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Working Styles

Something we’ve observed recently at Asian Efficiency is that different people we know have very different ways of working and that there are things we can learn from each of them.

I know, it seems obvious – everyone works somewhat differently – but when we started to break down what each person was doing, what we found were very different strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s put it out there first – everyone works differently, and no “one style” is the ideal. It is however, useful to think of your “working style” as something that has unique strengths and weaknesses, and use that as a basis to analyze and improve upon your own productivity.

Not to mention that you can pull a Sylar and steal the better aspects of other people’s working styles.

A note for the RPG fans amongst us: think of your working style a class with particular perks and proficiencies – everyone has a unique combination that you can improve through experience and use.

We’re going to present 5 different working styles below – there are of course many more, but here’s a start to seeing what their strengths and weaknesses are.

A Model?

Is there a model for breaking this down? Sure there is. But we’re still working on it, so let’s save it for a future article or newsletter.

Style #1: The Pomodoro-Focus Master

Working Style 1 The Pomodor Focus Master (Yoda)

This working style is about getting as much work done as possible in as few blocks of time as possible. Typically, this working style doesn’t mind the daily 9-5 routine, split up say between 9-12 and 1-5. They like to get everything done in one continuous, uninterrupted timespan, and then they want to be able to go about enjoying the rest of their day.

“Even and tempered” is probably a good description of how they work – normal hours, not all that much craziness in schedule and solid productive output all-year-round.

When practitioners of this style are at work though, they’re at work. They’ll chunk into 25/50-minute pomodoro segments and naturally take the appropriate 5-10 minute breaks for water/air.

Their pace of work is moderate to almost intense (but never quite there), and they never have a feeling that they’re juggling too many things at once. They work like this because they typically want to – not because they have to.

One line summary: methodical and on-schedule.

There is however, a downside to the even-paced production of output: this working style has extreme difficulty pulling all-nighters and switching to work-mode during downtime. This can be especially detrimental if working across timezones. They also don’t deal well with interruptions while they are working.

Style #2: Because It Needs To Be Done

Working Style 2 Because It Needs To Be Done (The Thing)

This style is all about doing the right thing.

You’ll find this working style always working on something when they’re in the office – even if their output isn’t all that high. They’ll put in longer and more hours than anyone else you know, but somewhat only produce slightly more. Their work intensity ranges a lot between very low and very high (usually when deadlines are close).

They’re not a huge fan of taking breaks, preferring instead to “power through” and get it done.

This style is your classic investment banker, consultant or up-and-coming lawyer.

Probably the most amazing ability that these people have is their ability to work continuously with very few breaks and very little downtime.

The downside? Doing this for too long can lead to burnout. It saps your willpower, discipline and motivation to always be “on” and working. Outside of a few, very passionate professionals who really love their jobs, most of the people with this working style are working because they have to, not because they particularly want to (and they may not even be conscious of that choice and distinction).

Style #3: Cycles and Circles

Working Style 3 Cycles and Circles (Batman)

Style #3 uses the theory of hero mode to maximum potential. They really, really enjoy riding the up and down rhythms of the day, and their typical work day might look something like:

  • 1 hour of work.
  • 1 hour of reading on iPad.
  • Getting some food.
  • Another 2 hours of work.
  • Breaking out for some PS3.
  • Some meditation.
  • Another bit of work.
  • Grabbing a drink with friends.
  • All interspersed with chatting up friends on IM/Twitter.

Their flow of work is moderate to fairly high, and they are very flexible in term of being able to switch up different tasks quickly. They have a high degree of choice and freedom when it comes to what they work on in any given moment. In fact, if GTD had an ideal poster-boy – this working style would be it.

The only downside? The laissez-faire attitude doesn’t do all that well in structured environments like big companies.

Style #4: Drive and Burn

Working Style 4 Drive and Burn (Ironman)

Ever met someone who works intensely at something for 1-3 weeks then takes a vacation for 4-6 weeks after? That’s what this working style is all about. They love “extended holidays” and the sense of freedom that it brings.

This working style is usually found amongst specialist consultants brought into a company for a project for a short period of time, or amongst marketers who are involved in product launches.

When they’re working – they’re working. They’ll do multiple all-nighters with no rest, using little other than caffeine and adrenaline to keep themselves going. They have super-intense focus and very little can break their concentration or get in the way of their work. There is an almost-manic sense of urgency that goes along with that they do – whatever it is they are working on, it absolutely must get done.

Just don’t talk to them about work during downtime.

Style #5: The Effective Multitasker

Working Style 5 The Effective Multitasker (Superman)

Despite what we’ve said about multitasking before (and how bad it is for you), there is a small percentage of the population out there who thrives with it.

The best way to describe this working style is “organized chaos”. This working style works with low to moderate amounts of focus and work happens all day – there are no on times or off times. It’s all about a continuous, ongoing switch between downtime, work, social time, and everything else.

They have a huge advantage in terms of being able to rapidly switch between different things – and in being able to leverage resources (like people and systems) to help make this all work for them.

This working style doesn’t feel obligated to work – they work because actually enjoy it. They’re multitasking out of choice, not because they don’t know better.

The only issue they have is that they’re never able to “switch off” and disconnect from it all – work (and play) follows them everywhere, and sometimes the details get a little blurred together.

In Closing

There you have it – five very different working styles, yet all productive and functional. Which one are you?

Photos by: JD Hancock

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Last Updated: March 30, 2021

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Excellent article! I’m a combo of 3 & 5. My structure is part Pomodoro, part GTD, but all mine. Routines help set me free from “what do I do next” and my brain is free to operate on a subconscious level to solve issues (the “A-HA” approach!)

    Complaint is that I don’t take enough “downtime”, but I get over an hour of my day to myself to meditate, try to exercise, etc.

    Double “uh-oh”….if I sit down or stop after work, I’m done. I need small, sustained things to do to keep going.

    I do love sitting with my partner, but even she realizes that after about 945PM, I’m done.

    I find myself very productive, and my work output is very high, but I have high standards for what I produce, so ….

    BIGGEST COMPLANT: My partner says “I don’t have to do EVERYTHING at home.”…my response is usually “If it was already done, I wouldn’t have to do it”

    Excellent site, excellent podcast, excellent articles…keep up the high volume, high quality work, gang!

  2. I think most “creatives” have no choice but to be #4’s. I would love to be able to work for an hour on something and then do something else, but the nature of the “deep dive” required by any highly involved (read: complicated, abstract, concentration-demanding, delicate, etc) activity effectively demands that you fully engage until reaching a natural stopping point – which is defined by the particular task, and can be 30 minutes in or 2 weeks in, leaving you locked-in for the interim.

    Thus, I have a to-do list like everyone else, but amongst things like “make call” (5 minutes) and “answer email” (10 minutes), I also find “solve problem” (7 hours). Try and do that in any way other than #4 and you’ll find 7 hours becomes 7 days.

    1. I consider myself creative. Maybe not the fine-arts and improvisational-music kinda way, but most definitely in the abstract problem-solving kind of way. It may be slightly insulting to “creative” creative people to hear me say that I consider business problem solving or coming up with different ways to track blog traffic or design productivity systems as “creative work”, but I really do think it is.

      With that said, I’ve learnt to break it up into chunks. Sure it may take multiple 1-hour sessions to get through the problem, but there’s absolutely no reason for me to sit 7 hours straight and work on it – taking breaks and splitting it up works just fine.

      I think it’s more the case with #4s that there is a trait where they want to really get something done and solved before moving onto anything else – and that’s perfectly fine. But I don’t think it’s a “I’m creative therefore I must do this” kind of thing, it’s more of a “if I really want to solve something everything else can wait” kind of thing.

  3. If you really have a lot of mentally exhausting work to do, not just simple to-dos, I find number 1 the best for people who are naturally procrastinators and try to find the solutions. 50/10 is the way to go for me…not ideal, but much better than anything else.

  4. #3 can be quite productive, but it is dangerously close to “I’m getting distracted and procrastinating on my work”.

    I would venture to say that most people think that they are #3 but are actually just unproductive. A true #3 worker manages to be low-stress and productive even though his day is unstructured.

    Personally, I’d like to be a #3 but I’m not disciplined enough, so #1 is probably my best fit.

  5. For all the #5’s: Find out what multi-tasking does to your brain (both short- and long-term) here: bit.ly/TYwc7b

    Enjoy! Please share if you know anybody that enjoys eating a sandwich, cooking, conference-calling, chatting and sleeping: all at the same time.

    An ex #5, happily turned into #4 ;-)

  6. Crap, you guys nailed me. I’m also a #3.

    I’ve found that my early morning concentration is scattered. So I tend to do more routine and maintenance tasks early that doesn’t require a lot of brain power. My concentration seems to focus much better after 2 pm and I get my best work done at this time.

    I dunno. Maybe it’s my breakfast pattern or something. I limit myself to one cup of coffee or a can of Mountain Dew. I think I might have to change my breakfast patterns to more fruits over a quickie at McDonald’s or my local coffee shop.

    Of course, most of my mornings tend to deal with customers so it does help when I don’t need to really sit down and focus on some brain-intensive work later in the afternoon.

  7. I’m going to go for “Cycles and Circles.” Although it’s mainly because I like to think of myself as a productivity Batman….but with less impressive gadgets :-(

    Also a bit of a shame that you say this style “doesn’t work well with big companies” considering I work for a FTSE 100 firm :-p

    keep up the thought-provoking posts!

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