Why To-Do Lists & Plans Just Don’t Work for All Personality Types

in Business, You

personality-and-productivityHow many of you have ever picked up a copy of ‘Getting Things Done’? How many of you have tried implementing the system and given up in despair at your seeming inability to maintain the complexities?

Maybe it wasn’t ‘Getting Things Done’ but one of the myriad other productivity books on the market. The world is full of productivity gurus trying to help their fellow man by sharing their systems and overflowing with people just like you who try to follow those systems and wonder at their inner flaws when they can’t keep it up. Hardly conducive to inner peace.

At risk of sounding like a stereotypical sales page, there is a better way. We look to our personality type when it comes to guiding and team building, so why not for our organization and productivity strategies? Building a system that’s in harmony with your personality results in lower stress, saved time and dramatically increased productivity. Keep reading; I’m going to give you what you need to get started.

When it comes to productivity, there are four personality types that matter. Are you a Fantastical, an Analytical, an Environmental or a Structural?


If you’re a Fantastical, you’re a visual thinker. You excel at taking interesting problems and producing fascinating solutions and unique ideas. And you actually need to have all the pieces of your work spread out in front of you. Contrary to popular belief, you know exactly what’s in each of those piles. Taking the pile and forcing it into a filing system actually handicaps your ability to work effectively. Therefore, organization for Fantasticals eschews the traditional alphabetical labels, lists and routines in favor of a more organic space that allows room for piles and brainstorming.


The Analytical, on the other hand, is keenly ambitious and logical. You’re able to quickly assess situations and link them to the long term picture, and you like the information you need at your fingertips exactly when you need it. Alphabetical filing doesn’t work for you either – it separates related pieces and forces you to gather everything together before you can make an assessment. And long reports are just a waste of your time. Ask the people around you to condense those pages into figures or graphs that you can assess in a minute or less.


If you’re an Environmental, your attention is focused outward, on the people around you. You concern yourself with their health, well-being, emotional stability, and whether or not they feel welcomed and comfortable. When it comes to productivity, organization and time management, your biggest Achilles heel is your schedule. Many time management books advocate tight scheduling – down to the 15 minute block – but you need to leave time for the chat with a friend who’s feeling blue, the unexpected phone call from a panicky client, or the call from your spouse that he or she left his keys at home and could you please go grab them? Even contemplating a 15 minute schedule is ridiculous. Go for a minimum of two hour blocks and plan time for chaos.


And last, but not least, is the Structural. If you’re a Structural, it’s likely that you’re doing just well with your productivity system, thank you very much. But the best thing you can do to eliminate wasted time is to take a good hard look at your system. Does it have any unneeded ritual and elaborate steps? How well does it scale to meet the demands of a high volume work day? Quite often, your system can be tweaked to help you increase your productivity, so take a look to identify some areas that might be targets for improvement. If you’re looking for new ideas, I’ve got some good news for you: there’s a LOT of excellent ideas out there to choose from!

Interested in learning more about your personality type? Come by Personalized Productivity and take our free quiz to determine your type and get more detailed tips on how to build your ideal system.

Editor’s Note: What personality type are you? How does this impact how you get things done?

Image: Ambro

Leave a Comment


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

kirstenasimmons September 2, 2011 at 7:04 pm

@Tia Peterson Ok, this one’s going to sound odd, but do you have a favorite food or drink that you consume on a semi-daily basis? Try using that as your consequence. 😉

Tia Peterson September 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm

@kirstensimmons lol I BREAK them. 🙂 My sister asked me to try doing that; it didn’t work. I can’t figure out to make the consequences strong enough.

kirstensimmons September 2, 2011 at 11:12 am

@onhighheelzPR You’re right – I didn’t get into it in this post, but we’re a combination of our natural, or primary, type, and the expectations of the people surrounding us as we grow up. And we all have some of the basic Structural traits just from living in society – pretty much everyone has enough of a routine to brush their teeth each morning, for example, yet that level of routine is considered Structural. So perhaps you’re a primary Analytical with a secondary Structural leaning, given your desire to alphabetize. 🙂

onhighheelsprez September 1, 2011 at 1:47 pm

This is fantastic! I seem to be a combination of Fantastical-Analytical. Long reports make me hit the “dismiss” button. As a visually-oriented person, I love graphs and pictures. Just don’t describe them in too much details, just the facts, ma’am! Strangely enough, I need to alphabetize – it just makes organizing much easier. I think there’s a little bit of these four “types” in us – just some are more dominant in specific situations than others?

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm

@Gera You sound like me – I’m primary Fantastical with a really strong secondary Analytical. It’s quite the balancing act at times, but when the two work in sync I can create some amazing things. You too, I’m sure!

Glad you enjoyed the post!

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm

@MARLdblE Hi Marlee! Great to see another 3Ter around! 🙂 If lists work well for you, then my first guess is that you’re a Structural, or that you have a strong Structural secondary type. I’ll be curious to hear what your results are!

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm

@Tia Peterson One day isn’t quite the long haul!! Hmm, so if you remember appointments, what happens if you make appointments with yourself?

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm

@MorganBarnhart Thanks Morgan! I love that you’ve learned how to work with your personality – you’re so right, if you go against it, it is like death by boredom!

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm

@ayuboco I love getting this kind of comment – you’ve already figured out how you work best! I’d love to hear the feedback you get from your formerly baffled co-workers. 😀

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 11:58 am

@closetwriter Yep, the routine is the hardest part to overcome for Structurals – I think it’s just an extension of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. But that keeps us from evolving as individuals, so it’s important to revisit those routines from time to time.

Glad you enjoyed the post!

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 11:57 am

@Red Kathy Glad you enjoyed the post, Kathy! Definitely try block scheduling and see if that helps – you can also try getting your to-do list in an attractive, visual form so that you don’t have to keep track of the scrap of paper that people typically put their lists on. Let me know how it goes!

kirstensimmons September 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

Oooh, classical piano music as training to multi-task – I’ve never thought of it that way, and I love the idea! Singing is really quite similar, just with different body parts to keep track of.

Glad you enjoyed the post!

GrowMap September 1, 2011 at 2:44 am

No wonder productivity tools and lists don’t work for me. I’m a Fantastical, Analytical, Environmental individual with almost no Structural leanings. 🙂 On top of that I operate on G.S.T. (God’s Special Time) in interrupt mode to bring the most people from around the world into collaborations so I schedule almost nothing. Highly productive? Yes. Setting and meeting traditional goals? No.

I thank my background in reading classical piano music for the ability to do many things all at once and interact with six to eight people all at the same time in different Skype or IM windows while working on my latest project. While I do sometimes give my full attention, much of the time you get my full attention in much the same way a computer responds to interrupts: sequentially and quickly.

Red Kathy August 31, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Hi Kirsten,

Fascinating information and quite comforting as well. I’m definitely an Environmental. Lists have never worked for me. Once written, I remember them. So, for years and years I simply memorized my to do list, with tasks prioritized too. Now that age has begun to play it’s part, I really should seek help. My ADD tendencies along with my personality type makes focusing quite difficult.Combine that with an aging memory… deadlines are now my worst nightmare. Scheduling in blocks of time might just be the answer.

Thanks for the suggestion and great read!

closetwriter August 31, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Great post Kirsten. I really think I am the structural type and I need to revisit often what can be cut and adjusted!

Gera August 31, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Hi Kirsten,

You hit the nail on the head with the two first for me. I’m completely visual, the first, and second the analytical. I try to combine both personalities in one piece LOL, sometimes work and others not.

I like the way you analyzed those personalities and your tips 🙂

All the best,


ayuboco August 31, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Hi Kirsten,

Very interesting article here, not to mention very comforting. I can’t wait to share this with the people I used to work with who seemed baffled why I work better without a to-do list.

MorganBarnhart August 31, 2011 at 11:37 am

Hey Kristen! It is so true that our personalities have a lot to do with the way we work. We all like to think we’ll change, but it’s engrained in us at a very early age how we’ll act in certain situations. Instead of fighting it, it’s important to try to find a way to nurture it. I am very much environmental. However, I use this to my advantage as I’m a social media specialist and my ‘environment’ is social media. Thus I use this to my advantage to get things done by chatting on skype, constantly checking Twitter and FB, read an article (like right now) and in general just seeing what’s around me at all times. Do I still get things done? Oh frick yeah! I’m more productive that way, actually. If I don’t take breaks, I feel like I could die! LOL If we know what type of personality we are, we can figure out how to work with it and get stuff done. Great article!!!

Tia Peterson August 31, 2011 at 9:19 am

Hey Kirsten – Thanks for this article. I couldn’t wait to publish it, because I definitely fall into either the analytical or possibly the environmental categories and I’ll tell you what: I could plan to list and list to plan all day long and NEVER get anywhere. So far the only thing I’ve found that keeps me even semi-organized is a strange ability I have to remember appointments. But I don’t have the ability to keep myself on track, so I need something. But a regular list won’t work.

Not too long ago I tried “planning” my day – using some worksheet for ADHD types. It actually did work. For one day. lol I can’t seem to find something I can stick with for the long haul.

MARLdblE August 31, 2011 at 9:07 am

Hey Kirsten!

Fellow 3Ter here, great article! I didn’t realize that there was another way to truly “organize” using anything other than a list. Partly because lists work great for me. I’m curious about what kind of productivity personality I have, so I plan to swing by and take your test for sure!

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