Focus and productivity are some of the biggest challenges that INTPs face in our personal development. This is because our main decision-making function of Introverted Thinking is an internal logical process. It's quite easy to simulate a completed project in our minds and feel complete while bringing a project into reality feels tedious.
That's ultimately why many of us lose focus... its quicker to do the work in our head or at least it seems that way. But we all know that a project in our mind may as well not exist at all. It serves no purpose to stay in our heads and we've gotta find ways to bring projects to life for others to benefit from our work.
Here are some tricks about focus and productive output that I, as a fellow INTP, have used over my 20-year career as a graphic designer to get things done.
One of the things that stress me out as an INTP is when tasks or projects are drawn out and take way too long. I'm more likely to seek distractions when I know something is going to require repetition or if I don't know how long it's going to take.
I personally practice the art of "thrashing." This is a concept created by Seth Godin. This means I work as quickly as I can, make as many mistakes as I can, and experiment to my heart's content until the project is about 80% done. Once I reach that 80% mark I submit it for approval, feedback, or critique.
The idea is to get the project to a minimum viable product as quickly as possible. Sometimes an approver will say "Great, we're done" and other times you've got adjustments to make. The idea is that you, as the INTP, get most of the creative control then you can fine-tune the final details for delivery.
This also stifles the compulsion to be a perfectionist as you're not trying to hit the arbitrary mark of 100% perfect. 80% is good enough to ship it out. Anything after 80% begins a law of diminishing returns. Each percentage point requires more time and detail, which ultimately isn't a smart use of our time and isn't worth it.
Find the Best Tools for the Job
In order to thrash and do the best job you can in a quick fashion, you'll need the right tools for the job. This will vary based on your profession and individual preferences.
This could mean programs, physical tools, templates, extensions, shortcuts, schedulers, planners, keyboard shortcuts, integrations, etc. The key is that these tools save time and assist in your natural brain wiring.
The tricky part is that there will be tools out there that promise productive growth but they are not catered to the INTP. Be sure to evaluate every tool properly for what it is, not for its promise. Schedulers and calendars are a good example of this. I personally keep a master list of big picture tasks but I mostly plan in my head and trust that process. I keep a calendar but I only schedule appointments with others, not tasks. Both of which I have both on desktop and my phone for easy updating.
A specific example is a tool call Font Ninja that I use for my design work. If I see a font online that I want I can identify the font quickly with this extension instead of searching through hundreds of fonts for what I need. For my YouTube videos, I have a template created for my thumbnails as there is no point in reinventing the wheel every time. It saves a lot of time.
The main criteria for an effective tool or template is to use whatever helps you both speed up time spent on a project and actually get it done with little resistance. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it needs updating over time and your needs change then update it.
In order to know what tools work best, you're going to need to track your competencies. This means testing and improving your time in creating projects. Think of it as a time trial in a video game, test to see how well you can execute certain tasks to get a feel for the possibilities and a handle on the timing.
If you're a creative freelancer, for example, you'll need to quote your work based on time spent on the project. And if you don't know how long the project will take you may miss deadlines or quote inaccurately.
Testing yourself will help you see how much time you have for yourself as well as how much you actually need to focus. Otherwise, we can psyche ourselves out by assuming a project will take longer than we think. This limits the meta emotions of anxiety about anxiety and allows you to gain trust in your ability to both own your personal time and accomplish the job.
Only Allow Productive Distractions
Distractions will happen as you develop your own sense of self-discipline. And one of the best things you can do is to just let it happen. But only allow for distractions that support the project or your learning. Save tutorials, helpful articles, podcasts, etc using those various tools we talked about earlier.
Stephen Covey, the writer of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, came up with a model to help prioritize tasks.
We can identify task priority by 4 basic criteria:
Urgent and Important - The immediate fires we have to put out because there are consequences to not finishing them. Crises. Pressing problems. Our kid spills something stainable or needs to suddenly be picked up from school.
Not Urgent and Important - The tasks best for long-term projects and life goals. We have to create our own sense of urgency to get these done before they become urgent. Relationship building. Planning. Recreation. Rest. Finding templates, thrashing on a project, etc. The most valuable over time.
Urgent and Not Important - These are needs from other people that serve no productive purpose. Meetings. Phone calls. Emails. Time and energy vampires.
Not Urgent and Not Important - Rest at least serves a purpose. These are usually completely wasteful sensory distractions like video games and TV. Total time wasters and busywork.
So, if you're going to get distracted, at least know where that distraction stands and make your decision based on it being not urgent and important.
Honor the People you Care About
Even if you've managed to find distractions that are important and not urgent, you still need to get the job done eventually. If left to our own devices, it can be very easy to convince ourselves to keep pushing back a deadline.
Two key elements help me the most with deadlines:
Schedule deadlines, not tasks.
This is because as INTPs we value our autonomy. We're more likely to get the job done on our schedule as opposed to someone else's. We need that wiggle room to solve problems, learn new processes, and test our competencies along the way. To schedule ourselves into a series of boxes would become very stressful for an INTP.
Set deadlines with people you trust and won't want to disappoint.
These are people who will hold you accountable if you miss your deadline. Since our extraverted decision-making function is Fe (extraverted feeling), we will respond to that pressure. This only works with someone we care about disappointing such as a boss or personal confidant. If you don't have one then I'd say that a Not Urgent but Important task.
Setting a deadline ourselves gives us the excuse to push it back any time we want and we are less likely to honor it. Over time you'll develop the skill of treating yourself as someone to honor and hold accountable to get things done.
One of the main ideas of focus is to maintain forward motion even if you zig-zag a little bit. Pure distraction takes you off the rails but some distractions turn into strength and shortcuts. Productivity isn't necessarily a rigid straight line but a path that allows some wiggle room for exploration. As long as you're facing forward and making progress, you can wander however you need to.
Next step: The INTP Productivity Master Quest
If this article perked your eyeballs up then it's likely time for you to jump into our INTP Productivity Master Quest, a course focused on providing support to INTPs needing some guidance, information, and tools to bring your theories, ideas, and creative visions into the outside world. Recommended for an INTP needing help with focus, motivation, accountability, and looking to connect with other INTPs.