I’ve lately been coming to grips about why so many people (myself included) spend so much time constantly tweaking their productivity systems. This is an evolving thought, so bear with me while I let my brain leak for a bit.
While the most apparent reason, of course, is procrastination –tweaking our systems makes us feel like we’re somehow accomplishing something while simultaneously avoiding any real work– I’ve noticed that there are four chief archetypes of people that obsess about their systems (although I doubt that anyone of us is wholly one or the other). I’m calling them Tinker, Tailor, Soldier and Spy.
- The Tinker is the consumate tweaker for tweaking’s sake. This type of person likes to pry things apart, bolt or glue things together (often enshewing instructions), modify existing setups (even if they already work fine), and apply his or her mind to figuring out exactly how to squeeze out one final ounce of power, usability or adaptability from the item or task at hand. Often considering intelligence to be their strongest virtue, Tinkers are far less concerned about using the system than the idea of creating it, since this is where the real intellectual challenge lies; actually using something for pragmatic purposes is usually quite boring. Fascinated by planners, bags and utensils with multiple uses, hidden compartments, and a overall sense of utility rather than style, the Tinker might also carry a Swiss Army Knife, Leatherman, or other multi-tool “just in case.”
- Tailors have more refined tastes than the others. They find that the image of their system not only reflects upon their personality, but helps to motivate them, like an Armani suit might suddenly help a business person gain much-needed confidence. These people may snub their noses at $1 notebooks and hold out for Moleskines or artisan-made Italian journals, or walk away from functional G2 pens or Faber pencils in order to find an exquisite fountain pen or French grapevine charcoal. After all, these are things of beauty, and one can never experience too much beauty. However, when it comes time to actually use these tools, they’d prefer not to sully their cherished possessions with something so banal as to-do items or grocery lists. So then the complicated affair of fine-grain leather card-holders, bronze book-darts, and removable inserts begins….
- Unlike the Tinker or Tailor, the Soldier is a very down-to-earth person tightly focussed on the task at hand. The problem is that it’s difficult to know how to proceed. This is why he or she spends so much time listening to the directives of others, trying each new technique in an effort to find what works. Soldiers carefully review a dozen productivity blogs, slog through several mailing lists, and faithfully work through the links on 43 Folders, LifeHack.org and Lifehacker. Loyalty is a prime virtue, and this is manifest in how they follow certain bloggers, authors, applications or setups. Their heart truly yearns for a system that works, and once they find it, everything will be well. Till then, however, the Soldiers march on their weary way.
- Agile, flexible and thrill-seeking, the Spy is unlike any of the others. Speeding onward by sheer force of their curiosity, they leap from site to site with a keen eye towards getting and implementing the latest and greatest. Like James Bond securing the latest high-tech creations of Q, the Spy quickly puts together kits for deployment involving all the fashionable equipment and methods. These oddball mixtures might include digital PDAs, various types of software, web applications, Hipster PDA cards, Fisher Space Pens, printable templates, Moleskines, and anything else that strikes that moment’s fancy. Then, once mundane practicality (like making a to-do list or appointment) intrudes upon their otherwise thrilling lifestyle, it’s time to move on, mission seemingly completed. And so the cycle begins anew.
Hello, everybody. [Lowers head and clasps hands.] My name is Douglas Johnston, and I’m a compulsive Tinker.
Update: In case you’re interested, there’s a poll going on over at DIYPlanner.com. What type are you, or are you something completely different?