They even noticed that her car — her “sales office on the road” — was spotless and kept in careful order.
Meanwhile, Carson was achieving or exceeding her sales goals, even when compensation plans changed and everyone else was thrown for a loop. Her team figured out that there was a clear connection between organization and success.
They started coming to her with questions: “How do you stay so organized?” “How are you planning your day?” And of course, “How on earth are you keeping your email under control?”
“I have always loved organization and structure,” Carson said. “And really, that was something I had never thought that you could teach.”
But as she fielded their questions, helping them to get out from under their chaos and become more successful at their jobs, she realized two things:
- She had an unusual gift for creating and maintaining order — a gift that would inspire her to start her own management consulting company, Working Simply
- Although some people were naturally organized like her, it actually was possible to teach anyone how to be more organized (and more successful as a result)
It was on a long plane ride after starting her consultancy that Carson had a third realization: she was tired of watching her clients get increasingly frustrated as they tried to adopt ill-fitting techniques and tools with a one-size-fits-all approach. There had to be a better way.
This epiphany went on to form the basis for Carson’s four Productivity Styles — which in turn became foundation of her popular new book, Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, and of the consulting work she does for clients including AbbVie, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, and Wells Fargo.
Discovering Your Personal Productivity Style
“What I’ve found,” Carson said, “is that many folks put themselves into a box. They read a book or hear an expert say that they should structure their day this way or manage their inbox that way.”
But there’s more than one box.
In fact, when it comes to productivity styles, there are four: Prioritizer, Planner, Arranger, and Visualizer.
“The Prioritizer’s thinking is very linear and analytical. Fact-based,” said Carson. “The Planner is very sequential, organized, and planned. The Arranger is very intuitive, communicative, and relational. And the Visualizer is that big-picture risk-taker, the brainstormer.”
When it comes to Carson herself, her primary preference is Planner, and her secondary is Arranger — “so I definitely merge those two styles,” she said. The Planner-Arranger combination enables her to be both an empathic, people-oriented coach and an astute analyst of processes, systems, and the interface between people and technology.
The subtitle of Carson’s book is “Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style” to emphasize the power that comes with understanding how you think and work best. (You can take her free assessment here — just click on “Take the Assessment” — to determine your own productivity style.)
That power is what comes from finally being able to identify your own style and use that knowledge to make more effective personal productivity choices.
And those people who were trying to fit themselves into a single box? “The system they’ve been trying to align to fundamentally doesn’t work for them — it doesn’t align to the way they think. Once they’re able to identify and understand their thinking style preference and then align it with a productivity strategy, it’s an liberating ‘aha’ moment,” said Carson.
“So the power of embracing your personal productivity style is what happens when you align strategies and solutions with how you think and process information.”
Carson is passionate about the message of taking ownership of your style and leveraging it to be productive at work.
“It’s your life!” she said emphatically. “You’ve got to step in and own it. Make sure that your systems support you and how you want to work.”
Customizing How You Use Technology Solutions
Once you discover your style, you can’t stop there. The next step is to identify how you can harness its power at work.
“Once you know your style,” Carson said, “you’re able to thoughtfully and intentionally select strategies, tools, and methodologies that align with the way you think. So it’s a two-part process involving the way you think and the way you structure your work.”
This is just as true for an individual who selects all of his or her own technology — like an independent consultant — as it is for an executive at a global corporation where everyone uses the same software. The key is how you use it.
“When a team or an organization has embraced a technology, we’re going to customize your interface or the way you use that tool,” Carson said.
For example, Outlook is widely used, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to set it up in exactly the same way.
“If you are a highly visual person,” Carson said, “maybe a Visualizer or an Arranger — and color helps you sort and prioritize — I’m going to suggest that you color-code incoming messages in Outlook. We’re leveraging your thinking. You need it visual. You need it colorful. We’re taking the technology and making it work for you.”
However, Carson isn’t likely to sit a Prioritizer down for an Outlook discussion that focuses on color-coding.
“For Prioritizers, it’s more black-and-white,” she said. “Think about it — an Excel spreadsheet is pure bliss for most Prioritizers! If you’re more linear and analytical, and you want to streamline your email processing, I’m going to suggest that you use the rules function. Again, it’s how you use the tool.”
Integrate with Outlook
If you use Redbooth and Outlook, check out the Redbooth for Outlook plugin. It makes it easy to turn emails into tasks and create new tasks right from Outlook.
Carson’s clients find that these customized interventions have a significant impact — beyond experiencing the relief that comes from interacting with Outlook in a way that feels right to them.
For instance, when they start customizing Outlook with strategies tailored to their productivity style, they often report decreasing the time they spend processing their inboxes, seeeing fewer messages lingering there, and feeling less stressed managing their email overall.
Communicating With People Who Don’t Share Your Style
Whether you’re writing an email, holding a meeting, or sitting down over coffee, it’s easy to understand and be understood when you all think the same way. So when Planners communicate with Planners, or Arrangers communicate with Arrangers, it feels easy and natural.
But many teams — and certainly all organizations — are going to have people who represent the full range of styles. So if you’re, say, a Visualizer, how can you best communicate with a Prioritizer?
“You’re going to need to tailor your communication,” said Carson. “The Visualizer is really focused on the why: Why not? Why does this project matter? Meanwhile, the Prioritizer is focused on the what. What’s the outcome, what’s the data.”
“So if I’m the Visualizer in this situation, I’m always going to open the conversation or the email with the what: ‘The goal today is to review the financial data from Q3 and make a decision on the final budget. I’ve attached the spreadsheet. Please let me know if you need any additional data.’ Period! Keep it short, sweet, succinct, and focused.”
For the Visualizer, this style might not feel natural. Writing just three sentences on the outcome and the facts feels abrupt…to the Visualizer. But it’s actually the best way to connect with a Prioritizer.
If the Prioritizer opens up an email and finds a lengthy discussion and lots of background information, “you’ve lost them in the first sentence,” said Carson. “With a Prioritizer, you’ve got to get to the point.”
It’s especially important to learn how to communicate with people who don’t share your productivity style when those people are decision-makers in your company.
Carson recently partnered with Harvard Business Review to gather survey data on readers’ productivity styles and their positions at their companies.
“What I found in the data,” said Carson, “and what I have observed in my consulting and coaching practice, is that corporate America tends to be more Prioritizers and Planners. That is the thinking that tends to dominate organizations. It’s also the thinking that is more prevalent in senior leaders.”
“And if you think about it, publicly traded companies have to meet earnings, their financial reports consistently have to be accurate. There are audits. There’s compliance. There’s planning, budgeting, process — just to keep these large organizations running. So you do tend to see that type of thinking.”
Of course, she says, there are exceptions to the rule. And Carson has observed a wider range of productivity styles in other types of companies. “I see a more diverse productivity style representation in more of the entrepreneurial, tech, startup, and marketing organizations.”
What it comes down to is that the people you are most motivated to communicate with — whether they’re in your organization, other organizations, or even your customers — may have a different productivity style. And being able to speak their language can make a world of difference.
“There’s an easy way to do this,” Carson said. “Prioritizers, as you know, want their what questions answered. Tell them the facts, the goals, the data. Planners are focused on the how: How has this been done in the past? How do you want me to do this now?”
“The Arranger,” she said, “is asking who questions: Who are the key stakeholders? Who else needs to know? Who are the end users? And the Visualizers are asking why questions: Why does it matter? Why are we doing it this way? They’re bringing that disruptive innovation, even when it drives the Planners crazy!”
Get More Clear, Feel Less Stressed
As you get more clarity around your own personal productivity style and the styles of your colleagues, you’re likely to find that stress at work decreases.
“You can almost hear people exhale,” said Carson. “Because they’re no longer trying to fit into a mold that doesn’t work for them — so there’s a sigh of relief that they can really embrace their productivity style and their strengths.”
This knowledge extends to communication as well, as people realize that communication differences may simply stem from having different styles.
“There’s a decrease in stress because they understand why Jim always sends an email with three words in it, and Susie sends the dissertation. It shifts from being annoying — ‘they’re trying to drive me crazy!’ — to seeing that it’s just their style, and here’s how you can work together.”
Building bridges between team members, gaining insight and putting it to work — these are the kinds of productivity investments that will continue to pay off long into the future. Whether you’re figuring out how to work with software more effectively or writing a better email, you’re freeing up energy that you can channel into making a real impact in your work.