We’ve all been there. You’re trying to get more work done or minimize the amount of time you spend working, so you look at how other people do it, right? You copy them by making lists, using the Pomodoro Technique, working first thing in the morning so you’re not interrupted, etc. And sometimes it works, but a lot of times it doesn’t, and you’re left wondering what’s wrong with you that you can’t get the same results.
Guess what? Nothing’s wrong with you! Everyone is different, and everyone’s work style and needs are different. One thing I have to learn over and over again is to work with, not against my personality and natural tendencies when it comes to being productive.
So how can you work with your personality type instead of feeling bad that you don’t have a different one? While there are several personality frameworks out there, I’m not going to go into Enneagram types or Myers-Briggs (though if you haven’t fallen down the Enneagram rabbit hole yet, it’s highly illuminating.) For this article I want to discuss Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies and how they can help you make progress toward your IDOL goals (or be more productive at work once you’ve reached them).
Rubin writes about “happiness, habits, and human nature,” and she’s the author of many books, including The Happiness Project. Her book on the Four Tendencies was published in 2017, but you don’t need to read it to learn about or benefit from this framework. If you’re not already familiar with her work or you haven’t taken the quiz, you can click here to take the short assessment and find out your tendency. Rubin’s “aha moment” came when a friend mentioned being frustrated with herself because she was unable to maintain an exercise regimen on her own, though she had no trouble attending high school track practice.
This conversation led Rubin to analyze the role that expectations play in our actions, and how different people respond to inner and outer expectations. Thus, the Four Tendencies framework was born.
The Tendencies are as follows:
Upholders respond readily to both inner and outer expectations. If you’re an Upholder, good for you! I’m not going to talk much about Upholders, because you all seem to have it figured out on your own.
Obligers respond well to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. Obligers are the largest of the four groups.
Questioners question everything. We’ll meet either inner or outer expectations, but only if they make sense to us. Questioners want to know why they have to do something, and if they don’t like the answer, they probably won’t do it. Since I’m a Questioner, this explains why I can be on time to work with no problem, but I struggle to get out the door on time to meet friends for dinner. I know there will be negative consequences if I’m late for work, but my friends will wait for me and probably not mind too much.
The last group is Rebels. Rebels struggle to respond to both types of expectations. It can be hard to get Rebels to do things, but I’ll let you in on the secret a little later.
The aforementioned friend of Gretchen Rubin’s, who couldn’t exercise on her own but made it to track practice no problem? She’s an Obliger. She knew she had to go to practice if she wanted to be on the team, and she knew she had to be on time to keep her coach happy.
So how can you use your Tendency to meet your IDOL goals? (Don’t forget to join the IDOL Mug Club once you do!)
Are you an Obliger? The key to being able to do what you want is to create outer accountability. This is where IDOL accountability groups come in. It’s important to find your people, and to ask them to hold you accountable. They could ask you if you’ve completed the asset you’ve been saying you’re going to work on, or how many jobs you’ve applied to this week. It helps for Obligers to publicly proclaim an intention, and then to have someone follow up to see if they’ve done it.
If you’re an Upholder, you likely have little trouble meeting your IDOL goals, unless time constraints get in the way. Where Upholders get in trouble is by not fully articulating their goals, such as in writing, or on a vision board like in the lesson in the academy. If you’re not straightforward about what you hope to accomplish, it’s less likely to happen.
If you’re a Questioner like me, it’s all going to come back to your Why. Again, the vision board helps make this concrete. If you’re coming home after a long day at your full time job and struggling to get going on your goals, it may be that you don’t really think they are worth it, or you don’t see the clear path to making it happen. (You may also just be tired. Rest is important too.) If you have something visual to remind yourself of why you want to do the work, it will be easier to get your butt in the seat and get the work done. Just keep asking yourself, “Why?” Why do I need to work on my portfolio? Why do I need to apply for jobs? Why do I want to be an instructional designer?
If you’re a Rebel, you’re going to have a difficult time working toward your goals in a traditional manner, and you probably already know this about yourself. You might be a Rebel if, the moment someone tells you to do something you were going to do anyway, you no longer want to do it. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you can’t be productive, you just have to understand how you work.
Rebels thrive when they are plugged into their sense of identity and who they want to be. Do you want to be an instructional designer? Do you want to be an informed member of the learning and development community? Do you want to be known as someone who produces excellent graphic design, effective needs analysis, or on-point learning objectives? It might help to figure out what it is about being an instructional designer that appeals to you, and work to make that part of your identity. If you don’t want to be known as someone who writes so-so content, you might focus on presenting yourself as someone who is known for producing engaging eLearning courses.
Another strategy for Rebels is to write “could do” instead of “to do” lists. Rebels benefit from choice, and writing a “could do” list gives you a clear sense of what you can choose to spend your time on, so it feels less restricting. And if you have a hard deadline that’s giving you trouble, stop and ask yourself if you want to be known as a person who misses deadlines and causes other people to struggle to meet theirs as a result.
The “could do” list can also translate into a bigger picture strategy when it comes to working with Rebels, which is, instead of telling them what you want them to do, make it an option. They are more likely to do it if you present it as a choice rather than a demand or even a request.
Of course, there will be times when a task must be done, and it cannot be presented as optional. In this case, it may help to use what Rubin calls the strategy of “Information, Consequences, Choice.” Present the Rebel with the task you need completed, tell them what the consequences will be if they don’t complete it, and then emphasize that they have a choice in what to do. It’s not fool-proof, but it does work.
No matter your Tendency, there’s a way to make it work for you. Next time you’re struggling to get a task checked off your list, consider how you’re framing the expectation and work with, not against your personality type.
Written By: Mallory Pickert
Mallory joined IDOL courses Academy in January 2022 after almost nine years as a high school English teacher, and now works as an instructional designer. When she’s not working or tinkering with her portfolio, she enjoys reading, working in her garden, and snuggling her dog Nutmeg. She would love to connect with you on LinkedIn.