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Which Productivity Type Are You?

by | Process

When Jill is focused on a task, there is no stopping her. She puts her head down and cranks away at whatever is in front of her until it’s complete. Jill ships. Always.

However, that’s also the downside of Jill’s approach to her work. Because of her fear of not shipping and her personal determination to get the work done whatever it takes, she often misses important environmental clues that could help her get the work done more effectively. Sure, she gets the job done, but it’s often not her best work, and she knows it.

Jill is a classic example of one of the three productivity types I frequently encounter in the creative workplace: the Driver.

The Three Types

Drivers are those who are motivated by the task in front of them. They can easily lose themselves in the work and ignore outside stimuli. The main goal is to get it done with less concern for the qualitative aspect of the work. They’re not trying to create something of lesser quality, it’s just that their primary metric is shipping.

There are many positives to this productivity type. The most advantageous part of being a Driver is that you regularly hit your marks on time, budget, and spec. You are less likely to fall prey to perpetual iteration. The downside, however, is that you can easily miss opportunities to make the work better because you are so concerned about getting to the finish line. A narrow focus horizon sometimes prevents you from seeing the periphery.

The second productivity type is the Drifter. They bounce from task to task, project to project, engaging a bit at a time as they go. It feels like they’re always “pushing a wall forward” because they have so many projects going at once. They are chronic starters, but they don’t always finish.

While there are clear downsides to being a Drifter, there are also a few times when it can be helpful. If you have the luxury of time, planning some drifting time into a project may not be a bad thing as you’re getting your bearings, but you must lock in at some point and take some ground. The Drifter has too broad of a focus horizon. There are few windows in the life of a creative pro where being a Drifter is acceptable.

The final mode, and in my opinion the most desirable one, is the Developer. These are creatives who function in alternating patterns of broad and narrow focus. They are able to step back regularly – daily, weekly, quarterly – then lock into task mode to get things done. They main thing that marks the Developer is that they are comfortable making forward progress even in the midst of uncertainty. Even in the midst of their work they are perpetually scanning the horizon for new insights, new opportunities, and new ways of approaching their work.

Here are a few strategies for spending more time in Developer mode:

1. Dedicate time each day to doing an analysis of needs for your work. What resources do you require? What conversations do you need to have?
2. Set clear goals and expectations for your day. What will success look like at the end of today? At the end of the week?
3. Spend a little time at the beginning of the day dreaming about your project(s). Take a walk, sit in a coffee shop, or space out at your desk and allow your mind to drift as you imagine the possibilities for your current work.
4. Dedicate focused time on your calendar to your most important work. Don’t expect brilliant work to happen in the cracks and crevices of your life. Dedicating time on the calendar for your most critical projects provides confidence that it will get done, which frees your mind to focus on the work itself rather than processes.

So much about effectiveness, especially in the uncertain world of the creative pro, is about preparation and clarity of expectations. Set yourself up for success by practicing alternating intensity and soft focus, and lock into Developer mode!

Your Turn: Do you see yourself reflected in these productivity types? When and how?

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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  1. Wade Arave

    I’m a drifter for sure, which I hate.  Mostly because it takes me a long time to get anything accomplished.  I get super aware of my surroundings that I put too much stuff on my plate and I stack up so much stuff that I never get back around to where I originally started to ship.  Uber frustrating.

    • Todd Henry

      Understood – been there. The good news is that there’s something that can be done to stem the drifting, no? 

      • Andreas Kopp

        I am also a drifter. Sometimes I hate it sometimes I like it. Recently I really managed to focus a bit more. Really not taking up any new projects and works as long as possible on one project to push it to the next stage. How have you managed to drift less?

        • Todd Henry

          (1) Pruning relentlessly (cutting unnecessary projects from my world) and (2) daily metrics for success on important projects.

  2. fjr

    I don’t know if I was a Developer by nature or whether I was shaped that way by the nature of the work I have done. While there may be many people in the workplace who are Drivers, I doubt there are many very creative people who are. Ineffective collaborations it can be convenient to have some of each, though these types do not necessarily enjoy working together!

    • fjr

      That should be “in effective,” not ineffective, though the point is real that it takes skill to collaborate in a group consisting of all three types!

      • Todd Henry

        I agree that it takes each of these types to make an effective flow for work – and that we all drift in and out of each from time to time. (Even drifting can be helpful at certain parts of a project.)

  3. Saya

    For a while I can see myself that I was a “driver” – When got a job from clients my focus was get it done on a budget and time , it went well but after while it killed my passion and hurt my creativity.
    I detected the problem and could get out of it. Not sure I am in developer mode but for sure trying to:)

  4. Domestic Executive

    By nature I’m a driver but on a good day now I’m a developer and on a bad day a drifter.  I went through a phase of feeling bad about not being a developer type all the time because I’m a leadership coach/facilitatator/consultant and espouse such discipline with my clients.  My breakthrough on all this came from reading Accidental Creative and realising that it was insufficient regulation of my energy and depleting levels of stimulus that makes me a drifter. Now I’m working on that and the all the days are getting better :o)

  5. Ralph Dopping

    Hey Todd, I understand your points about the Developer and it sounds like the ideal for creative work for sure. If you suggest that that the developer is a mix between both the driver and the drifter then I might ask does it not depend on your work and your position?

    I see a developer as a leader. I see a drifter as primarily a director and I see a driver as a production tech. Personally all three can and should exist synonomously to make an effective team. I know that wasn’t your point but that’s a question for you. Are all three necessary for an effective work environment or do you want to coach the entire team toward being a developer? 

    • Todd Henry

      Agreed – we occasionally need all three modes in order to be effect. I would argue that a 100% Driver production tech is not desirable either, because they may not be able to identify potentially useful new methods, etc. But your point is well-taken, that much of this depends on role and season.

  6. Jude

    When I grow up I want to be a developer. As a business owner, entrepreneur working daily to gain muscle, AND a mommy, I find myself working in the cracks all the time. Tuning into The Accidental Creative Podcast for my play list when I run is one way I stay motivated. I also use for project management. Thanks so much for consistently providing such high quality content. Love the Podcast! 

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