How your personality affects your productivity

How your personality affects your productivity

When Gretchen Rubin was writing Better Than Before, her brilliant book about habit creation, she discovered something interesting: not everyone responds to expectations in the same way.

There are two types of expectations:

  • Inner: the ones we impose on ourselves, like deciding to ‘eat more healthily’
  • Outer: the ones others impose on us, like a client wanting something done by a certain date

And when it comes to expectations, there are four types of people:

  • Upholders respond readily to both inner and outer expectations. They’re those people who never hand in an assignment late and easily meet client deadlines while training for a marathon and quitting drinking for a month.
  • Obligers meet external expectations, but find it difficult to meet self-imposed expectations and deadlines. (Most people are Obligers.)
  • Questioners meet an expectation only if it makes sense to them. (In other words, they don’t do things just because other people tell them they should, they must buy into it themselves first.)
  • Rebels resist all expectations, both inner and outer. 

Which are you? Do the test here.

Once you know which you are, here’s how you can use that knowledge to boost the productivity of your business day:


As a rule, Upholders don’t have a problem getting things done. But, there are a couple things they need to be aware of.

The first is that they’ll tend to prioritise their own expectations above others. So, if they have a choice between meeting a personal deadline, and meeting one from someone else, they tend to meet their own deadline first. And this is not always ideal. Upholders need to rationally consider their to-do list and ensure they’ve prioritised things in the right order.

The second thing Upholders need to be aware of is that while it’s nice they have the ability to rise to every expectation, this doesn’t mean they should. It’s very easy for Upholders to burn out because they have taken too much on. And when you’re burnt out, it’s very difficult to be truly productive!


Since you guys are very good at meeting other people’s expectations – you generally won’t have a problem meeting client deadlines. But, anything you’re doing for yourself or your own business, you’ll find it very hard to make those things a priority. How do Obligers overcome this? You need some external accountability – like a mastermind group or buddy.

Obligers also need to be aware of taking on too much and saying Yes to too much. Obligers don’t tend to push all the way to burnout like Upholders, but they do push all the way into overwhelm, then get really jacked off and resentful about what other people are expecting of them. Once they hit the point of resentment, they then have this thing called Obliger Rebellion where they just won’t do anything that’s expected of them. Which, again, isn’t ideal from a productivity point of view!


If you think a client deadline is kind of arbitrary, you will struggle to meet it. So, you need to check in with the client and get an understanding of WHY they need something by a certain date. If they say to you ‘my website designer needs the final web copy by Monday so they can have it all loaded in by Wednesday ready for launch on Friday’, then, that makes sense to you and you will make it happen.

Similarly, when holding yourself to account, if a self-imposed deadline makes no sense to you, you won’t make it happen. If you attach strong reasoning to the deadline, you will.


So, what do you guys do to be productive given you resist meeting all expectations? You get the best results when coming at things from an identity point of view (“I am the kind of person who …”).

For example: if someone said to you, ‘This needs to be done by tomorrow’, you’ll immediately push back and go ‘Nup, not going to happen.’ If someone says to you ‘Jane – you’re someone I know always delivers under pressure, so I know the deadline of COB tomorrow won’t be a drama,’ … you’ll make it happen.

My friend Felicity is a Rebel and she says whenever she catches herself being really unproductive at home, she’ll go to a local café with her laptop, ensure the screen is in full view of others, and then get to work. She finds this helps her resist the temptation to go on Facebook to procrastinate because she’s, ‘Not the kind of person who goes on Facebook when she has work to do.’

Work with your personality, not against it

Most people wish they were Upholders – the kind of person who easily meets all expectations. But the fact is, it’s exhausting trying to be something you’re not. If, instead, you choose to understand your natural tendencies and put things in place to leverage your personality’s strengths and weaknesses, your days will be both a lot less frustrating, and WHOLE lot more productive.

Which personality type are you? Share in the comments.

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