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Advisory Column: How to thrive as a ‘type A’ personality

Published:Friday | May 8, 2015 | 1:47 PMFrancis Wade

Most leaders of Jamaica's companies share a single trait - the 'Type A' personality. It means they face some unique and growing challenges to the realisation of their goals.

A Google search offers up many definitions of this trait, some of which are quite extreme. Most leaders, however, aren't the hypertensive, unfeeling, Machiavellian types who are often used to dramatise the definition. Instead, they have deep, passionate commitments and love to solve real problems, the bigger the better.

Using time effectively is an imperative: they are often impatient, hard workers who don't know what it's like to leave work at 4:30 p.m. - unless it's to arrive on time for another obligation. They are a distinct group, but just being a 'Type A' doesn't mean that you have a free ticket to the executive suite. However, according to research by Dr Meyer Friedman, a disproportionately high number of executives (75 per cent) are Type A's. That's twice as high as the general population.

Their proactive nature means that they often show up in my local productivity training programmes with sturdy habits already in place, but with no way to get better. Based on empirical data collected from over 150 participants, here are three facts you may need if are a Type A looking to improve.

Finding No. 1 - Your skills must evolve in order to reach new goals.

Type A's are perhaps the most ambitious employees. They are always on the hunt for better results, which means they are eager to process more time demands with greater speed. Unfortunately, if you belong to this group, you may be making a common mistake.

These high performers have learned that being more forceful gets them closer to what they want, especially when success relies on driving themselves to higher performance. In other words, they have found that "working harder" works.

In my training, it comes as a surprise to many Type A's that their daily practices are quite common. Furthermore, the data shows that what has worked for them in the past will no longer work in the future. This is easy to see once they confront the modern fact of information overload caused by a combination of mobility and internet availability. They must find new ways to operate if they hope to cope.

While this might be obvious to others, Type A's are often too busy to step back and notice when they need to evolve and develop new skills.

Finding No. 2 - Your evolution requires that you use less memory.

As a Type A, you probably have a quick mind which retains lots of facts, developed through years of memory-based schooling. You are quite good at recalling time demands - maybe better than anyone you know.

If you were to retain very few commitments in life, this approach would work just fine. However, Type A's have a propensity to take on greater responsibilities at home, work, community and in their personal lives. When combined with the challenge of information overload, they constantly feel time-starved.

As a result, they can't survive in the future by using memory and must transition to the use of paper, digital devices or an administrative assistant.

Those who insist on using memory for this purpose may function for a while and even use their quick thinking to stay out of trouble. But at some point their advancing age betrays them. Some try in vain to improve their memory, but the research is clear: they will one day fail.

Finding No. 3 - Replacing memory with a list, and ultimately with a schedule.

If you commit to replacing your memory with other means of storage, that's just the beginning. Due to the constraints of the human mind, research shows that there is a progression of skills you must follow if you hope to manage an increase in time demands.

Most people start by trading the use of their memory for a to-do list. This helps in the beginning unless there is a further increase that causes this technique to falter. Then, you must switch over to using multiple lists, sorted by a set of custom categories.

Ultimately, if the number increases even further even this approach fails. The final transition to make is to the use of a schedule or calendar. While most people only use a calendar to record appointments with other people, competent Type A's are more likely to use their calendar to manage all their time demands. They focus on scheduling those tasks which are non-habitual and require conscious attention to prevent them from disappearing.

As you may imagine, after you decide to make these transitions, they don't happen overnight. There are a number of intricate habits, practices and rituals for you to master - unlike the habit of 'working harder' they don't come easily.

Thriving as a Type A means continuously teaching yourself new skills with respect to your time demands, a new requirement if you hope to realise your goals in today's world.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of 'Perfect Time-Based Productivity'. To receive a summary of links to past columns, or give feedback, email: