The 12 Dysfunctional Personal Productivity Personalities

Everyone has a productivity personality. It’s the collection of strengths, weaknesses, and day-to-day habits that come together to determine how a person works best.

I’ve written often about how important it is to get a handle on your own personal productivity personality, but it’s important that you don’t stop there. After all, most of us depend on others at some point in our day and the individual work styles and attitudes of those around us can have a huge impact on our own ability to get things done.

That’s why I put together a list of the 12 dysfunctional personal productivity personalities. Hopefully this list will help you smile (rather than cringe) the next time a coworker’s bad habits start to drive you up the wall. I’ve also included some thoughts on how to deal with each of these pesky personalities.

So here they are, in no particular order:

1. Scrappers. The scrapper’s desk look like a modern art exhibit, covered in scraps of paper and sticky notes. They write important notes on whatever is close at hand, whether it’s a fast food receipt or the back of an envelope (a scrapper’s favorite).

Handling the scrapper: You can’t force scrappers to adopt a comprehensive planning system or put all of those little scraps into Outlook or a BlackBerry (although you could try to coach them). What you can do is make sure that items pertaining to your work don’t get lost in the shuffle. Send follow-up e-mails detailing key meeting take-aways, check in before important deadlines, and never fail to follow up on a delegated task.

2. Pilers. Pilers have a lot in common with scrappers, except it is generally much more difficult to navigate your way through the piler’s office. They keep everything and file nothing. There will be boxes on the floor and every inch of desk space will be occupied by stacks of paper, generally piled up to the point that an archeologist could use them to figure out what the piler has been working on for the last five years.

Handling the piler: The best thing you can do for the piler is simple: don’t add anything to the piles. Chances are that any document, book, or report that you put in the piler’s hands is going to end up in heap someplace, where it is probably as good as gone. Never hand your only hard copy over to a piler unless you are ready to kiss it goodbye. Also, be sure to set clear deadlines. Their idea of giving something a high priority is placing it on their (generally largest) “immediate attention” stack. Don’t ask them to do something “right away,” ask them to do it by a specific date.

3. Multi-taskers. Multi-taskers always have a thousand things going on at once and generally take pride in it. They flit from task to task, getting many things started but few things completed. And they often appear frazzled, overwhelmed, and scattered.

Handling the multi-tasker: Always use caution when working with a multi-tasker. He or she will rarely admit that they don’t have the capacity to take on another task and can easily become distracted by competing priorities. Always double-check, very directly, with multi-taskers to make sure that they can and will do what is expected in an agreed-upon timeframe.

4. Interrupters. “Gotta minute?” It’s practically the interrupter’s catch phrase. They will constantly show up at your desk, interrupting your day and derailing your train of thought. Their interruptions are sometimes trivial and sometimes relevant, but almost always ill-timed.

Handling the interrupter: You have to be honest on this one. If someone asks if you have a minute, don’t be afraid to tell them you don’t. The more cautiously you guard your own time, the more others will begin thinking twice before asking for it needlessly. A polite response to an interruption is to simply point out that no, you don’t have any time right now but would be happy to meet later in the day if needed. Beyond that, a simple “Do Not Disturb” sign can go a long way – just don’t abuse it.

5. Procrastinators. Some people seem clinically incapable of doing anything before the last possible moment. They start things with just enough time to squeeze them in before the deadline. You’ll also notice that procrastinators tend to put off high-value (often challenging) tasks in favor of more pleasant, less critical ones.

Handling the procrastinator: Don’t let a procrastinator drag your project team down. The best way to get out ahead of a procrastinator is to plan in advance and evaluate results on an ongoing basis, not just when the work is done. If your procrastinator is expected to deliver a weekly progress report, they’ll be more likely to stay on track. Of course, you should probably steer clear immediately before your meeting. That will be crunch time.

6. Socializers. Socializers waste inordinate amounts of time chatting with coworkers and keeping up with the personal lives of everyone at the office. They’re great at planning the company party, but tend to fall short in other ways.

Handling the socializer: Socializers do what they do because they get something out of it – interaction, stress relief, distraction from work, whatever. If you don’t have anything along those lines to offer, they’ll lost interest in you pretty quickly. You just need to be sure not to play along. If you’re in the habit of nodding your head and smiling while others talk your ear off, then you are part of the problem. Politely point out that you are trying to keep your day on track and need to get back to what you were doing.

7. Meeting addicts. Some people apparently just love to call meetings. Maybe they really enjoy the setting and the interaction or maybe it honestly has never occurred to them that it is possible to get things done without putting half the department around a conference table. Either way, the result is a lot of time wasted by everyone involved.

Handling the meeting addict: First of all, don’t be afraid to decline a meeting when it’s appropriate to do so. Simply state that you don’t feel your presence is needed and ask that you be kept in the loop on any important outcomes that might affect your work. Second, don’t be afraid to suggest an alternative to a meeting. When you get the request, simply call the organizer to ask if the matter could be handled by e-mail or conference call. In fact, you might be able to resolve the issue on the spot and save everyone a lot of time and disruption.

8. Crisis creators. We’ve all been there. A lack of planning by one person leads to a crisis for everyone else. Even minor issues are exaggerated into a full-blown disaster and everyone involved ends up feeling stressed and drained as a result. Crisis creators seem to always be fighting fires and coworkers are often dragged into the fray.

Handling the crisis creator: Unfortunately, we often have to step in and help fight fires even if they aren’t our fault. If a certain individual is constantly working in crisis mode, it is important that you don’t play into the drama. Keep a cool head and don’t get overly stressed. Then, once the crisis is resolved, insist on a debriefing meeting to figure out what went wrong. Once crisis creators realize that problems aren’t going to be forgotten once the crisis is over, they’ll be more inclined to stay out of trouble in the first place.

9. E-mailers. They send an e-mail for everything. It doesn’t matter how simple or how complicated an issue is, an e-mail message is the answer. They never use the phone, they never walk across the hall to deliver a ten-word message, and they usually LOVE the “Reply All” button.

Handling the e-mailer: Usually you won’t have much luck influencing the e-mail habits of a colleague, although you can specifically request the recipients do NOT Reply to All but respond to you directly instead. What you CAN do is set clear expectations concerning your own use of e-mail. If you only check your messages a few times each day, tell people that so they don’t expect you to treat Outlook like an instant messaging service. People are generally pragmatic about things and if e-mail isn’t a good way to get a response from you, they’ll stop using it for everything.

10. Packrats. Packrats have never thrown anything away in their professional lives. They don’t worry about the company’s records retention policy, because they retain everything, no matter what. They are often overwhelmed by their own treasure trove of obsolete documents, but will come in handy if you ever need to take a look at the final report from that project that was cancelled in 1986.

Handling the packrat: Packrats are sometimes highly organized creatures, but are often more worried about the thickness of their project files than they are about what’s inside. Never trust a packrat to manage priorities or to take away the key points from any given interaction. Be direct about what you need from them so you don’t end up with a ton of unnecessary research or extraneous background information. Just the facts, please.

11. Perfectionists. By insisting on doing everything perfectly, perfectionists generally fail to accomplish much at all. They can never finish, because it “can always be better.” They work hard, but complete little. Perfectionists keep meticulous meeting notes, promise the world during planning sessions, and often seem to crack up just as the project is coming together.

Handling the perfectionist: When you are working with a perfectionist, it’s a good idea to plan for frequent touch points throughout the project. Rather than expecting to reconvene at the end, schedule several synch-up meetings along the way. Define the level of expectation and the exact deliverables. This will help keep the perfectionist working in manageable (if imperfect) chunks and also give the person a chance to dazzle you with little presentations throughout the project. Perfectionists just love that.

12. Workaholics. The workaholic works an 80 hour week and never misses an opportunity to remind you of it. Puzzling, though, is the fact that they seem to accomplish less than others working half the hours. The workaholic typically has no boundaries between work and home life.

Handling the workaholic: Remember that to a workaholic, “end of day” does not mean five o’clock. Usually, it means “before tomorrow.” When you are expecting something from a workaholic, keep in mind that you will likely see an e-mail roll in at 10:45 p.m. Also remember that there is no sense of urgency to a workaholic. Since they plan to be working into the evening anyway, they tend to waste time during normal business hours. You can subtlety nudge them in your direction by saying things such as “I’d like to have that by three o’clock so that I can be out the door on time tonight.”

I have no doubt that at least a few of these 12 dysfunctional productivity personalities will have you smiling and thinking of someone you work with. But also keep in mind that each of us has a little of one or more of these personalities in us as well. So as we work to deal better with our chronically troublesome coworkers, we should also be willing to improve on our own little areas of personal dysfunction. Now THAT is productivity improvement!