m not a huge fan of Google Docs. I would say that if what you have is working for you, stick with it! To me, Evernote is marvelous because it accepts all sorts of media – PDFs, sound recordings, the full text of a web page (clipped via a browser extension for Chrome), drawings (via Skitch) – and you can easily find stuff you’ve saved. I did a series of columns for on the wonders of Evernote.
      Here’s the first one:
      And here are my archived columns, several more of which deal with Evernote:

      Thanks for stopping by!


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