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Being an introvert isn’t easy in a busy world that requires things like social interaction and work meetings to gain success. The business world is seemingly designed to cater to extroverts, leaving people who identify as introverts exhausted in its wake and struggling to keep up.

This isn’t to say introverts can’t survive or even thrive in the business world – they absolutely can, it just takes some extra work, or some extra tools, to help their productivity in the workplace. Let’s take a look at what defines an introvert, and why they may have more trouble with productivity in a traditional workplace than an extrovert.

Introvert vs. Extrovert vs. Ambivert

First, a quick introduction, if you’re unfamiliar with the terms introvert, extrovert or ambivert — all of which we’ll use going forward.

An introvert is a person that thrives on solitude. Social interactions, for the most part, drain their batteries and leave them feeling exhausted. They can be just as energetic and outgoing as an extrovert, but the effort leaves them needing to take time to recharge. Parties or other social events aren’t as much fun unless they’re with close friends because it can be hard for an introvert to read the room or start talking with a random party guest.

This often causes introverts to get a bad reputation as antisocial loaners who can be slow and unproductive. None of this is true — it’s merely assumed because introverts don’t speak out as often or as loudly as extroverts.

Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive on social interaction and high energy situations. Ambiverts are a little bit of both worlds — they can function well in both types of situations.

Everyone is a little bit both introvert and extrovert. As psychologist Carl Jung put it, “There is no such thing as a perfect introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”

So, if everyone has a little bit of introvert and a little bit of extrovert in them, why do introverts have such a bad reputation for being antisocial, not playing on a team or even withholding information from their friends or teammates?

The Downside of Introversion

Let us emphasize this early and often — there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Some of us are simply exhausted by social or work interactions.

Introverts tend to keep their ideas to themselves until those ideas are fully formed. That isn’t a bad thing — it means they don’t raise their hand or shout out ideas in the middle of a meeting. They hold their ideas close to the chest until they’re completely thought out before releasing them out into the world.

Introverts aren’t usually a fan of the group lunch or the after-work cocktails. To put it bluntly, they’ve dealt with people all day long, and they want a few minutes to themselves to recharge after a long day. They may make an appearance, but they don’t often stay long.

Introverts get treated to a lot of negative stigmas surrounding the way they behave in the workplace, and none of them are deserved. It’s thought that introverts make poor leaders because they don’t speak up or they tend to coach from the background, allowing people to play to their own strengths instead of trying to force them into a mold.

Introverts are often thought of as a poor choice for customer-facing roles. Just because an introvert might be timid doesn’t mean they won’t fit well in a sales or customer service role. They can actually be great at them, given enough time to shape the position to a better fit that allows them to do their job while using their own strengths.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert — and introvert tendencies have plenty of upsides as well.

The Upsides of Introversion

There are plenty of perks to being an introvert that a lot of people overlook.

First, introverts tend to be much more observant. The fact that they’re quiet and keep their thoughts to themselves gives them time to make a variety of different observations. A quiet introvert may notice something that an expressive extrovert could miss.

Introverts also tend to be great self-starters. “Many introverts don’t feel as if they know enough about a subject until they know almost everything,” said psychologist Marti Olsen Laney, in her book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World. Even if it’s not something that they need for school or work, an introvert will often spend their down time reading or learning everything that they can about a given subject.

These same introverts also tend to be more independent in work settings — group projects are cumbersome and slow and work against the way an introvert’s mind works. They’re also fantastic listeners — largely because they think before they speak, so they’re not likely to interrupt you with their own thoughts until you’ve finished your own.

If you identify as an introvert, you’re in good company. Some of the most brilliant minds of the last few centuries also identified as introverted, including scientists Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton, director Stephen Spielberg, and tech giants Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Former first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton might not seem introverted, but both have been described as shy and soft-spoken, as was Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks. Elon Musk is a self-described ‘introverted engineer,’ and current Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer had said of herself, “I’m just geeky and shy and I like to code.”

Even writers who are constantly in the public eye tend to lean toward the introverted side of the spectrum. J.K. Rowling, the mind behind the massive Harry Potter franchise, almost couldn’t write down her initial idea for Harry’s character because she was too shy to ask for a pen on the train. Dr. Seuss, who wrote some of the most iconic children’s books of all time, was afraid to meet the children who loved his books because he didn’t want them to be disappointed with how quiet and introverted he was.

As we said — you’re in good company. Some of the greatest minds of our time prefer solitude and working alone compared to the hustle and bustle of modern business.

Improving Your Introvert’s Productivity

An introvert can be a great addition to any team or project — even if they don’t want to be there.  Whether working in a creative career like writing or graphic design, or in a more customer-centric position like service or sales, productivity can be challenging. It’s not just introverts that face this productivity challenge, but the negative stigmas surrounding introversion can make it harder for an introvert to thrive in an extrovert-centric world.

What can you do as an introvert to help improve your productivity both in the workplace and at home?

Note for Business Owners/Managers: If you’re looking for ways to help the introverts in your office thrive, you can use many of these tips too.

Create an Introvert-Friendly Work Environment

Open floorplan offices are all the rage these days — and they can be an introvert’s worst nightmare, at least when it comes to productivity. Having somewhere an introvert can work separately from the hustle and bustle can be a great boon, whether that place is a quiet conference room or a small office away from all the energy.

If it’s possible with your particular career, try to negotiate some time where you can work from home for part of the week. Remote careers are becoming easier and easier to find as we move further into the 21st century, and they can be a great thing for introverts who can’t thrive in the open plan office future of the workplace.

Earn Your Leadership Positions

Introverts might not seem like great leaders because they’re so quiet and soft-spoken, but they can actually make some of the best leaders — even better than extroverts in some cases. As we’ve already mentioned, introverts are great listeners and fantastic observers — two necessary, but often overlooked skills for leaders.

Introverted leaders won’t overtly push their teams toward a particular goal. Instead, they will play to each member’s individual strengths — which they learned through their observational skills — enabling each person to thrive in their own way.

If someone makes a mistake, an extrovert might call them out. An introvert will observe, and gently lead the person to the correct answer, enabling them to figure out where they made a mistake and how to correct it. This type of leadership means the mistake will be less likely to happen in the future.

Automate, Automate, Automate

Phone calls are tricky to navigate and can quickly get overwhelming, especially for small businesses. On the other side of the coin, though, introverts may hate talking on the phone. If you’re taking inbound phone calls, an automated answering service can be a great way to make sure you’re not missing any calls. They can even be programmed to answer basic questions — which many inbound phone calls are – without needing to transfer the call to a live agent.

Outbound phone calls can be automated as well. If you’re making outbound calls for sales or any other reason, you probably waste a lot of time. Between voicemails and wrong numbers, roughly 70 percent of the time you spend on the phone is wasted. An automated outbound call service can help by automatically leaving voicemails, take notes on broken or disconnected phone numbers and send follow up emails after your call completes.

Email automation is also a great way to increase productivity while keeping you away from the soul-killing monotony of answering the same email every single day. Google’s automatic response feature allows you to set up emails based on the text of the income email — if the system detects the keywords you set up, it will send a specific email.

If you have to write custom emails but find yourself using the same phrases or paragraphs in each, an extension like Auto Text Expander can make your email writing faster and less tedious. Once you type that keyword into your email, it will automatically populate the chosen text, so all you need to do is fill out the customer related specifics — name, account information, etc. — and send your email.

Plan Your Day

It’s tempting to jump right into your morning work — checking email and social media, responding to messages or brainstorming with coworkers. This might seem more productive but can also lead to an introvert burning out before the end of the day, actually damaging productivity.

Take some time to organize your workspace and plan out your day before you start your work. This gives you a nice structure to stick to. Plan in some time for quiet contemplation — especially if you have a meeting during the day. Make some notes and prepare for any big meetings or interactions so you don’t have to worry about thinking on the fly or not speaking up during a meeting. If you can avoid meetings, so much the better.

Take Breaks – Not Just for Introverts

Introverts need to take breaks to recharge periodically, especially during a busy workday, but everyone can benefit from taking short breaks throughout the day to increase their productivity.

Breaks keep you from getting bored, especially if you do the same task over and over throughout the day. If you get bored, you tend to lose focus which makes you less productive. If you try to learn something new, breaks can also help you better retain the information that you learn. Focusing is great, but by taking a break, you give your brain the chance to write new pathways to store the information you’ve learned.

Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks. Tim Kreider, in an opinion post for the New York Times, described breaks the best, “Idleness is not just a vacation, as an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets…it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Play to Your Strengths

You might not be the loudest duck in the pond, but that doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of quacking. Instead of trying to be louder or more talkative than your extrovert coworkers, play to your strengths.

Introverts make fantastic researchers and strategizers, and thrive in positions that allow them to write or be creative. Even problem-solving is a type of creativity. Figure out what your strengths are and showcase them. Are you a great sales person but hate talking on the phone? Look for a position that allows you write sales scripts to help your colleagues succeed, or one that allows you to engage with clients through email or chat.

This is only one example — your strengths might lie in other skills, positions or environments. Figure out what your strengths are and showcase them. Once you know what you’re good at, you’ll have a better idea of where you will thrive.

Take the Time to Recharge

One of the most often overlooked aspects of introversion is the inherent need to recharge after social or work interactions. After you’ve been around people for a while, you need to take some time to yourself to recharge your batteries and prepare you for your next interaction.

The amount of time that you’ll need to recharge will depend on the situation. Having lunch with your coworkers might only require a few minutes to yourself to get ready for the rest of your day, but that doesn’t give you any time to recharge from your morning work. Assess your own energy needs and figure out how much time you might need to recharge from your interactions.

If you’ve got a busy day, you may not get the chance to recharge until you get home in the evening.  This isn’t a bad thing, though it might mean you don’t do anything but order in and watch Netflix until bed. Your needs are as unique as you are, and you’re the only one who can figure out what you need to do to stay in top form.

Don’t feel bad about needing a break to recharge. If you had a rough day and need to spend the evening in front of your television alone, don’t feel guilty about turning down an invite to hang out after work. Even an extrovert can understand the need to recharge once in a while.

Introverts can be as successful and productive as extroverts, even if the business world is designed to favor extroverts. Your introversion can be a great asset if you learn to utilize it properly. An old Kender proverb, from the Dragonlance fantasy book series, sums it up best, “Don’t change color to match the walls. Look like you belong and the walls will change color to match you.”

You don’t need to change to succeed – you need to play to your strengths, and the business world will change to match you.

Introverts are like icebergs – you only see what’s on the surface and there is a whole world lurking beneath.

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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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