what’s your time management personality type?

If you struggle with time management (and who among us doesn’t?), you probably fall into one of five common styles. If you can identify your time management “personality,” it will make it easier to figure out what changes might help you make better user of your time.

Take a look at these five types and see if you recognize yourself.

1. Procrastinator. If you often find that you still haven’t started work that you had intended to complete days earlier, or if it’s hard for you to sit down and start a piece of work, or if you often do low-priority work as more important deadlines are looming, you’re probably a procrastinator. Most people procrastinate at least occasionally, but if it’s interfering with your ability to perform at the level you’re capable of and accomplish the things you want to do, it’s time to take action.

What to do: Since the hardest part is often just getting started, try working in small chunks. Tell yourself that you’re going to sit down and work on a project for just a small chunk of time – one hour, say, or even just 15 minutes. You may find that it’s easier to keep going once you start. Also, set yourself interim deadlines. Break projects into pieces, and resolve to get one piece done per day or week.

2. Never Say No. If you can’t think of the last time you said no to a request, no matter how far afield from your own priorities, and end up taking on so many commitments that you can’t possibly get it all done without exhausting yourself, this is you. You might think you’re being helpful or a team player, but in your efforts to do everything, you’ll usually end up letting some things slip because you’re simply too overloaded to remember it all, let alone tackle everything. And of course, you can’t do a good job for anyone if you burn out from exhaustion or if you’re so overwhelmed that you can’t meet your commitments.

What to do: Make a point of getting clear in your own head about what’s truly important for you to achieve, and how much time it will take you to achieve it. When a new request comes your way, ask yourself whether it’s in line with your top priorities. If it’s not, can you realistically accommodate it without displacing any of your other priorities? And remember that if you say yes to something new, you will be spending less time on something else. Is that a trade-off that’s in your best interests?

3. Fire Fighter. If everything feels like a crisis to you and you spend much of your time putting out fires, leaving you without much time for your biggest priorities, you’re probably a Fire Fighter.

What to do: Get very clear on your most important goals. Make a list of what you need to accomplish in order for today to be a success (or this week, or this year). Work on other items only if you finish your must-do’s for today. Also, try setting aside “work blocks” on your calendar to work on your highest priorities, and don’t let yourself schedule over them.

4. Under-estimator. If you usually think you’ve left yourself enough time to complete your to-do list and then are surprised when you end up missing a deadline, this is probably you. We all under-estimate how much time things will take on occasion, but when it has become a pattern in your work, it’s time to revisit your approach.

What do to: Assume as a rule that things will take longer than you think they will. Build in a buffer (one that seems much longer than you’ll need), and start earlier than you think you need to, reminding yourself of what your pattern has been. Also, spend some time reviewing how long past assignments took and why, and see if you can find patterns there that can inform your thinking in the future.

Easily Distracted. You sit down at your computer to work on a project that’s due later today, but first you just need to check your email. You see a colleague pass by in the hall and jump up to chat. When you get back to your desk, you have three new emails so you spend some time reading and responding. You’re about to return to the project, but … doughnuts are in the kitchen! If you’re easily distracted, you might enjoy handling a wide variety of things at once, but if it means that you’re never quite able to bring the focus that you need to larger projects, it’s time to think about changing your habits.

What to do: you know you’re less likely to work straight through a project without interruption, build in extra time when planning out a project. Also, physically block out distractions, like by turning your desk to face the wall rather than the doorway or using noise-canceling headphones to help keep you focused on the task at hand.  You might even try working when no one else is around, like by coming in early blocking out time in the evening to do work that requires the most concentration.

Originally published at Intuit Quickbase.

{ 57 comments… read them below }

    1. The Bimmer Guy*

      Yep. I’m every one of them except for the Fire Fighter. But you’d be happy to know I’m only commenting because it’s my lunch break.

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      You have no idea how happy I am to see other people copping to more than one of these. I thought I was going to be the bane of the AAM community because I’m all of them except the Firefighter. Somehow, it seems that I appear ‘together’ to my bosses, but I always have a feeling that one of these days I’m going to drop a ball and it’s going to be baaaad . . .

  1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

    I’m a combination of Procrastinator and Easily-Distracted.

    If I ever got better, Alison’s traffic might plummet :)

  2. 42*

    Never Say No here.

    But I’ve learned my lessons and am getting much better. I’m fortunate to have a manager who encourages us to raise the flag if we foresee a disaster coming.

  3. Sophia Brooks*

    I was coming right hear to say I am an easily distracted, procrastinating Fire Fighter who Never Says No! About 50% of my job as an Admin Ass’t is actually Fire Fighting, so it sort of works for me.

  4. asteramella*

    Procrasti-Distracted! Which reminds me, I’m both procrastinating and distracted right now. Back to work!

  5. Rat in the Sugar*

    Dang, I’m the easily distracted procrastinator. I’ve heard that advice about working in small chunks of time and it’s honestly helped in the past. I keep meaning to go back to it, but I keep getting…well…


    1. Lily Rowan*

      Same, same.

      OK, now I’m really going to spend the next hour on that thing I should have done weeks ago (but which has no firm deadline….)!

    2. katamia*

      Hehe, same, although I think much of my procrastination stems from the distraction. When I’m not distracted, I’m pretty good about motivating myself to work, but my not getting distracted is pretty rare.

    3. Undercover for this*

      I am also an easily distracted procrastinator. Hence why I am reading AAM when I should be doing a Teapot Design document.

  6. Jodi*

    I think I’m actually something else completely! I try to get things done IMMEDIATELY so that there is no chance it falls off my radar. This usually means I’m rushing to complete an assignment that isn’t due for another two weeks, just so I can check it off of my to-do list.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I do that too! I am sometimes guilty of all the bad habits Alison mentions in the article, but I have ADHD and have figured out a lot of good time-management techniques. I’m probably a firefighter by nature, but this article makes me feel like I’ve mostly got it under control (at work, anyway).

      One thing that made a huge difference for me: I found a job with shorter-term projects and tighter deadlines. Less room for procrastination and fewer tasks that require sustained attention for more than half an hour or so. Finding a position that’s structured to work with me instead of against me has been a game changer.

    2. Rat Racer*

      But wait, what happens to all the other things on your to-do list when you jump to solve the newest problems/projects first?

      1. AnotherFed*

        GONE! Eventually they fall off the bottom of the to-do list because no one came back to put them at the top of the list again.

        This is so me.

      2. Master Bean Counter*

        This is why I love having a white board. A list in front of my nose really helps to keep me on track.

        1. Prismatic Professional*

          I have gone through countless notepads. I keep a running to do list. Some things fall off when they are super low priority and there are other crises happening, but all the important stuff gets done!

    3. CrazyCatLady*

      Me too! It’s an absurd and unnecessary sense of urgency, but I prefer it to forgetting things or dropping the ball.

    4. Golden Yeti*

      Oh this is so me. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one.

      I hate hate hate having things hanging over my head to do later; I find it stressful. I have this impulse to always do it NOW. So I end up essentially playing whack-a-mole-with tasks, which makes prioritizing a challenge.

      Maybe that’s what that method could be called–the Whack-A-Mole?

      As my spouse put it, it’s like I’m driving at 100 mph when my boss is only going 60. One thing that’s helped me a lot is scheduled e-mails; I do my project right away, and compose the email with the attachment, but I schedule it to send closer to when the project is actually due. It satisfies my compulsiveness, but doesn’t give my boss the idea that I’m a machine who can bust through any deadline with ease.

    5. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I wish I could get that. I do hate the feeling of having a task hanging over my head, but, irrationally, that is one of the things that leads me to procrastinate. I have a task hanging over my head, and I hate the feeling, so I ignore the task and the feeling and hope they will both go away. Then I have an ever-worsening feeling about the task until I actually do it in a fit of angst, and nine times out of ten, doing it wasn’t terrible at all. Since doing it usually doesn’t turn out to be so bad, I can’t figure out why I then repeat the pattern! Something is wrong with me!

      1. pieces of flair*

        Sadly, I do both. If it’s a small and/or relatively simple task, I do it right away even if I should be doing something higher-priority. If it’s a more complex or difficult task, I procrastinate.

    1. Prismatic Professional*

      I would read that article. Many times. Go buy several cheeses, and read it again whilst taste testing them. I love cheese.

  7. Mike C.*

    I’m not a procrastinator, I simply embrace my employer’s commitment to Just In Time philosophies!

  8. Emmy Rae*

    Hmm. I’m Easily Distracted but my job includes reception so it is impossible to do my job properly if I take the prescribed action. Good thing I have very few deadlines!

  9. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*


    I’m #4 Under-estimator, of an extra special flavor: I’m also a scope increaser/project expander.

    I’ve gotten used to my “it always takes longer than I think”, so I plan for that but then, midway thru, I always want to do more, make it better and shinier and if I find I’ve actually planned the correct amount of time: I MAKE THE PROJECT BIGGER, so I am still huffing and puffing and racing to the end, possibly having to cut short from the bigger goal in order to make the deadline.

    It’s so common, people laugh at me. Just this morning, I increased a project two fold, but only added another week and said, “yep, this is what I do, but this will be so much better don’t you think”. And now I have to figure out how teh hell to pull it off.

  10. New Bee*

    I’m an underestimating never say no-er, especially since my current job requires local travel. (I used to be a classroom teacher, and now I coach teachers at different schools in the area.) I do a lot of planning to avoid peak traffic times, but I forget to plan for how exhausting it can be to spend so much time in the car, so I need to plan a buffer between getting back home and jumping into emails and other projects.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      My job has similar travel requirements – the worst for me is what happened today, when I had 3 visits with about an hour between each one – enough time to go to the office, start something, pack up, then leave. Argh.

  11. Soupspoon McGee*

    I used to work in a dysfunctional place with a culture of bad time management. I’m an easily-distracted procrastinator who tends to underestimate how much time it takes to do a task, but in this place, I was seen as rigid and uptight. I know my own weaknesses, and I worked in grants which forced me to be meticulous about planning and getting things done on time, but I could not get other people to give me information by my deadlines because they were focused on the fires or the next shiny object. It was chronic, top down.

    In a short-answer day, Alison addressed my letter about people kept missing meetings or turning up 30 minutes late because something came up. Something was always coming up. There really wasn’t a fix because the bosses did the same thing and did not see a problem. Of course, they saw problems when I didn’t get results.

    This made me very good at combatting my own time-management issues because I had to build in systems around people who were worse than me! But now that I’m going back to school, I have to fight the urge to do the fun things and assume I can do the hard or tedious assignments later in just an hour or two.

  12. Mallory Janis Ian*

    I’m back to procrastinate some more by being distracted on AAM. I have one hour left in the day to get done the thing that I was supposed to do before leaving today. So now, with my hair on fire, I’m going to turn my attention to that task. Gah.

  13. Techfool*

    I’m decisive, touch everything only once, finish what I start, don’t multitask, spend most of the day doing things that are important but not urgent (so they don’t become important AND urgent), and turn off email alerts.
    Well, that’s the plan.

  14. Middle Name Jane*

    I seem to be a combination of all of these. Making a list, setting Outlook reminders with extra time built in, and using a white noise app on my phone have helped.

  15. Shortie*

    I am a “Never Say No” and an intermittent “Under-estimator”.

    Re: the “Never Say No”, it’s a bit of a problem in my organization. People aren’t really allowed to say no to much, and you are treated as if you aren’t a team player, or worse, a complainer, when you say no. Normal tactics around pushing back and prioritizing and saying A and B will be late if we add C and D do not usually work here. I push back anyway, so maybe a more accurate term for me (and most others in my company) would be “Said No 8 Times and It Didn’t Work So I Finally Just Gave Up and Tried To Do It All”. LOL. I dunno. Would love some advice and my colleagues probably would too.

    Re: the intermittent “Under-estimator”, what I mean by that is that somehow, even after a long time in my job and two decades in the workforce, I cannot appropriately estimate the time it will take to do anything. I either wildly overestimate or wildly underestimate. It has truly become ridiculous. I’ve even taken to recording exact start and end times when working on things so I can use the estimates for similar tasks or projects later, and I’m still usually wrong. Perhaps it all evens it out in the end (?), but it drives me crazy that I can’t seem to master this.

    1. Rana*

      I have that problem, plus I also tend to take my most optimistic timeframes and assume they are always possible (like a given trip must take 13 minutes because that’s how long it took one day with no traffic and perfect timing on the stoplights, even though most days it’s more like 25-30 minutes to do). Add in distractability, and boy howdy do I find it to be a ton of effort getting myself places on time. So. much. work.

      I did find a partial solution for the underestimating, at least for projects. There are a lot of cheap or free desktop or phone apps for timing your work. If you keep a record of the timing for past projects, eventually you get better at ballparking the best and worst case scenarios.

      1. Rana*

        Oh, since this wasn’t maybe clear, given that you do write down start times, etc. I find the apps somehow work better than doing that (at least for me). I think it’s because they’re easy and I don’t have to think about them, plus it’s easier to flip through the records later. Some of them also allow you to break down projects by sub-tasks, which can be helpful when you’re dealing with complex things and you’re not quite sure where the bottlenecks are.

  16. Greg*

    A little bit of a Procrastinator, but mostly I’m an Easy Distractor. Two things that I’ve found helpful:

    1. Prioritizing my to-do list so that the things that are most important (not necessarily the most urgent) are at the top. I use a modified version of the Printable CEO (http://davidseah.com/2005/11/the-printable-ceo-series/)
    2. Using the Pomodoro Technique (http://pomodorotechnique.com/)

    But really, what I’ve finally realized is most important is that you have to be doing work that motivates you (not necessarily every single task, but at a macro level). The best hacks in the world can’t make you productive at work you hate.

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