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If you’re struggling to get more done in a day, it might be because you’re thinking of productivity as a one-size-fits-all endeavor, says Carson Tate, author of Work Simply. “We each have a productivity style, influenced by how we think and process information,” she says. “If you’re not customizing your strategies to that style, they’re not going to work for you and you’re going to get frustrated.” She breaks down the four styles and corresponding strategies that can turn you into an efficient, to-do-list-killing machine.
1. The Prioritizer
Style Traits: You’re analytical and competitive. Long-winded explanations set your teeth on edge, and when coworkers start swapping stories about what they did over the weekend you start silently watching the clock (so much wasted time!). "Prioritizers are very focused on the outcome or goal—not the soccer game your kid had over the weekend,” says Tate. “They want people to make their point and back it up—they never met a piece of data they didn’t like.”
Productivity Boost: Play to your natural competitive streak by timing yourself as you run through routine tasks, suggests Tate. How quickly can you prep lunches before work? How many minutes does it take to clear out your inbox each morning? Trying to beat your own time will spur you to stay focused, but it can also nudge you to streamline—like prepping a week’s worth of veggies at once or setting up templates for emails you send again and again.
2. The Planner
Style Traits: You’re hyper-organized, detail-driven, and thrive on deadlines. You have every appointment and reminder possible in your calendar, and you relish making action plans. Your biggest pet peeve is when people are running perpetually late. “These are the people who turn their work in early and will add an item to their to-do list even if it’s already done, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off,” says Tate.
Productivity Boost: Batching should be your new best friend, says Tate. That means scheduling time to knock out all of your phone calls at once or cranking through spreadsheet set-up, assembly-style. “Grouping similar tasks together lets you get into a flow state and not waste any time switching between tasks,” she explains.
Another trick that works particularly well for planners is creating a to-do list of things that can be done in 15 minutes or less. “There are so many microsegements in the day, where you finish one meeting and have another starting in 15 minutes,” says Tate. “Instead of defaulting to email, a 15-minute list lets you actually execute.”
3. The Arranger
Style Traits: A natural born facilitator, you’re highly intuitive and communicative. You do your best work with people and on teams, and you tend to understand instinctually what needs to get done to wrap up a project. “They’re the people who will color-code their calendars, because color is important, or have certain types of pens for certain tasks,” says Tate.
Productivity Boost: Spending the entire day holed up in an office will actually backfire for Arrangers. “They need to intersperse solo work with group work,” says Tate, or their energy and focus will start to flag. Schedule a coffee break with coworkers, or break up a big work project with quick trips to the water cooler. Those minutes aren’t wasted—they’re recharging your efficiency and focus. Sunshine can also have a surprisingly big impact on productivity with this group, says Tate. Even standing near a window for a few minutes will perk you up to get more done.
4. The Visualizer
Style Traits: Post-its and white boards are your go-tool tools, and even though your cubicle may seem like it’s in disarray you can locate anything in less than a minute. “Visualizers are big-picture thinkers and risk takers,” says Tate. “They’re great at juggling a large variety of work, and they work very quickly.” They’re also the ones who are most likely to squeak in just seconds before the deadline, and to chafe at lengthy processes. “Too much structure drives them crazy, because they want time and space to think and brainstorm.”
Productivity Boost: Stop thinking you can knock out a project in one long marathon work session. “Visualizers crave novelty, so to keep your energy and momentum high you need to break up the boring work with more interesting work,” says Tate. While ping-ponging between tasks might slow other styles down, it can actually fuel this group—so think of yourself as a sprinter, working on one thing for 20 minutes before moving on to something completely different.
Kate Rockwood is a freelance journalist living in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Fast Company, New York, Real Simple, Health, and O, The Oprah Magazine.