Less than a week till a new year starts, and though it’s a rather arbitrary moment to develop new resolutions, plenty of people still do it. For many ENTPs, one of the most important resolutions of 2017 (and frankly each year before that) is
Get shit done. Follow through on ideas and actually finish things.
Good news: this is perfectly possible and you don’t even have to become an XSXJ in the process. However, the “how to” might be not what you expected.
Why ENTPs don’t follow through
There are a million reasons why people don’t follow through and every reason requires its own solution. Unfortunately, when we receive advice on ways to be more productive, it’s often a ‘one size fits all’. Which it doesn’t.
Let’s look at the reasons ENTPs easily get sidetracked. Is it because we can’t plan? No. Is it because we can’t stick to a plan? Not exactly. When you look at our cognitive functions (ENTP cognitive stack is Ne-Ti-Fe-Si), you might expect the lack of productivity to be caused by our inferior Si. But you know what? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s our dominant function that causes this problem.
So okay, the dominant function for an ENTP is Ne. But what does that even mean? Heidi Priebe on Thoughtcatalog states about dominant Ne: “As a dominant function, Ne manifests as a seemingly never-ending plethora of theories, possibilities and inventive ideas that the user is constantly picking up on.” The key word here is ‘constantly’. While other types get an idea and hold on to it, our minds don’t stick to one topic and instantly move on to new ideas. As a result, our attention is divided between a number of different things and shifting most of our attention to just one of them costs a lot of effort.
So why is this a problem?
Approaching the problem from this angle, it’s fairly clear that we don’t just need another ‘new and improved system’. No, we’re actually pretty good at systems (must be the Ti…), but it’s just so hard to stick to them… Because the systems are usually in constant struggle with our dominant function. Result? Whenever we stick to the system, we deny our Ne and become unhappy. Definitely not worth it.
So why did I feel like I still had to do something? Why not just follow my Ne to wherever it may lead me? Well… because it didn’t really get me anywhere. Often, instead of doing all these things my Ne wants me to do, I would just get overwhelmed, turning to mindless browsing or other activities that didn’t require me to choose what to work on first. As a result, I would be completely unproductive and for some reason that would usually leave me drained of energy, making it even harder to get things done and becoming somewhat of a downward spiral.
Breaking the spiral
As many ENTPs, I too am fairly solution oriented. And so, when I discovered being unproductive made me unhappy, I looked for ways to boost my productivity and found a principle that required a shift of perception, but got me pretty amazing results. I like to call it the principle of minimalism and priorities.
The idea is that rather than scattering your attention amongst many things, you take a conscious approach in determining a finite amount of things you want to focus your attention on. And since the list is limited, you prioritize which items are good enough to go on the list. As long as you make sure your list does not exceed the length of what you’re actually able to accomplish, you’ll notice you’re perfectly able to keep things organized. Here’s five ways you can apply this principle to your life.
There is a really useful system to organize your tasks and projects. Its brilliancy is in its simplicity and when I first saw it I was very skeptical about it, because it seemed so simple there was no way it could work. The system (and you can adapt it to your needs to whatever extent you want) is called bullet journaling. The basic idea is very simple:
- You keep all your ideas in one place (a notebook);
- You keep all tasks for a day together;
- Whenever a new day starts, you write all tasks you want to perform; if some tasks are leftovers from the day before, you place a ‘migrated’ symbol next to the task on the previous day, and you write down the task again for the new day.
Now this might seem like overload rather than helpful, BUT! Because you consciously write down the tasks each day again, you become more critical of whether a task is really something you intend to accomplish and want to put on your list. If it’s not – you don’t put it on your list.
Okay, so these are the basics, but you can actually expand this system. Some creative people go and make their notebooks into true art pieces. Check out the official bullet journal website to learn more: http://bulletjournal.com/.
Oh, and the things you need? Just a notebook and a pen or pencil. I started out with a cheap Moleskine-lookalike, but from 2017 I’ll be switching to the official Bullet Journal Notebook.
(You absolutely don’t need to though, and there is no reason why you can’t use any cheap notebook. My reason to switch is because I wanted a dotted notebook, allowing me to sketch as well as write, and I didn’t like the Moleskine sizes.)
ENTPs tend to have pretty busy schedules, often to the frustration of our friends. I’ve had so many friends I would only see once a year or even once every several years and I would feel guilty not being in touch. However, the principle of minimalism and priorities applies to friends as well.
Last year, I’ve created a list of people who make me happy (this is not a finite list, I’ve met some people who make me very happy in the course of the year). These are the people I currently spend most of my attention on. Then there are contacts I spend some time on because of obligations. And then there are acquaintances whom I do see occasionally (some more often than others), but without focusing my efforts on keeping in touch. This way, I maximize the happiness I get from my social circle. And the people who matter to me no longer get the feeling they don’t matter because I spend my time on people I don’t even really care about.
Projects are long-term, which is what makes them complicated. In many ways, you can use the bullet journaling system I mentioned above. However, with projects even more than with daily life, there is one important lesson (I have learned this the hard way a couple of years ago when I worked as a software product owner): you need to know when to say “I’m not doing this (right now)”.
The difference between a hobby and a personal project is that a projects has a beginning and an end, and defined output. If you’re starting on a personal project, whether it’s writing a book, creating software or getting a girlfriend, you need to define your goal, the desired output. Define in the most minimalistic way that still aligns with what you want to accomplish (in product management, we call this the ‘minimum viable product’). Then, when adding activities to your project list, simply ask yourself whether they are necessary to get the desired result. If not – ditch the activity (for the time being). Feel free to actually make a list of ‘ideas that aren’t necessary now but are to amazing to forget’. Just don’t let them mess with your focus.
One of the things a dominant Ne is VERY (I should emphasize, VERY) good at, is the “what if” scenario. We can come up with so many hypothetical future situations! While very handy when brainstorming, it’s far less handy when organizing your life. Because when normal people throw something out, you and I will ask ourselves: “But what if…” (followed by a not very likely yet entirely possible scenario of how we could use this thing or how throwing it out could cause us problems).
Add to this our ability to get lost in our mind, not paying attention to our surroundings, and you’ll probably get why our work and life space can be so chaotic.
Mine was no different, until… five years ago, I booked a holiday of 3 weeks to Spain. It was a budget holiday and I didn’t want to spend more than I had to, which is why I booked my flight with a budget airline. This airline had a luggage limitation of 10 kilos (that’s 20 pounds, for those who don’t use the metric system). Including suitcase. A towel (I was going to take a kite surfing course). And a camera with two lenses (avid photographer back then). Needless to say, I had to be VERY picky about what stuff to bring along. Long story short: in these three weeks, I didn’t miss a thing. I was perfectly able to get by with the small amount of stuff I brought along.
When I got home, I began discarding things. This process (and the process of organizing things) has gotten an impulse last year when I finally read Marie Kondo’s “The life-changing magic of tidying up”. Spoiler: my life was not changed, but my wardrobe has been neat ever since (that’s almost a year now) and the same goes for many other spaces in my house.
Scaling back is a HUGE help to get more organized and I can’t recommend it enough. Throw away your shit. You don’t have to become Little Ms. / Mr. Accurate, but help yourself by not keeping or acquiring shit you don’t need. As a consequence, you’ll have much more attention for the objects that are important to do the things you have to do.
Marie Kondo has a very simple criterium for determining whether you should keep something: only keep it if it makes you happy (‘brings you joy’). If not – throw it away. Even if it’s very pretty, a gift from someone you care about, still perfectly functional or very expensive: if it doesn’t bring you joy – ditch it (Kondo defines ‘joy’ a bit more broadly than a warm and fuzzy feeling, but she explains it way better than I do, so just go read her book if you want to learn more about the system, I can’t recommend it enough).
At some point, I had a browser with just so many bookmarks, and the list kept getting bigger. And bigger. And bigger. Organizing the bookmarks in folders helped somewhat – at least it looked neat. But I still wasn’t reading the bookmarks.
Using my experience as a product owner, I knew things couldn’t go on this way (as a product owner for software, you manage a so-called backlog, a list of features you’re going to put in your software; if you never say ‘no’ to features, this list just keeps growing, which means items at the bottom will never get implemented).
And so I set up the following system. First, I separated all bookmarks in two types: things “I wanted to check out sometime” and “references”. For example, thesaurus.com is a reference. It’s a site I visit more than once. There are quite a couple of those and I use a bookmark tool to organize them. This includes links to admin panels for my websites, handy web tools and the like.
The “I want to check out sometime” list goes in the bookmark bar right below my address bar. But – there is a rule. Whenever I shut down the browser, the amount of bookmarks may not exceed the available space. If there are more bookmarks than that – I have to throw them away until the right amount remains. This requires discipline, but when applied it works miracles. This works VERY well for me because:
- I regularly force myself to read stuff I don’t want to throw out before reading .
- I focus my attention on the information that matters, rather than scattering it on everything that is at least mildly interesting.
Whether it’s tasks, people, projects, things or bookmarks, the key to productivity is to stop hoarding. It’s always hard to choose between so many awesome things. So as you eliminate possibilities (… yes, people, I know it’s not something we P types are naturally good at), it becomes easier to focus on what remains.
And to get things done.
Please note: the product links in this article are affiliate links. I don’t know if this is relevant, but just in case you wanted to know…