Navel, Meet Myers and Briggs (Part 2)

I’ve been procrastinating on this post because it requires me to project a multidimensional process onto the linear (one-dimensional) thread of a blog post.

SHU of The SHU Box blog and I discovered that we are Myers-Briggs polar opposites (she’s ESFJ; I’m INTP) so she asked me about how I organize things in the personal and professional, since she’s a master list maker and I cannot do lists at all (which I think relates to Tactics, where I am strong P, “a prospector”).

I am not sure where to start, so I will just start with some examples and see where we get.

Things that require no action on my part other than showing up somewhere (dentists, doctors, stand-up comedy shows or concerts DH and I like to go to): I put in the phone calendar, set 2-3 alarms (two days early, one day early, the day of) and completely forget about it. The calendar on my phone is the only type of calendar I do not hate with a fiery passion. I never think about these events again until the alarms start. On the day of the fun outings, I invariably don’t want to go; my first impulse is always to cancel whatever I promised I would go to, and I have never been happy about leaving the kids without at least one of us at home (even though Eldest will be 18 in March and is a great babysitter).  I know myself enough to know that most of the time I do end up enjoying the event and try to suppress the impetus to flee/be difficult. [My husband, who is my Myers-Briggs near opposite (ISFJ) likes to get in the mood, especially for concerts, by listening to the artist’s songs for a day or two before the event. He is also a planner.]

Planning work trips: I am a big believer in satisficing when it comes to the stuff that I don’t particularly care about. I give myself a fixed amount of time to work on the trip: pick decent flights, book a hotel, perhaps rent a car, and do not think about the logistics of the trip again until the day of. I can go from 100% unpacked to ready to go without forgetting anything in well under an hour, so I refuse to expend any energy on trip minutiae until the day of. Also, I always travel to industrialized places, so if I arrive without toothpaste in Washington, DC, this is hardly an insurmountable problem.

Planning kids’ activities: I don’t care for this, but DH outright hates it (he is super introverted), so it’s usually on me. We keep our weekends low key and are generally either available for playdates, or I am taking Eldest to something music related, or Middle Boy to something basketball or flag-football related. DH takes Smurf to acting (Smurf has a really good voice and an ear for music, so we might do choir with him; we’ll see). I’m the one texting with other parents about drop off/pickup times. (Fun fact: My phone is always on total silence. I check it often enough that I’m unlikely to miss things, but even vibration bugs me. I do set the alarm on my phone to ring when it’s time to end my class. I also set the alarm to wake me up from random naps.)

Kids’ camps: I collect information about kids’ camps throughout the year and file them somewhere in the brain, also bookmark in my browser. They don’t bother me until I decide, usually sometime in March, to devote an afternoon to the activity. Then I sit down and book a whole summer worth of stuff for everyone and it’s done. For this, an essential tool is a printout of an annual calendar, so I have the whole summer at a glance. I don’t know how other people do it, but to me these planning activities hold no joy whatsoever, so my goal is to do them decently and in as little time as possible.

Vacation: I will pick a place where we will go (based on free-floating information, everyone’s preferences/whining, and my own level of adventurousness), find a hotel, book and pay whatever needs booking and paying for, put it on the calendar and again forget about it. I am not one for planning day-to-day activities months in advance. DH enjoys the planning aspect and I am very grateful that he does, because the kids prefer a busy holiday over a lazy one that would be my choice. But planning outing activities is something I freakin’ hate hate hate because it involves committing myself to stuff that I perceive to be of little importance, and my impetus is always to run away screaming. [DH and I drive each other a bit (okay, a lot!) crazy with our packing habits, me with my last-minute mad scramble, him with an elaborate process.]

Basically, if you want me to do something in the future, I need to be able to spend as little time as possible thinking about it and completely forget about it until no more than a day or two before. That’s the only way that I won’t freak out about a commitment simply existing and do anything to get out of the whole thing.

Some things that help:

a) I have a very good memory for faces (never forget one) and a reasonably good one for names, especially once I’ve remembered the face. I don’t know that I am better at this than the average woman, probably not, but DH always regards my ability to remember people and place them out of context as some sort of a superpower.

b) Satisficing: When I don’t really care deeply about the outcome of something, I commit to a set of requirements that need to be fulfilled and as soon as they are, I complete the process. A good example was how we purchased the car for Eldest. As his main driver, I was getting increasingly pissed with my chauffeuring workload last year, and eventually DH agreed to the purchase. DH didn’t want to look for the car, as he’s a perfectionist and would take forever to get the research done and the prospect of it was making him anxious (the car would be absolute perfection, though). I said leave it to me, just tell me what the nonnegotiable features are. We agreed on price under $6k, reliable (Honda or Toyota), and low mileage. I spent an evening looking at cars from dealers and private sellers (maybe 3 hours total), came up with a list of 12 potential ones, we narrowed it down to 2, I emailed the sellers that same evening, we scheduled to see one early the next morning, test-drove it, loved it, went to a nearby bank to get a cashier’s check and bought it right there. By noon, Eldest owned (well, co-owned with me) a fully registered car.

How do I stay organized at work?

Everything work-related is in my head and I don’t mind. I imagine the inside of my head as the body of the pirate shit or the foyer to a castle or an opera house: a large three-dimensional space with balconies and/or chairs (basically pockets where something could be placed on the side at different heights). Now you can imagine tasks to be floating colorful blobs, like what you would make out of cotton candy or slime. Each task has many attributes: how large, what color, shape, smell, etc. These correspond to how important a task is, how much I care, how interesting it is to me, how urgent, etc. These different floaties float around, hit one another, sometimes they merge, sometimes they hang out at one of the balconies for a while before they come back out, sometimes they completely vanish, and their attributes constantly change over time. I think the key aspects of this ‘organization’ if you can call it that are dynamics (change over time) and how I feel about doing a task (VERY important). I am a major procrastinator when I don’t really want to do something, and that often is because I don’t really think what I promised to do is actually important.

I also crave lots of intellectual stimulation and need variety, because if something is boring it is very hard to care about doing it, and if I don’t care, then it’s very hard to make myself to it. Which is why I keep adding every more intellectually stimulating hobbies and they tend to find their place in my life and stay there, occasionally taking up more or less of my time. I think this variety helps productivity because I can always find something I want to work on, even when what I should work on isn’t that. (It’s a bit like farmers planting different plants in the same parcel in different years, which helps maintain the long-term fertility of the soil.)

Having a set schedule with predetermined periodicity for anything without a very good reason is a recipe for disaster/resentment on my part. This I cannot fake. If I truly believe that something is foolish, ill-conceived, or otherwise a poor use of my time, there is no way to trick myself into believing that it is in fact important. All I will ever want to do is procrastinate or cancel. Best case scenario: is I half-ass it.

For instance, I don’t mind teaching at all, or regular office hours four days of the week when my office is full every time. I resent office hours twice a week for a small class when no one shows up. I resent weekly faculty meetings because I think they are a poor use of everyone’s time and I am delighted to schedule class so that I miss half an hour of the meeting every week.

I don’t want to have weekly meetings with each grad student, but only with those who actually truly crave this interaction and have new stuff to show me every week. Most students are happier, as am I, meeting on an as-needed basis. If a student is stuck, I will clear out my afternoon and spend hours trouble-shooting; I will go for days, as long as needed, rather than lock us into weekly meetings where they’re gonna show up half the time with nothing really new to discuss.

I really really really like to keep my schedule as open as possible, which means few recurrent meetings, especially on the timescales that are too short for meaningful updates (a week). Then I have a lot of freedom of choice as to what I work on.

I think the keys to my productivity are stamina, a broad portfolio of professional and personal projects, and self-indulgence.

I am very much NOT a person of balance and routine, but one of extremes. I crave late nights and overwork, when I fire off on all cylinders, followed by days of slouching about, deflated. I can work more than most people when there’s a deadline and I love it. But then I need to go into a cave and watch Netflix and sleep. Then I might come back with the urge to clean my house. A big problem is that every routine eventually gets on the chopping block because this perpetual turmoil is a defining characteristic of my modus operandi (*sniff* 4:30 am exercise, I miss you *sniff*; maybe in the spring again; maybe something else).

As I said, my projects are like these floaties whose size, shape, and myriad other attributes change over time. I maximize productivity by trying, as much as possible, to do the stuff that I crave to do at a given moment. When there’s something I really itch to work on, there’s little point in avoiding to scratch it. Refusing to do what I want to do and instead trying to force myself to focus on something I am supposed to do only works if what I am supposed to do is really, really, REALLY important TO ME (which basically means a grant deadline). Otherwise, it won’t happen. It makes much more sense to let myself work on what I want to work on until I am sated, and then when I am a little tired and a little less fired up, I have a better chance of tackling something that doesn’t excite me. I call this the “cake before dinner” approach to work and I believe that’s key to getting large amounts of intellectually challenging work done.

For instance, if I have an itch to work on a new short story, there’s no way I am working on anything else unless I work at least a bit on the story. That’s the only way to move that giant balloon out of my face and have it deflate it a bit, so I can get to the stuff behind.

I definitely have a bit of an obsessive nature; having stamina helps.

How do I keep track of details? I don’t know; I just do, I guess. In my work I am naturally very detail-oriented, and to me focus = details. My former postdoc told me I was the most thorough person he’d ever worked with. If I’m really focused, I just don’t miss things.

In my work, I need to understand things as well as I possibly can, and once I’ve understood them, it becomes easy to talk about them or write them up or make a PPT or whatever. But before truly understanding, comes a long time of just wallowing in data. Looking at data lots of different ways, asking more questions and getting more data, thinking about the math, reading, just kind of sitting in it, letting it permeate my consciousness and subconsciousness, until it all comes together. I think this comfort with not knowing, the ability to withhold judgement is key to the scientific process, or at least to my scientific process. Just letting the problem be a tiny floatie, floating and bumping into other things, coming into the foreground every so often after it’s bumped into something else, growing over time…

Do I forget things? Not really, but I also have a great capacity for doing a half-assed job. Maybe that’s what satisficing really is. Or, a nicer way of putting it is (as per gwinne and undine) doing things at 70%. Whenever something I don’t actually care about (and there’s a lot of that) can be done at 70%, I do it. Soooo much can be done at 70% in one sitting.

SHU asked how I don’t forget stuff for a kid’s party. I don’t know. I might mull over for a while in my head what type of party we’ll have, but once I decide what and where, I very quickly book everything, send out the invitations, and then don’t think about it until the day prior. Then I get up that morning, go to the party store and wherever else needed, and just get everything. As the party is my focus for the morning, I don’t need a list. We’ve had all sorts of parties (3 kids), from swim parties to bounce-house parties to parties in our own home, with a magician and the need to feed everyone. Even with the latter, I can get from zero to completely ready to go in just a few hours.

Also, I don’t meal plan in the sense in which I see people do it (go shopping with recipes). I cook the vast majority of daily repertoire from memory and/or I improvise. I  go look at what looks good/speaks to me and shop around that. Usually I will take requests from family before I go to the store, so that might motivate the choices. We usually have pasta with beef sauce (a somewhat lazy pasta Bolognese) once a week, as it’s everyone’s favorite. One or two rice-based dinners per week, usually a stir fry with rice or what I call a ‘deconstructed burrito.’ Weekday cooking is based on my energy level. Sometimes we have soup and homemade panini. Sometimes we all have hot dogs. Sometimes I saw something yummy during the week and a great-looking eggplant reminds me of it and that’s what I cook. I hate planning meals in advance; if I need to cook something and I’m not in the mood to cook it (often tired after work on the weekdays), I will end up not cooking at all and pick some hot food along the way instead.

I don’t know if what I’ve written makes sense to people. Basically, I operate by devoting short burst of focused attention to things that require little intellectual effort, without giving them much thought the rest of the time. “Done is better than perfect” or satisficing or doing things at 70% would be my motto here. For the stuff that does require serious intellectual engagement or creative thought, or things I really care about, I generally mull them over in the background, low-level, for a very long time. They work their way through my subconsciousness and fly into and out of my consciousness, along with many other problems I think about, and they change and grow until they’re ready to be acted upon. “Cake before dinner” is my motto here, doing what I feel like doing first, then the stuff I care less about but that should get done. I have a grant deadline in a couple of weeks; I’ve been thinking about this grant, on and off, probably for the whole past year.

The morning shower in an excellent place to think about what I need to cover in class that day and how exactly I am going to pitch it. I have never taught the exact same way twice; course offerings change based on the class composition; doing every lecture from scratch, just me and the markers and the white board, is the way that really works well for me (I will sometimes show a short movie or some specific images, but I don’t use PPTs). Every class gets their own drawings of de Broglie and Schroedinger (always a big hit :-), SpongeBob and Patrick, as well as assorted snakes and dinosaurs and random other bits. Plane waves and conjugate variables in general can be illustrated through characters sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g. Since we’re in the middle of the Winter Olympics, the other day figure skating gave an excellent foray into the tensor of inertia, which segued into the concept of the eigenvalue problem of linear operators. But I digress…


The female colleagues I know well enough in real life are all very different from me, in that they are consummate schedule upholders and list devotees. IRL I do know one or two people who are ‘all over the place’ like me, and they are male.

Then there’s really the question of how much you know someone, IRL or online, from the limited information we learn to give one another after we’ve grown up… Someone asked me a week or so ago if I envy others and if others envy me. I said I know for a fact that I do envy others, but I don’t think that anyone envies me, or at least I’m not aware of anyone envying me, to which the person who asked the question chuckled. We really don’t know very much about what other people think or feel. I don’t think most of us actually lie online, but we do allow for just a very narrow outlook into our worlds, even those of use who are nominally open (e.g., me blogging anonymously); for instance, DH says I am not like I am on the blog, that on the blog I sound really serious and I’m not like that at all. I think people who blog under their real (or real-ish) identities tend to curate more, especially if they are lifestyle bloggers so their income is tied to the projected persona, but even those of us who don’t still relay only part of the information. That doesn’t mean people are pretending per se, because pretending to be someone you’re really not is actually quite taxing. For instance, me blogging about lists and planners would require a Herculean effort. Seriously! Lists and planners are so far from being me that there’s no way I could pull it off, or the effort required for me to become some online planner authority would far surpass any potential usefulness of such an endeavor; someone who is truly a list maker is, of course, also much more than a list maker, but that’s not to say that they are not being truthful about being a list maker. It’s just one part of their persona. Scalzi wrote about it eloquently somewhere — about us showing just bits and pieces online, and that being OK.


Double phew! Time to post this, before it morphs into an untamable beast.

Thoughts? Questions? (Just noticed undine’s most recent post! Hi, INTP sistah! *waves*)

Blogosphere, how do you stay organized, especially if you are not a list aficionado?


  1. Wow, this is fascinating! Brains work very differently. I for sure envy you for quite a few things. For example, I really have problems planning vacations due to perfectionism, optimizing and constant self-doubt about every decision… It has come to the point where I dread vacation because of the agonizing beforehand, which is ridiculous. I wish I could do it like you… also I think it is fantastic that you allow yourself to do first what you really want to do. I sometimes manage to do that, but more often I try to force myself to do something unpleasant first and either procrastinate or get very angry with whoever seems to demand the unpleasant thing (even if the demand, for example to get my hair cut, comes from noone in particular… then I get angry with the fact that humans have hair that does not stop growing naturally when it is long enough, like is the case for most wild animals :)). I am an obsessive list maker (probably related to the J), even for writing my novel I made a 10 page list with problems I still need to solve which sounds ridiculous and entirely uninspired but works for me. I was a complete outlier in this way of working in my novel writing workshop. But there is no other way, I need to break everything into small packages so that it looks doable to me and then I just churn my way through the list, if possible at fixed times in the week. So basically I do everything differently than you but I think your way sounds healthier and more natural overall. 🙂

  2. zinemin, I think you’re just a planner/list maker by nature, I don’t think whatever I do is better or healthier, at least not universally so. You might enjoy SHU’s posts, she really rocks organization. Cloud of Wandering Scientist also has some great planning posts. These strategies aren’t for me, but I’m sure they are phenomenal for the right personality type. It made me chuckle that you freaked out your writing buddies at the workshop! From what I see in the fiction Twitter, there are plenty of planners among writers, especially when it comes to the longer forms (novella and novel). I don’t think you’re that unusual among fiction writers. And best of luck with your writing!

  3. This post reminded me of one of my first job interviews when I forgot my toothpaste. My flight got in late, the hotel was in the middle of nowhere, and my first meeting was 6:30am, as I recall. Fortunately, the front desk of the hotel had some little travel toothpastes…that must have been 10 years old because the toothpaste was completely solid and hard as a rock. Good times!

    I wonder if these organizational strategies can be learned, or if you’re basically stuck with the few that work with your personality type. I am always trying the latest organizational gimmick but, despite my best intentions, I can never keep them going for more than a week or two.

  4. Wow! So, so different. Although certain things stick out – I also tend to ‘put things out of my head’ after I have written them down, often to deal with them in the future. I couldn’t let the birthday party task hang in the air until I do it, because it would basically be a nagging recurrent thought until I had written down when I would handle it. In your case, you seem to holistically be able to keep all of the balls in the air — or at least the balls you deem worthy of handling — and I envy your ability NOT to think about them the rest of the time!

    I do have satisficing in common with you. Getting #(*& done is more important to me than getting it done perfectly. I’m also quick to reject tasks altogether, and NOT put them in my planner because I consider them not my problem. I guess in your case, you just wouldn’t have a virtual ‘planning balloon’ hanging in your head!

    I am fantastic with names and terrible with faces. We may actually be polar opposites 🙂 I loved reading this post!!

  5. Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I took the personality test – it turned out I was INTP, too! No wonder many of your posts echo so much with my heart. I just couldn’t express those feelings and thoughts so precisely and delicately as you did! You are an amazing person and mom!

  6. Thank you for the link! This is an interesting approach. I find the more planning I do, the better I write because I can focus on the scene and do not have to waste brain power to figure out what is happening and what my protagonists are like. I would never have predicted this. I used to think that the fun in writing comes from not knowing what happens next.

  7. I think we have a fair amount in common. I do keep lists of random administrative tasks I need to accomplish (there are SO MANY OF THEM), but I do my calendar the same way as you, and think about my work — my real work, i.e. research, not the clinical medicine work — the same way as well. I really have to wallow around in my data for a while, and then eventually the manuscript or grant kind of just writes itself. Deadlines for this sort of work really stress me out because I can’t just come up with some awesome idea by 3PM on Friday just because you say so. I do life events this way too. When we did our taxes the other weekend I just decided it would be done, and sat down and hammered them out in 2.5 hours or some such. Same with conference planning, vacations, doctor appts etc.

    Out of curiosity, do you have a messy desk? I do. However I always know where everything is. The chaos doesn’t bother me at all, and I’ve been nagged by concerned women my whole damn life to organize it. Such a waste of time! I put everything away and then I need to take it out again and then put it away again.

    Thank you for writing this. Now I see I am not alone!

  8. Hi SHU, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. This was not easy to write; where does one start? But I’m glad I got to reflect on the strategies, and hopefully it helps people that there are all kinds of brains, indeed! One of my personality traits, and I think undine speaks of this too, is feeling trapped as soon as something is on the schedule. It’s interesting how putting something on the schedule has the opposite, relaxing effect on you!

  9. omdg, definitely a messy desk here. I have a very organized female colleague who looks visibly pained whenever we meet in my office; I think clutter physically hurts her. It doesn’t bother me at all, as you say; I always know where everything is. I do clean up thoroughly periodically (end of semester), but then let stuff accumulate where it naturally falls. I understand that someone would clean often if clutter prevents them from working, but I (and you and people like us) obviously don’t give a toss, it doesn’t prevent us from doing work, so cleaning for the sake of cleaning (I’m talking clutter of books, papers, not biohazard) isn’t the best use of my time. Glad to hear your MO is so similar!

  10. Thanks for writing this! I occasionally get asked for organization tips for list haters and I always struggle with that. Now I can point people to this post!

    At a past job, I had to do a management training seminar in which we did our Myers-Briggs and then did activities to demonstrate the different approaches of the different types. The one that sticks in my mind the most was when they separated the Js from the Ps and asked us to describe how we grocery shop. The Ps stared in horror at us Js and vice versa as we described our processes! (I have a menu plan, which I use to write a list, organized by store layout….)

    The thing that strikes me most about this post is the different comfort level with holding all the tasks in your head. I hate hate HATE that. Probably about as much as you hate lists! I can’t really relax unless I think everything I need to do is captured in my lists or calendar.

  11. I too am a theoretical physicist, INTP-T, who hates making lists (or blissfully forgets them if guilted into making one), loves ‘cake before dinner’ and thrives on creativity/deadline-fueled Dirac-delta peaks of productivity. Also a long-time lurker on your blog.

    It is impossible to explain for me how deeply your writing (including short fiction, doodling), motivations, insecurities, and way of life resonates with me. I think I know now – we may be soul sisters. It is strangely reassuring that I am not alone in making sense of this idiosyncrasy called life, in my own stubborn way.

  12. I’m also an INTP. Your way of organizing things sounds way more familiar to me than all the lists. That said, a few years ago I stopped being able to just keep everything in my head – I’m juggling way too many projects and the ones I don’t care about (but which my boss really does) would just get neglected. Now I just put everything with a deadline into Google calendar, and every Monday I force myself to write out a mini-calendar for the week with tasks assigned to particular days. And later I take great pleasure in not actually following my little schedule, but at least having that list of things I’m supposed to be working on makes switching from one task to another a bit easier, and the schedule makes it easier to see when the amount of work I’m trying to do is unreasonable so that I can figure out what tasks are going to slip (I don’t have your stamina).

    As far as packing goes, I like to pack first thing in the morning the day I leave. As I get up and put on a piece of clothing, several more go in the bag. Brush my hair – brush goes in the bag. Unplug my cell phone – charger goes in the bag. On my way out the door I’ll try to come up with a list of the things it would be a total disaster (or super frustrating) if I were to forget.

    When I’m setting up a seriously complicated experiment, I’ll just do things in the order they occur to me, and then before I start just do a mental walk-through of how things are supposed to go, and figure out which bits I’m missing. I have a colleague who will occasionally follow me around as I set something up, or troubleshoot technical problems, and write up a list of all the things I’m doing because he likes to have a list to follow. We work surprisingly well together.

    Your process of just wallowing in data until things come together sounds so familiar. I make graphs, plots, movie loops, 3D visualizations, printouts covered in notes, until a story starts to emerge. Having to actually write everything out and linearize the thought process adds an astonishing amount of clarity though

  13. Ugh, WordPress ate my comment. Trying to reconstruct.

    Cloud’s comment about grocery shopping for P/J types illustrates how I’m in the middle. Since I hate shopping and want to minimize time in the store, I do organize a list by store layout. It will have some specific items on it (seltzer, chocolate chips). It will also have categories like “vegetables” and “protein,” and I will have to see what looks good and what goes with what else. I guess I do meal planning on the fly, in the store. I can’t do it in advance, because what if I wanted to do a meal with asparagus and turkey, and then the asparagus was limp and/or woody, and they didn’t have turkey? Cooking, and therefore shopping, are creative processes for me.

    And I’m with Wendy on this: “later I take great pleasure in not actually following my little schedule, but at least having that list of things I’m supposed to be working on makes switching from one task to another a bit easier, and the schedule makes it easier to see when the amount of work I’m trying to do is unreasonable so that I can figure out what tasks are going to slip (I don’t have your stamina).”

  14. I’m an INTP and I’m pretty much the same way, though I do use lists once in awhile just to get stuff out of my head. Then I recycle the list right away because I know I’m never going to look at it again 😉

  15. One thing I have at least learned and come to terms with myself: It takes me all day- or, at least 6 hours- to pack/prep for a trip. I envy those of you who can just throw stuff together in an hour. I have no rational scientific idea why, but it takes me about the same amount of time (at least half a day) whether I am going somewhere for a weekend, or for three weeks. Even though that is one of the tasks I approach in a very systematized way, with a physical checklist of everything I might need for any conceivable trip. Kudos to you.

  16. It drives Prodigal Spouse nuts that I don’t/can’t use lists. He is a big list user. When I’ve tried, I’ve lost or forgotten about them. I use a similar system to you–memory combined with Google calendar. I throw things with deadlines and meeting onto my calendar to make sure I get them done on time.

    My desk is a total wreck by the end of the semester, since I just pile things up. I can almost always find what I need, though, since I can remember when I left things. I usually pack for trips the day I leave and it takes me less than an hour. I don’t worry about forgetting anything but what I will need for work–even clothing is fairly easy to find if I forget something (which I rarely do).

    I hate planning social events, and I often dread them until I am there (then, it is usually alright). I hate planning my kids’ birthday parties, but I know what I need to do, so I decide on a date/activity, then buy what I need a few days ahead of time. The kids have always been satisfied, and I don’t waste time agonizing over details. I do tend to agonize about pulling the trigger on large purchases (and plane tickets) because I am cheap and hate to waste money, but once I do, it is done and I don’t think about it until the night before I go.

    I never menu plan, and in fact sometimes decide on dinner after I get home and look at what we have. I do grocery shop once a week, and we eat whatever I brought home then. I walk down each aisle and get what I think I need/what I am in the mood for. I do the cooking, so no one complains about what I brought home. 🙂

    I have group meeting once a week, and meet with students as needed. I keep my office door open, unless I am heads down and don’t want to be bothered, so my students drop in when they want to talk to me.

  17. Thank you for these posts. I’m fascinated by how you think and wish I could hold as much in my head as you do while blocking out truly unimportant things. My subconscious seems to prioritize different things than I want it to sometimes. I’m INFJ and prone to anxiety, and I will ruminate amount all that needs to be done unless I can dump it in a calendar and project management system and see that yes, it can be done in the time available, and here’s how.

    I have problems managing trainees who are not as conscientious and do not update me on their process. I *hate* repeating myself from one week to the next. We’ll have an informal verbal contract of the next steps in the analysis, I’ll ask or confirm by when it can be done, and at the next meeting, only half is done, and trainee appears to have forgotten much of what we discussed the previous week. Or I’ll discover at a committee meeting that certain calculations were never performed that I had clearly asked for months ago (e.g., model validation). I’ll also sometimes ask trainee to keep the project task list updated so our collaborators can see where we are in the analysis at all times, and trainee just doesn’t do it. I understand that list-making and deadlines can be a PITA, but isn’t structure critical for collaborations? It helps me know when I need to clear my schedule so I can turn around a draft quickly, review some code, etc. I *never* expect research to go linearly or smoothly, but over short time scales, it shouldn’t be so unpredictable. It bums me out that coordination is so hard with some people.

    I don’t want to be too Type A here, but I don’t know how to be a laissez-faire manager while also ensuring productivity. I’ve got monthly progress reports due to my funding agencies, I’m on the tenure track, etc. I don’t want to stifle people… our research relies heavily on creativity and insight… but lists on some scale seem essential.

    On another note, I had a series of epiphanies as an adult when I discovered I was INFJ. I had gone most of my life assuming other people were as concerned about ethical principles as I was, but they somehow had just figured it all out, and I was the angsty dumb one worried perennially worried about whether I could offset my moral harms (carbon, etc.) through good actions. A therapist told me point blank this was not normal. My relationship with the world at large and other people has been much easier since I realized I run on different fuel.

  18. Assistant Prof- I am project manager and sometimes people manager by profession, and have managed projects with a wide range of personalities. I find that list haters will let me have my lists as long as I don’t expect them to do anything with the lists, which is fine- that is my job as the project manager. I just learn how to get a status update from each person (some people respond to an email, others will ignore emails and I have to bump into them in the break room and get a casual update, etc) and when I’m only a project manager and not their line manager, I just roll with it. When I’m the line manager, I ask for a weekly status report or face to face check in. If they choose the status report, it is a simple format: Here’s what I did this week (2-5 bullets) and here’s what I’m going to do next week (again, 2-5 bullets), and here’s where I’m blocked or need help. If they choose a face to face check in, I ask those questions in the meeting.

    I think professors do their trainees a favor when they require some sort of check in, because they’ll need to learn how to give status updates at some point. Furthermore, those that go out into the business world are going to have to learn how to work with the management style of their boss, even if their boss is a list lover and they are a list hater. A good boss will adjust a bit to accommodate each person’s work style, but not to the point of not getting the info he or she needs. And anyway, not all bosses are good bosses, and sometimes you just have to suck it up and work with the boss you have.

  19. Thanks so much for doing this post. Kids fevers have prevented me from getting to this sooner.
    I really resonate with some of the things you talk about – especially not wanting to go to something (fun!) that is a commitment such as a concert. I thought there is something wrong with me. I’m an ENFP although very much on the cusp of I.
    I wish I was more of a satisficer. That would help in planning. Sometimes I can totally take that approach and other times I do really need to plan. It’s figuring out the difference.
    I do use my outlook calendar for all appointments and as long as I put things in right away I can forget about it. Although I need to do the two day before reminder as sometimes I get caught off guard.
    I teach at a teaching community college in Canada and am in class 10 to 20 hours a week and have my own prep and marking (we don’t have TA’s but we also don’t do research). Most of my work stuff I keep in my head and do ok with that. I also pile everything on my desk during the semester and then clean up once a session is done. Out of sight means forget completely for me.
    I also can’t do meal planning. I’ve tried but there is me (who needs to decide in the moment what I want to make) and my kids are in a super picky phase where I think they collude late at night so that they each won’t eat what the other wants.
    Thank you so much for writing this post. It makes me feel more ….normal! I love SHU and do read Laura Vanderkam as well and wondered why I just couldn’t make a great system work for me.
    Now in reading your post and comments too – it feels good knowing that lots of people feel the same way.

  20. I really enjoyed this post because I love reading about people’s planning systems, whether they are like mine or not. I’m INFJ, and love lists and tables. My husband is a strong P. This used to drive me nuts but now we kind of have a system where I set up the big picture plan and then set him spontaneously on a piece like a kid’s party and it’s just done!

  21. Forgot to say that I went to college with one of those organizational gurus you mentioned in a previous post (and another famous one who writes about really short work weeks), and I couldn’t relate to them well in real life either. It has really helped me de-romanticize so much of the ‘self-optimization’ hype.

  22. Amazing post. You should write the description of INTP for everything–seriously. Everything you said makes absolute chiming sense. You asked how we all work? You said it here “I maximize productivity by trying, as much as possible, to do the stuff that I crave to do at a given moment.”

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