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How To Work With Different Productivity Styles

There are four productivity styles. Find out which is yours and how to work with people who get things done in an entirely different way.

[Busy group: Rawpixel via Shutterstock]

You make lists for your (color-coded) lists. The woman at the desk with the piles of papers hasn't seen the top of her desk in years. And the guy down the hall can’t seem to focus without his blue Cross pen. What gives?

All personal productivity styles are not created equal, and that’s okay, says Carson Tate, founder of Working Simply, a North Carolina-based management consultancy and author of the forthcoming book Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style.

Having worked with clients for a number of years, a common theme emerged: They’d read books and taken classes about productivity, yet struggled to translate the principles into their work environment, with little success. On a flight to visit a client in California, the light bulb went off for Tate. What if we choose our productivity tools based on our cognitive thinking styles? Fast Company spoke with Tate about the four styles, as well as her advice for working with people whose productivity styles differ from our own.

Each of us falls into one of four personal productivity styles, Tate says. We have all four styles within us, but similar to whether we’re left- or right-handed, we have a strong preference, she notes. Through her research, Tate has identified the four styles:

The Prioritizer

A Prioritizer’s thinking is very linear and analytical, Tate says. They want "just the facts without the fluff," and have never met data they didn’t like. Prioritizers are goal-driven, very good at getting the work done, and don’t want to stop until the work’s completed.

The Planner

The Planner is highly organized, detail-oriented, and organizes tasks sequentially, Tate says. She will often find flaws in presentations that were overlooked by others, and is great at project planning. She will make lists, and will sometimes write tasks on her "To Do" list that have been completed, just to mark them off as done.

The Arranger

Arrangers are intuitive people who can discern the undercurrent of what’s going on in a situation and course-correct if necessary, Tate notes. They are highly visual list makers, and need the right tools to get their work done. For example, an Arranger may have a specific pen he always uses, and regular notebook paper just won’t cut it.

The Visualizer

Variety in the type of work they’re doing is critical for Visualizers, who can’t do the same task for hours on end, says Tate. They are big picture risk takers, who do an excellent job of juggling various tasks and integrating disparate ideas into a cohesive whole. For example, you might not be able to see the surface of a Visualizer’s desk, but if you ask her for something, she knows exactly where to find it.

When working with new clients, Tate gives them a personal productivity assessment to determine which style they prefer. She also helps them identify where the strongest clashes between productivity styles will occur in the workplace. For example, let’s say you’re an Arranger (guided by intuition and feelings) while your manager is a Prioritizer (led by facts and data). The Arranger wants to give background information, while the Prioritizer just wants the facts, without the backstory. The Prioritizer thinks the Arranger’s just wasting time, while the Arranger thinks the Prioritizer doesn’t take other people and their feelings into account.

How To Apply It

Once you know what your preferences are, you can identify what your colleagues’ are, often by listening to their speech patterns, Tate says. Then, you can tailor your responses to them based on their style.

If your manager is a Prioritizer, Tate suggests answering their "What" questions up front. Lead the conversation with an answer to "What’s the data? What is the outcome?" and other "What" questions they may have.

If you’re working with a Planner, the question becomes "How?" Tate says. "How has this been done in the past? How are we going to do it?" These questions are focused on the process of how the project will be completed.

An Arranger is concerned with the "Who?" questions. "Who are the key stakeholders? Who will be impacted by the project?" Answer these questions for the Arranger and they’ll be more receptive to your comments.

With Visualizers, the "Why" matters most, Tate says. "Why are we doing it this way instead of that way? Why does it matter?" Always provide the big picture and connect back to strategy, she suggests.

By answering the essential question for your manager or colleagues based on their style, you can reduce some of the friction teams face working together, Tate says. It won’t eliminate all clashes that may arise throughout a project, but it can help you communicate with and better understand where your colleagues are coming from.

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