Are You A Plate Spinner?

Are you a plate spinner? No, really – I’m not talking about literal plates floating around in the air; I’m talking about the personality profile called a “scanner” by Barbara Sher in her book, Refuse to Choose. I fought, argued, and wrestled with lots of different productivity suggestions, some from my peers and friends, and others from the tips in widely regarded productivity systems, like GTD. But it wasn’t until a very close confidant pointed me in the direction of Refuse to Choose did I really find my groove.

It was paragraphs like this that really made me realise that Barbara was on to something juicy, and it was something I wanted to be a part of:

Hello Scanner! I hope you’ve stopped believing you must limit yourself to one career, one lifestyle, one passion, and that you understand you weren’t designed that way. You may have been unhappy that you could never make up y our mind, but some part of you has always refused to choose. What’s your problem? You might not have one.

The big thing that Barbara has clued in on here is that we’re human beings (sorry for the aliens who have tuned in – we’ll get to you next time) and thus we are all unique. Is it any surprise that productivity methods and systems that try to work for everyone don’t work always?

I know what you might be thinking — human psychology is universal. That is true, but still, we all organise out thoughts in our own special way.

Two Productivity Tools for Plate Spinners

So, the thing about “scanners” is that there are multiple types. I happen to be a plate spinner, hence the title of this article, in case you were wondering if I had chosen it at random or if it was simply link bait. The tools Barbara recommends are different depending on the types, but some of the concepts I think apply across the board and maybe even if you’re not a scanner:

  • Backwards Flowcharts: This is when you have a project and don’t know what to do next. Essentially you figure out where you want to be, then work backwards. Here’s an example:
    • GAH! I need more clients! Before that…
    • I need to know where my clients hang out. Before that…
    • I need to know what kind of clients I want to market to. Before that…
    • I need to research and write up a profile of my ideal client. Right now!
  • Scanner Daybook: Barbara recommends areal book for this, but mine is digital. The stress in the life of a scanner (or plate spinner, like me) is forgetting stuff. I have amazing amount of ideas and plans that come across my brain every day. Some of them are quite important, but that doesn’t mean I’ll remember then. By having a place (Word document) where I can file everything away as and when it comes up, I know right where to look. Mine is organised by “Urgent Stuff”, then lists of major ongoing projects, and then a “Maybe Never” file. Yours might be different. But if you had to create a place to let your brain spillover into, what would it look like?

So, What are You?

Not everybody is a scanner, and that’s ok; those tools might be too open-ended for you. I hate to give advice in this area — I think I am terribly disorganised while others look at my business as if a military invasion will soon descend — I do have some suggestions:

  • You can’t say a productivity tool works or doesn’t work for you unless you try it.
  • The best way to find the right productivity tool for you is to trust a bunch of stuff, see what fits, and adjust it where necessary. Sort of like buying a nice suit.

I leave you with another powerful line from Refuse to Choose. Perhaps you’ll see a little bit of you inside:

Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the change to do my very best!

Andy Hayes is a serial entrepreneur and “refused to choose,” launching two successful businesses: Sharing Travel Experiences, a travel lifestyle magazine, and Travel Online Partners, a travel marketing agency.

Image by Flickr user lissalou66

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8 Responses to “ Are You A Plate Spinner? ”

  1. Kelly says:

    Hell, yes, I’m a plate spinner!!

    I have at least three businesses, and about 20 domains registered (most are blank) and ideas for new projects I want to do every day, many unrelated to what I’m doing now.

    I use index cards. Every time some gem of an idea bubbles up but it’s not directly related to my immediate (6 months to 1 year) goals, I file it away for the future. I may or may not come back to it, but it’s reassuring to have an “archive.”

    Thanks for this post, Andy. The polymathic among us are an under served and not well understood group as far as productivity is concerned.

  2. Andy Hayes says:

    You are welcome, Kelly. I’m glad you have an archive – something like the lost library of Alexandria, no doubt :-)

  3. Oh Andy, you hit it right on the head! I am such a plate spinner and, like Barbara Sher, I don’t think its much of a problem anymore. I own a social media consulting firm, I’m a freelance writer, I’m on the editorial board of a literary magazine, I’m making an iPhone app and I’m researching going into import/export. And I love every bit of it!

    On the other hand, I think that my plate-spinning is why it took me so long to focus on a specialty when I began my freelance writing career and, sadly, why it took me so long to start making enough money to support the family. If I had dug into a niche a bit earlier, I probably would have been financially successful faster. Now, I’ve sort of tempered myself by promising “One niche at a time.” Digging into a specialty and then realizing that yes indeed I can move on to something else if I get bored works for now. (Of course, I was watching TechCrunch Disrupt today and had a great idea for a tech company… Oh bother.)

  4. Andy Hayes says:

    Haha – Jennifer, I knew there was a reason we get along :-)

    The key for the plate spinner is not spreading themselves over several fun projects, but that EACH project individually has a clear niche. So yes, for your writing, you should have picked a niche for that and stuck to it (while you could have had free realm with other businesses in other niches).

    As for TechCrunch inspiration, be sure to get that daybook updated!

  5. Carrie says:

    You mean… you mean there are other people like me out there, and it’s okay to be like this? Seriously, I’ve never really heard of many others doing what I do, which is a little bit of everything. I’ve been surrounded most of my life by people who choose one path and only stick to that, and I simply cannot. Which doesn’t mean I’m not successful, just not “successful” in the traditional sense of being an expert in just one thing. This gives me hope!

  6. Andy Hayes says:

    Yes, Carrie, there are others. *raises hand*

    And for what it’s worth, I think you’re successful. I’m sure everyone else here does too. The only measurements that are important are the ones you decide.

  7. Eudaemonius says:

    Did you feel it, just then? I had to choose which ONE of my web sites to even put int he reply. LOL

    So I am new to Barbara’s term Plate Spinner, but yes raising hand and waiving it too! Publishing circulation, IT, Teaching Cooking Lessons, a tiny radio show program, three web sites + Flicker with over 50,000 pieces, and thinking of a new business as we speak. I am learning that there are others of us out there that feel completely empty without all the plates whirling around. Nice to hear.

    Always open to new strategies and talking stuff over.

  8. Andy Hayes says:

    Welcome to the club, Eudaemonius :)

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