Personality and Productivity

Personality and Productivity

In hindsight, the past 8 weeks have brought some changes in my perspective:

  • For the first time in my life, I have a pretty good idea of what it is that I’m good at, and for the first time people are actually able to see what that is. I know I have a lot of improvements to make as far as clarifying what that is: information graphic design and making stories by design are the two areas that I seem to be naturally drawn to. Never has the path been so clear.
  • I have also started to meet some more people locally in a pure social context, which has been good for shaking me out of my rut. I am newly energized.

With these two positive changes, I would have expected to be more productive than ever before! Instead, I find that I’m operating at less than peak efficiency. For one thing, I feel like there’s tons of things to create from scratch and it’s somewhat daunting. Another thing is that even though I know precisely what I need to build, I’m not particularly excited about doing it. Intellectually, I understand that the END RESULT would be fantastic and awesome. But something isn’t kicking off. In fact, it’s a bit depressing to be at home in my office working on these things by myself. What happened to the excitement of 2005? It’s like I’m a different person.

Oh…now that is an interesting idea to explore.


I’ve taken the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator periodically since I was a sophomore in college. The MBTI is a 4-letter code that describes four preferences we have of looking at the world; it’s not really based on science, but I find it surprisingly insightful. I think of the MBTI as a really good fortune cookie, and it’s been a useful introspection tool.

Over the years I’ve been keeping track of how I’ve typed; it’s interesting to me to see what’s changed.

1988 Type INFP: INFPs, more than other iNtuitive Feeling types, are focused on making the world a better place for people. Their primary goal is to find out their meaning in life. What is their purpose? How can they best serve humanity in their lives? They are idealists and perfectionists, who drive themselves hard in their quest for achieving the goals they have identified for themselves.

Back then, I was a confused engineering student wondering how the world worked. I’d just come back “home” to the US, to find that the past 10 years i’d been away pretty much erased any common context I had with my peers. Six years of slow culture shock ensue.

1992 Type INTP: INTPs live in the world of theoretical possibilities. They see everything in terms of how it could be improved, or what it could be turned into. They live primarily inside their own minds, having the ability to analyze difficult problems, identify patterns, and come up with logical explanations. They seek clarity in everything, and are therefore driven to build knowledge.

At the time I was finishing up engineering grad school and not liking it. Then I went to Art School to fix that, and on getting my MFA went into the video game industry (my dream since high school). Growth ensues, painfully induced by the reality of the industry and my own inexperience.

1999 Type INTJ: With Introverted Intuition dominating their personality, INTJs focus their energy on observing the world, and generating ideas and possibilities. Their mind constantly gathers information and makes associations about it. They are tremendously insightful and usually are very quick to understand new ideas. However, their primary interest is not understanding a concept, but rather applying that concept in a useful way.

This was when I realized suddenly that all those self-proclaimed “experts” telling me what to do had no qualification whatsoever regarding my life, ideals, or methodologies. They were just repeating what someone else had told them. I gained the confidence to ask questions more deeply, taking my confusion as a signal that something was not right with the explanation; this was NOT a reflection that I was stupid. This insight gave me permission to apply my analytical side with great confidence, though this tends to isolate me socially because I was “on” all the time (and kind of scary).

2003 NOTE: This is when I left the company I was with and started freelancing full time to clear my head and pursue my own opportunities. It was something I had to do, though I didn’t know exactly what that was.

2005 Type INTJ/INFP: I make some new friends and start blogging. I discover that being in analysis mode all the time isn’t necessary, and can turn it “off”. I discover that my Feeling vs Thinking and Judging versus Perceiving axis is starting to become very closely balanced; I tend to favor neither side. Another insight is that if I’m in “work mode”, I tend to type as INTJ. If I’m in “friend / teacher” mode, I tend to type as INFP. Oddly, it’s never INTP or INFJ.

Looking back at the historical record, I can see I’ve always been introverted, which means that I tend to focus my attention on the world of ideas and the inner self. That jibed with my tendencies to stay at home, not like crowds or large parties, or even like using the telephone.

I can also see that as my confidence has grown, my personality has tracked with it. The first surge of confidence was in 1998-89, when I had the time to reflect on my bizarre career path and make sense out of it. This confidence was in my ability to think and assess; previously, I had thought myself not qualified to do so in public. The second surge of confidence started building in 2005, this time in my ability to feel and perceive; in other words, it’s OK to go with the flow and experience the world.


Today, I was sitting at my computer, half-heartedly picking at some pixels with Photoshop’s awful pixel-editing toolset. I was distracted by a half-dozen other projects I would have liked to do, but then I caught myself: I didn’t want to do them, I just wanted them done so I could get on with things and make some things happen. I idly thought, This must be what it’s like to be an Extrovert stuck inside all day, away from people. Good thing I’m more Introvert than Extrovert…

Wait a minute! On August 25th, I wrote the following:

My elation stems from an increase in social networking; I’ve been meeting, emailing, and chatting with fascinating new people on a nearly daily basis. As a result, I’m starting to get some inquiries about project work from people who I’d really love to work for. And I’m also finding that whereas this used to drain me, it now energizes me. Out of curiosity I retook the MBTI (actually, it was the very similar OkCupid version) to see if my personality had shifted…not surprisingly, I am scoring more E than I for the first time ever. WEIRD.

At first, I didn’t recall how I had scored, so I took the rather simple Bloginality Blog Personality test. It’s also based on the MBTI, though it’s more self-interpretive than the longer form. I scored as ENTP, the “inventor” or “visionary” type, depending on the writeup you look at. When I finally remembered that OkCupid stores test results, I saw that I scored ENTP on that as well; the profile had this interesting tidbit:

ENTPs are less interested in developing plans of actions or making decisions than they are in generating possibilities and ideas. Following through on the implementation of an idea is usually a chore to the ENTP. For some ENTPs, this results in the habit of never finishing what they start. The ENTP who has not developed their Thinking process will have problems with jumping enthusiastically from idea to idea, without following through on their plans.

Interesting. There’s also this bit in the functional analysis of the type:

Making, discovering and developing connections between and among two or more of anything is virtually automatic. The product of intuition is merely an icon of process; ENTPs are in the business of change, improvement, experimentation.


Thinking’s job is to lend focus and direction to iNtuition’s critical mass. The temporary habitations of changeling iNtuition are constructed of Boolean materials from Thinking’s storehouse. Ultimately, Thinking is no match for iNtuition’s prodigiousness. Systems lie in various states of disarray, fragmentary traces of Thinking’s feverish attempts to shadow and undergird the leaps of the dominant function.

Eerie. This is a good description of how I’m feeling.


If I’m truly starting to ooze towards the extroversion side of the E-I scale, this has some important ramifications:

  • It’s true that I like meeting people these days. It’s what I think about most of the time, and the distraction is sapping my productivity. I thought that this was just a natural byproduct of working at home, and needing some variety in my daily routine, but it may actually be that my shift toward extroversion has been manifesting for quite some time. I am craving more stimulation, and I won’t be happy unless I get it.
  • If it’s people stimulation I need, then this may also be the missing source of motivation I’ve been needing. I had assumed in the past that I just needed to find the “right product” or “right audience” to focus on to create that productive feeling. I knew I liked being around positive, self-empowered people, but I didn’t think that they might be an integral part of my production cycle.
  • This sudden change to extroversion signals a third surge in confidence: Because I know what I can do, and who I am, I’m much more willing to project that vibe into the world and see what comes back for the sheer joy of it. That is a significant change in my outlook. Before, I thought of the world purely as a source of data to be processed internally and mined for useful insight to alleviate my uncertainty about the world. Now that I think of the world as an interesting place to be in, my desire is to experience it more directly and process-on-the-fly.

If the above are true, then I need to shift my priorities. While it’s true still true that I need to be writing and creating software to further my agenda, it will be slow going unless I incorporate people into that cycle. I’ve been approaching it from different angles—through comments, contact email, the forum, meeting people in real life, etc.—but not directly. The direct approach would be to either join a company or recruit people.


I’ve been thinking of what it would mean to start some kind of organization, but it has to now just been an idle thought. If it is, as I have theorized, a necessary catalyst, then I need to do something about it. Otherwise, I’m doomed to stay in my rut. Before I plan out production, I need to plan for people and not be self-conscious about it.

The general thought is this: As one matures and develops confidence, one’s personality may shift in unforseen ways. So, it’s worth reassessing yourself every once in a while to test your assumptions; maybe you’re ready for something new.


  1. Milo Riano 18 years ago

    Hey David,

    I have been looking for this kind of tests because I took one before and I got the INTJ. Cool that was the time I realized I was still a normal person and we do exists.

    Thanks for this list, I have been telling my friends about it but can’t get that type of test. MBTI. Cool!


  2. Katy 18 years ago

    Oooh, conincidence! I recently decided to revisit my MBTI “score” to see how it had changed over the past 6 months or so. I was really sure I would be an “E” now rather than an “I” (The reasons behind this thought can be found in my post – Me versus the MBTI – I shan’t bore you here!) but, much to my surprise I am still an “I” (ISFJ to be exact).

    I had a rather lovely email from one of my readers who said that rather than being a true “Introvert” in the hermit sense, it was more a case of how you recharge yourself. I, as an “I”, need peace & quiet whereas an “E” may actively seek out others to re-energise themselves – Do you find this to be true Dave?

    Personally I’m not sure a personal can be encapsulated by 4 tiny letters but it’s fun taking the tests anyway!

  3. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Milo: Yes, the The LONG Scientific Personality Test on OkCupid (a free non-annoying online dating service) will do the typing (it appears to be very similar, if not exactly the same, to other versions of the test online that have since disappeared). It doesn’t require registration either, which I like :-)

    Katy: Yes, on the recharge thing! I’ve read that also, about Introverts needing time to recharge after going out. I’ve been finding that PEOPLE have been recharging me, and being inside has been depleting me. I’d assumed that I was still an “I” and needed the solitude. Now it is driving me nuts.

    It might be that I just need a FEW more people, which is completely ok with Is…Es like crowds, Is don’t particularly care for them. I find I like being in crowds just for the experience, but not to talk to people unless I notice something interesting. I’m maybe just SLIGHTLY extroverted, and maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through. Whatever it is, it’s interesting to consider. Gonna check out your post now :-)

  4. Jodie Miners 18 years ago

    Hi David, Fascinating article, I really related to your sense of change over the years. I have always been firmly an ISTJ. I would love to be in your position, where you know now who you are and what you can do. I think I’m half there. And the bit about data being a useful way to alleviate uncertainty about the world is really interesting. I was just nodding along as I was reading it. Basically your post gives me a bit of direction… I too would one day like to get there – like to get to a point where feeling secure enough in myself will allow me to WANT to start interacting with people, and to feel engergised by that. At the moment I’m still very much in the rut of being social is something I NEED to do to maintain a balanced life, but I still need to come back to being alone to re-engergise. So, if I were to give myself a score I’d say I’m half way there… and I look forward to the journey ahead.

    (Hey, who’d ever thought a blog about graphic design would turn into a quasi therapy blog). Thanks for the fantastic work David.

  5. Alvin 18 years ago

    Hmm fascinating analysis, Dave! I’m gonna go score my MBTI again, I haven’t re-visited it for a long time. I used to think they stay stuck but perhaps they do change with time and it’s a good idea to stay aware of those changes.

    Ever looked into the Enneagram? I found the reasoning behind it a bit dodgy but surprisingly it works beautifully for me.

    You can take the test here.

  6. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Jodie: Glad you liked it! We’re kindred spirits walking the same path, me thinks! It’s also very nice for you to think my blog is about Graphic Design…that makes it sound like I did it on purpose! :-D

    Here’s a few ideas that elped me along the way to getting braver about engaging the real world:

    (1) Very Few Things will Actually Kill You
    (2) It’s Surprisingly Hard to Get Fired for Trying
    (3) If You Want To Feel A Certain Way, Project The Vibe That Will Attract It!
    (4) Your Friends Will Still Love You

    Alvin: I haven’t really looked much into the Enneagram. I’ll take the test…the 36 question one shows me as Type 1 (6 points), followed by types 2,5,9 (5 points), the rest are 3 pointers.

  7. Wendy 18 years ago

    Dave – I’ve noticed a very similar pattern in MBTI results as I change over time.  Sometimes INTJ, Sometimes INTP, Sometimes INFP.  Though I think my results vary based on my mood that day and what is going on in my life….

    I’ve been really fascinated by the percentage scale within the test – how far you swing one way or the other.  Since I tend to test the T/F, J/P about 50/50, I think any changes there may be more likely for me than a shift from introversion to extroversion or from intuition to sensation.

    Thank you so much for the nice comment on my blog and for presenting your internal processes to the world.  It’s nice to find kindred spirits….

  8. Carl 18 years ago

    Hi work at a business school where we run these types of psychometric testing all the time.

    The interesting thing about the MBTI is that your fundamental type is said to not change over the course of your life. The theory says that from a certain age, you are set with the same MBTI type.

    Now, that’s not to say that you can’t display other traits found in other types. Your natural preference though should not change.

    So why do your results change when you do the test? Again, the theory here indicates that your current mood, work, life, etc. all contribute to how you might perceive and respond to the questions. As you continue to grow, your result should settle and display your true/natural preference.

    I don’t know if the online tests do it, but the full test will usually give you many scales of where you are with each type. David, my guess is that you may be far into the ‘I’ scale since that seems to rarely change for you. You may be closer to the centre in the T-F J-P scales.

    This just means that whilst you have a strong preference being an introvert, you feel more comfortable playing either of the T-F and the J-P roles.

    That my 0.02c worth. I’m an ENTJ and always have been – so far!


  9. Milo Riano 18 years ago

    Thanks Dave. Cool, I’ll take it again and have my friends and family take it as well. Thanks again!

  10. Maria 18 years ago

    One of the things that most surprises me in your personality shift is the fact that you’ve oscillated between Perceiving and Judging.

    The way how I mostly differentiate these two is: P procrastinates, doesn’t need to make decisions, or resolve issues to function. J needs to find resolution, make decisions and act on them. Ambiguity must be resolved for J to feel comfortable. I know it: I am a J, and am married to a P. Very funny dynamic.

    You, being a guy who produces all these awesome power tools to track and foster productivity would never strike as a P. It’s interesting.

    I seem to be a “solid” ISTJ, but when I was going through my personal process to change careers from Engineering/Business to Art/Design (we seem to have things in common, BTW), I tested borderline between N and S, and between T and F. Overall, at the core, I think I’m mostly S and T, but I also found it interesting to see the changes… ISTJs are usually defined as perfect for boring tasks like accounting, statistics, and cost analysis, and hell yes: We are. I am. BUT I don’t like doing that… Supervisors discover me, and usually want to make me take that role because I’m so good at it, and I constantly have to fight against it. So maybe, I’m not such a solid ISTJ after all.

    After a year living the dream (i.e. freelancing from home) I also started feeling a little weird, and at some point I wondered if it had to do with missing the daily interaction with people. I know I do a little, as much as a hermit as I am. But I know that I am fundamentally an introvert. Big parties and frequent social events really drain my energy. I get a little kick out of the occasional outing, but too much of that and I need to crawl in my little nest. “Networking” is a dirty-dirty word on my book.

    Well done, Dave. This is a thought-provoking post…

  11. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Wendy: That’s a great point, about moods and other factors affecting the results! When I take the test, I usually split my mentality into two sides: At Work, and At Home and take it twice. Work and external expectations tends to warp the way we react naturally; at home, if home is a safe and pleasant place for us, we tend to be more ourselves. My only strong trait is N, next strongest is I, and then T/F J/P are pretty close to each other. And yes, it’s great to find kindred spirits like yourself! Blogging rocks :-)

    Carl: I was thinking about what you said, about our fundamental type not changing. I’ve read the same thing. Our weaker traits do develop as we mature too, so I originally thought that maybe I was just “even-ing out”. What occured to me while writing the above post, which I didn’t really touch on, was that when you’re younger some of those external stressors and expectations, coupled with our own internal issues, may submerge our personality types. As we grow more confident (mature?) our true natures may feel more free to express themselves. I sometimes would think of my INTJ type as being a kind of “armor” I would strap on to face the real world. As I grow less confrontational with the world, I am feeling my natural curiosity and desire to play in it coming back to the fore…for the longest time, I lived in environments where I felt like an unvalued outsider, and I wonder now if my “I” was partly a defense mechanism. The personality is also shaped to some degree, by my evolving VALUES and increasing willingness to express them.

  12. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Maria: P and procrastination…interesting connection! I have been feeling rather procastinate-y lately. My INTJ persona tends to be invoked in direct response to something…a threat to my people, maybe, or my situation. Right now I’ve been in a less assessing mood, and I’ve noticed a marked increase in “mellow hours” in which not a lot is getting done. I may primarily be an introvert actually…I do like spending time by myself, but it might be because I’m trying to motivate and re-orient myself. I actually am fairly adept at it, but I wonder if this is something that I just do because I have to. The alternative is to feel lost or bored. If the chance pops up to spend some time with someone else, I’ve always tended to go for it if I felt (1) confident in myself and (2) didn’t feel the hot breath of an oncoming deadline on my neck.

    So it’s very mysterious and interesting to me.

  13. Lynn E. O'Connor 18 years ago

    You’ve got a fan here Dave. And a psychologist, professor, researcher (see my web site, and you’ll see what I do—and tell everyone to take the “Emotions and personality” study, its another new test,and I won’t know who anyone is, so I won’t know anyone’s scores, they are really anonymous.

    I am ditto to you right now Dave,and maybe that is why I found you.I have been procrastinating for almost two years. Political trouble in academia, the death of a mentor, complying with a lot of put downs from narrow minded idiots, I don’t know. I study survivor guilt so my guess is we’re both suffering from it at the moment. Something is holding me back, I’ve been stalling at writing up articles for publication once I’ve presented results at conferences, stalling at this, stalling at that. My whole field has to change dramatically. But somehow I resonated with your personality angst, and the stuckness you described going along with it. I am bored with my own tiny lab, my own work. That’s how I found you, the bubbles get me to read a dissertation I don’t want to read, “just do it for fifteen minutes, you can fill in a bubble.” Guess what, my graduate students absolutely love the bubbles, they are all procrastinators. I think that might be part of the problem, I’ve been hanging out in a clinical program for a long time, I’m the only one there who actually does research, I got completely isolated and withdrew to my home office which I admit to loving, and began reading organization, ‘how to” “GTD” kinds of almost business minded materials/books, and even found you. I am finding myself thinking “what in the hell am I doing in this dead-end, low pay when you get right down to it, go no where scene anyway. I want out. I’m a lot older than you.. so can I deal with changing at my age? Was it your father,  who took up the viola in his 70’s. (Maybe it was Merlin’s father? Someone else’s father?). And the incredible woman who took up weight lifting in her 70s (I’m not quite in my 70’s, but not that far away, and ready to move somewhere different, do something different, money making, maybe that should be the goal for once, but it doesn’t grab me too much.  Well if I could change my field I might feel differently. But you should know and be very pleased that you are helping my procrastinating students a great deal. In our first seminar a few weeks ago, I handed out the Task tracker, and several others and they went right to town, I’ve never seen such excitment. I have finally realized we are not born knowning how to organize etc, we learn it. So I tell them that. And use your stuff, and Merlin’s, and Allen’s etc. And before I knew it they were even excited about jumping into their dissertation research. It really was a joy to see their excitement.  But I am NOT excited. I need to meet more fast minded, moving ahead, exciting kinds of people, and I am really sort of stuck about how to do that. I was at one point surrounded by people, politics, before I became a dumb ass “professional.” Pleaes check out my lab’s web page,, let me know if you have any ideas. And I resonated with your blog here, something about—well now everything is sort of in place and it doesn’t feel so great. Maybe we just feel guilty about our successes (i.e. survivor guilt, feeling better off than mom, or dad, or sister, or brother, or best friend, whatever). I feel it to so many people it makes me umm queasy.

    Keep writing the truth, whatever that is for you on any day, because it seems close to the truth for me. You are getting right to me. And feel good about a bunch of doctoral students using your tools to begin working, organizing themselves, etc.


  14. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Lynn: Wow! Thanks for the great post! You might enjoy The Forum here…a lot of us are figuring out stuff there. It’s not that active, but it’s a place where you might feel you can ask questions in a supportive environment.

  15. James Coplien 12 years ago

    MBTI is about interactions between people, such as happen on teams. While individual performance can vary by two orders of magnitude, it’s a drop in the bucket relative to the three orders of magnitude one can achieve with proper team composition — read, “proper combination of temperaments.”

    Going to the next level, your temperament isn’t a life sentence. Understanding your temperament and those of the people around you can help you apply your energy in productive ways to harmonize with them. Don’t let your personality drive you; that’s not at all what MBTI is about.