In observation of Women’s History Month, we are featuring blogs written by women who work at Vitalyst about their experience at the annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women, which was recently held in Philadelphia. In our third installment, Vitalyst contributing writer and former on-demand advisor Jen Sweeney recaps what she learned about productivity and her own work style during a session led by author Gretchen Rubin.

At one of my previous jobs, my night shift counterpart worked 2pm-11pm. Despite the post-noon start time, she would come in, buy two cans of Coke, and crack the first one open before she sat down at her desk. If you even tried to ask her a question that required a coherent response, she would point to the second can and say “Do you see this? Okay then …” We learned very quickly not to even approach her unless the first can was in the bin and the second one was open. “Not a morning person” didn’t even begin to describe her.

Science has proven there are early birds and there are night owls, yet there is still a ton of advice out there that ignores it—“Get up early and work out,” “Don’t eat after 8pm,” etc. In a recent session at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, author Gretchen Rubin speculated that one of the reasons most workers fail to accomplish as much as they are capable of is because they’re listening to generic advice instead of knowing—and listening to—themselves.

For example, Rubin asked, are you a:

  • Marathoner, working best in one long, uninterrupted stretch, or a Sprinter, accomplishing tasks with quick bursts of useful energy?
  • Moderator, who keeps a pound-plus bar of chocolate in your desk drawer and breaks off a piece every day, or an Abstainer, who saves it for a special occasion and devours it all at once?

Rubin also described different personality types, which she calls the Four Tendencies:

Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies. Which one are you? (Image:

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies. Which one are you? (Image:

  • Upholder: Responds readily to expectations—both external (from work, family and society) and internal (personal)
  • Questioner: Challenges all expectations, and will meet an expectation if it makes sense
  • Rebel: Resists all expectations—external and internal alike
  • Obliger: Meets external expectations, but struggles to meet personal ones

In addition to work style and personality type, Rubin explained that a person’s productivity type carries weight:

  • Analytical: Has a routine and knows how long it will take to accomplish any one particular task
  • Intuitive: Aligns tasks at hand to current energy level
  • Planner: Batches similar tasks together and adds buffer time just in case
  • Visual/Brainstormer: Attaches a lion’s mane of Post-It notes around the edges of the computer monitor, and, with a bit of caffeine, works at a task without stopping and finishes in half the time it takes everyone else to do the same

If, for example, you are a night owl/Moderator/Sprinter/Obliger, instead of booking your toughest assignment first thing Monday morning with a half-day appointment, you’d be better off blocking out your 4pm timeslot every day that week. Then on Friday at 5pm, schedule a meeting with someone else to review your work.

In her session, Rubin asserted that, to be productive at work, you must know yourself and your tendencies—both good and bad—so you can build a master task list to plan out your schedule. She explained it as:

  • Think: Brain dump everything you need to do into a rough draft
  • Take Action: Analyze your metrics and break paralyzing large steps into smaller, actionable ones
  • Sort: Give your plan of attack a structure
  • Keep: Keep one master list that you can access at all times

Are you a Moderator, who keeps a pound-plus bar of chocolate in your desk drawer and breaks off a piece every day, or an Abstainer, who saves it for a special occasion and devours it all at once?

The focus of the session was not only to help you determine who you are and how you work, but also to encourage you to stand up for yourself and not be afraid to set your optimal schedule. Be assertive without being pushy. For example, Rubin suggested presenting your task timeframes with clear goals and update meetings.

I came away from the session with a better understanding of who I am and how I prefer to get things done. I’m certainly a night owl and a Sprinter, but I often struggle with competing Rebel and Obliger tendencies. For my current position, I’m going to take Rubin’s suggestions, which means I will need to honestly assess myself and put effort into creating—and sticking to—a reasonable plan.

Rubin’s topic brought to mind a quote from Socrates: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” For the 21st century, his sentiment might be updated to “Spinning your wheels gets you nowhere—unless you are in an exercise class.”

Rubin’s session has also enabled me to understand Vitalyst’s customers a little better. They call most often when something is not working as it should, and it’s affecting their productivity. Our job is to help them get back up to speed—without spinning their wheels.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of several books, including New York Times best-sellers “Better Than Before” and “The Happiness Project.” On her weekly podcast “Happier with Gretchen Rubin,” she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft. Rubin started her career in law and was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer.

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