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What's Your Productivity Style? How 4 Personalities Can Get More Done

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If you’re struggling to get more done in a day, it might be because you’re thinking of productivity as a one-size-fits-all endeavor, says Carson Tate, author of Work Simply. “We each have a productivity style, influenced by how we think and process information,” she says. “If you’re not customizing your strategies to that style, they’re not going to work for you and you’re going to get frustrated.” She breaks down the four styles and corresponding strategies that can turn you into an efficient, to-do-list-killing machine.


Style Traits: You’re analytical and competitive. Long-winded explanations set your teeth on edge, and when coworkers start swapping stories about what they did over the weekend you start silently watching the clock (so much wasted time!). "Prioritizers are very focused on the outcome or goal—not the soccer game your kid had over the weekend,” says Tate. “They want people to make their point and back it up—they never met a piece of data they didn’t like.”

Productivity Boost: Play to your natural competitive streak by timing yourself as you run through routine tasks, suggests Tate. How quickly can you prep lunches before work? How many minutes does it take to clear out your inbox each morning? Trying to beat your own time will spur you to stay focused, but it can also nudge you to streamline—like prepping a week’s worth of veggies at once or setting up templates for emails you send again and again.


Style Traits: You’re hyper-organized, detail-driven, and thrive on deadlines. You have every appointment and reminder possible in your calendar, and you relish making action plans. Your biggest pet peeve is when people are running perpetually late. “These are the people who turn their work in early and will add an item to their to-do list even if it’s already done, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off,” says Tate.

Productivity Boost: Batching should be your new best friend, says Tate. That means scheduling time to knock out all of your phone calls at once or cranking through spreadsheet set-up, assembly-style. “Grouping similar tasks together lets you get into a flow state and not waste any time switching between tasks,” she explains.

Another trick that works particularly well for planners is creating a to-do list of things that can be done in 15 minutes or less. “There are so many microsegements in the day, where you finish one meeting and have another starting in 15 minutes,” says Tate. “Instead of defaulting to email, a 15-minute list lets you actually execute.”


Style Traits: A natural born facilitator, you’re highly intuitive and communicative. You do your best work with people and on teams, and you tend to understand instinctually what needs to get done to wrap up a project. “They’re the people who will color-code their calendars, because color is important, or have certain types of pens for certain tasks,” says Tate.

Productivity Boost: Spending the entire day holed up in an office will actually backfire for Arrangers. “They need to intersperse solo work with group work,” says Tate, or their energy and focus will start to flag. Schedule a coffee break with coworkers, or break up a big work project with quick trips to the water cooler. Those minutes aren’t wasted—they’re recharging your efficiency and focus. Sunshine can also have a surprisingly big impact on productivity with this group, says Tate. Even standing near a window for a few minutes will perk you up to get more done.


Style Traits: Post-its and white boards are your go-tool tools, and even though your cubicle may seem like it’s in disarray you can locate anything in less than a minute. “Visualizers are big-picture thinkers and risk takers,” says Tate. “They’re great at juggling a large variety of work, and they work very quickly.” They’re also the ones who are most likely to squeak in just seconds before the deadline, and to chafe at lengthy processes. “Too much structure drives them crazy, because they want time and space to think and brainstorm.”

Productivity Boost: Stop thinking you can knock out a project in one long marathon work session. “Visualizers crave novelty, so to keep your energy and momentum high you need to break up the boring work with more interesting work,” says Tate. While ping-ponging between tasks might slow other styles down, it can actually fuel this group—so think of yourself as a sprinter, working on one thing for 20 minutes before moving on to something completely different.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]