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Big Ideas

The 4 Types of Productivity Styles

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to productivity.

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.

Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

The Prioritizer

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 

Productivity tools:

  • 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. 


Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

The Planner

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 

Productivity tools:

  • 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. 


Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

The Arranger

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 

Productivity tools:

  • 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. 


Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

Illustration by Oscar Ramos Orozco.

The Visualizer

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 

Productivity tools:

  • 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.

Comments (51)
  • Caro Mac

    Excellent!!!! thanks!! from Argentina 🙂

  • Adam Johnson

    So cool that you included the tools to help. Thanks for this great article. I will have to check out some of these services.

  • Md Salahuddin

    Thx for including all the helpful tools

  • darthdombek

    WOW. passing this on to HR here at work.

  • Nela Dunato

    I’m a visualizer and have all the pretty low tech tools you listed, and more! 🙂
    Color coding is a must for me, and a visit to an office supplies store is like going to Disneyland… #nerd

    • hypple

      🙂 Yep! The possibilities that lie waiting within a pen….

  • Павел Бубенцов

    Thanks a lot for such great reverse engineering. And especially for useful tools.

  • Gabriel Costa

    Very helpful! Thanks a lot. The app/type match was a great idea!
    I would suggest to each one of them a time tracking app. My suggestion would be Time Tracking by primaERP:

  • JM

    Having read the book, this serves as a very helpful reference with apps/web services coming and going. Thanks Carson~

  • zeppytoh

    Thank you for this! it was helpful to identify what type of productivity suited me instead of trying to work with what experts say we all need

  • Ana Ondreicsik

    Very insightful. I think you could also apply this to your colleagues, and take into consideration their productivity style when communicating/arranging work. For the visual communicators, there’s a nice online version of the low tech tools you mention. It’s an online whiteboard/real-time collaboration app that’s a good place for laying out ideas:

  • Meanu Normia

    Hi Carson, Adblock plus is life saver tool, No more annoying ads. Wunderlist is newest and pro todo list web app. Lots of useful resources are listed here and some of them I have personally experienced. Our team is addicted to proofhub which is PM tool, We got almost everything on single platform. Not listed here!

  • Amanda

    Interesting that only “The Arranger” is described as a She. Ah, I forgot: they love chatting and emotional eye-to-eye contact. This is bs…

    • jdeese88

      The Prioritizer is a She also. The writer flipped back and forth between genders.

    • Justin

      The article was very insightful, to the point offered and tremendous asset. However, the very detail you notice stuck out “sorely.” I also noticed just how much it impact in had on my made as I couldn’t most immediately ” un’visualize ” the arranger as a male.

      • Sasha

        Two of the types we randomly chose for “she,” and two for “he.” We thought they were best treated equally, rather than only doing “he” or only doing “she.”

      • Justin

        Interesting approach. Thanks for the insight.

  • HeleneDBrown@

    nowRead this 99u ….. Here’s a Blog


  • Anastasia Lamotchkina

    A super interesting look at just how non-linear productivity can be, thank you for this article! Is it based on any personality theories? (eg. Myers Briggs)

    • Beth

      It’s based on the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (4 thinking preferences).

  • Hasimah GuestHouse

    Adblock plus is a must

  • Tiffany Chambers

    I really enjoyed this.

  • April Edwards

    Thank you! It’s important to know how you prefer to work so that you can improve your process for maximum productively and get back to doing what you do best! You provided so many recommended tools. Really appreciated!

  • Adam Thomas

    I think I am a mix of the two…

    I visualize very well.
    I am a planner.

    Everything else seems to fall through. When I am focused on those two things, I can create progress.

  • Praetorian

    I think I’m a mixture of the four categories. It’s so hard to put someone into ONE category.
    Thanks for the article, it was very interesting!

  • erinimus

    Extremely interesting article and generally well written, but I have to say I found the gendering very off putting. You use Guy/Gal, He, She and He. A good editor should have switched this out with “a person” or “a worker” especially the emotionally connected “Arranger” is of course, a woman.

  • Kevin Peter

    Carson, kudos to you! Amazingly penned down list, especially the productivity apps listed. You made my day! 🙂

  • bdario70

    Very interesting article! Is there some kind of test/survey to reveal to which category one belongs?

  • MarilynRogers

    Really fresh, unique ideas in your article. I personally believe that several of us fall into many of these categories (as you mention at the conclusion), not just in one bucket. All-in-one apps that bring these apps together are the way to go.

  • Camilla Hallstrom

    Love the approach taken in this article! Indeed, we do too easily follow “proven” methods and don’t realize that they’re not necessarily for us. I’ll be using some of the tools mentioned here.

  • Marta Wiktoria Bryll

    Love the article! I might be a mixture of all four, but if I’d have to choose – a planner… or maybe a visualizer? Anyways, I think all of the four types could use some help of the kanban method – you should probably add it to the list. There’s a lot of kanban based software on the market, but my personal favourite is KanbanTool – check out the link at Kanban Tool . Really helps when you have a lot of projects going on!

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