Type A Entrepreneur? Learn how to Leverage the Advantages

It is often suggested that type A entrepreneurs have a number of advantages in the business setup arena. However, type A personality traits that convey these advantages can also be the same ones that lead to self-sabotage if they aren’t appropriately acknowledged and managed. One of the key overlooked skills for a type A entrepreneur is the ability to turn off your mind and dull the achievement motivation to allow for necessary recovery.

type a personality traits

Briefly, what is a type-A personality?

Saul McLeod writing for SimplyPsychology.org defines Type A and Type B personality theory as a continuum of traits rather than two distinctive sets of traits. With this in mind, they suggest that at the extreme ends of the range Type A individuals will be competitive, time urgent and hostile or aggressive, whereas an extreme end Type B individual will be relaxed, patient and easy-going. Realistically the majority of us will fall somewhere between the two extremes with leanings toward one or the other sets of traits.

Type A behaviour pattern was originally discovered by cardiologists Friedman and Rosenman who found that their patients, by virtue of higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, were more likely to be people with type A behaviour patterns. You can find out more about Type A and B personality theory on the Simply Psychology website.

Type A traits

As a person who tends towards the type-A side of the traits continuum, I recognize myself in a lot of these traits. However, it is not all bad news – there are positive elements to the type A traits, and those which you feel are holding you back can be managed. For example, I am extremely competitive, but I work with a number of people who are not, by acknowledging this difference and being conscious of my traits and those of my colleagues I can adjust my approach to suit those that I’m working with.

Now, there is a potential concern that altering natural traits to suit the audience can be thought of as dishonest or manipulative. This is always a risk, so if you are taking this approach you need to be clear with yourself as to why you are doing it and be prepared to examine your motivations through an ethical lens. If this aspect of altering your natural traits for the audience concerns you, Tom, from highlyeffectiveleader.com has a piece on motivating people rather than manipulating them that you might find useful reading.

type A personality traits
Extension of graphic presented by McLeod, S. (2017)

It’s often easier to visualise a continuum using arrows. As you can appreciate, looking at this graphic there are a number of intermediary states between the Type A and the Type B traits as indicated by the arrows; most people will fall somewhere on the arrows in at least some of these traits.

Why type A personalities make good entrepreneurs

The stubbornness, ambition and competitive drive inherent in the type A behavioural patterns are traits that tend to be desirable for entrepreneurs. The career focus, goal-driven, and excellent self-management skills are very useful for the “getting things done” element of starting a business from scratch. There is a tendency for the ambitious nature of type A’s to lead them to continually strive for more, rather than find satisfaction or contentment in the status quo – thus potentially highlighting why type A’s seem to have a natural affinity for entrepreneurship.

Considering Entrepreneurship? Our Ultimate Guide to Escaping 9 to 5 might be just what you need.

Career Focus

The type A behavioural patterns come with a habit of sacrificing to achieve. Personally I fell into the trap of avoiding any form of social or other non-work related weekday activities so that I could work all of the available weekday hours. Although this was an explicit decision made at the beginning of my time in the role, it then became habitual and then expected. This caused it to develop into a pattern that I couldn’t break.

Although this pattern was intentionally developed to start, it eventually became something that I came to resent, but couldn’t see a way out of both the habit and the expectation. Now that I am conscious of this, the career focus drives are something that I will have to manage better in my entrepreneurial journey. After all, as a solo-entrepreneur there will be no one to point out that it’s midnight and I’ve been working since 8 am!

Now career focus, if not taken to the extreme, can be a very positive attribute in an entrepreneur. A willingness to make sacrifices to achieve goals and targets is often the decider between success and failure, particularly in the world of competitive startups!

Goal Driven

Being motivated by the achievement of goals is very common among type-A personalities. Which makes using goal-setting theory a no brainer as part of the entrepreneurial journey. Not only does it give you the motivational benefit of being able to tick something off as achieved, but it also helps you form the basis of your business strategy and metrics from the start – two birds with one stone!

Self management skills

Type A personalities tend to have excellent self-management skills in the realms of time management, prioritisation, and efficiency. You probably won’t rest until that thing that needs to be done gets done (I know I often won’t – and if I have to stop it does make me uncomfortable).

On the extreme side, however, watch out for areas where you may believe yourself to be being extra efficient but are actually slowing yourself up – multitasking is often one of these. It’s easy to think that getting two things done at the same time is a win, but splitting your focus will often take longer and compromise the results.

I find emails are the killer for this. While working in corporate, particularly in a management position there is the expectation that your email and your internal messaging system are always running in the background. Indeed it’s one of the intrinsic assumptions of common email programs that encompass a diary function – your meeting reminders don’t come up unless you’re logged into your email. I always turn off email notifications, but I can’t bring myself to only deal with emails at set points throughout the day (something that I will be implementing as an entrepreneur) to avoid this area of split focus.

Pitfalls to watch out for – or where you’ll sabotage yourself

So, not everything about type A behaviour patterns is positive from the entrepreneurial perspective. Although the confident, “can-do” attitude and success focus deliver positives to the entrepreneurial journey, there are several behaviours which, like the propensity towards cardiac events, that can also be less than positive attributes of the type A behaviour patterns.

Can’t shut off

You know those thoughts that just keep going around and around in your head? The ones that list everything that you didn’t get around to, or forgot to do today; just as you lay down to sleep. Or the ones that start berating you just as you’re planning to stop for the day, forcing you to continue on long after you are at your best and should have stopped long ago.

Perfectionist tendencies

There is a point where good enough is sufficient. This is a concept that I really struggle with. My default position is that absolutely everything should be done to the best – unfortunately this results in a lot of things never getting finished. There is a point where minimum viable design has to become part of your way of working.

perfection isn't always the way forward
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

There is a point where good enough is sufficient. This is a concept that I really struggle with. My default position is that absolutely everything should be done to the best – unfortunately this results in a lot of things never getting finished. There is a point where minimum viable design has to become part of your way of working.

As I learn more, I really want to go back and fix all the stuff I’ve done in the past. There are certain areas where that is an effective use of time (like correcting spelling errors, updating blog posts to reflect new things that I’ve learned about SEO, etc), but there are a number of areas of my business where I need to file the differences between what I know now and what I knew then in a lessons learned pile, otherwise I’d never move forward.

This is a difficult thing to do, particularly for people with perfectionist tendencies, and it’s key to develop the skills in identifying the elements that need to be corrected versus those where correction is just a nice to have.

Can’t” doesn’t exist in our dictionary

Now, this suggestion might be a bit contentious, but be aware of being unable to accept “it can’t be done” as a reason for not continuing to try. While refusing to accept that something is impossible has had a number of positive outputs and has directly contributed to valuable innovations, it can also be a hangup that prevents you from moving onto something else that may be both valuable and possible.

Understanding the art of possible often has roots in the available resources. So while you have had a fantastic idea to solve your customer’s number one gnarly problem if you don’t have the resources and capabilities to do action this idea, or the ability to acquire those, can’t may have to be invoked.

Of course, just because you can’t do something today, doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable idea tomorrow – bear in mind that these filed ideas should be pulled out, dusted off, and tested for viability on a periodic basis. Perhaps technology has moved on to make the idea viable, maybe your business’s resources or capabilities have changed or you may have met the perfect joint venture partner to bring it to fruition.

Achievement Motivation

What is the achievement motivation theory you ask? According to Palistha Maharjan writing for Businesstopia, the achievement motivation theory was coined by American psychologist David McClelland. This theory states that the motivation of all people is driven by their needs for achievement, power, and affiliation. These three pillars have direct effects on people’s individual behaviour.

It also states that the human need for achievement, power, and affiliation is not fixed, rather it changes over a period of time relative to the personal experiences of the individual.

Now achievement and to a certain extent power are going to be comfortable concepts to people familiar with type A behaviour patterns, but I have to admit – I need to look up affiliation in this context. The standard selection of dictionaries seems to agree that affiliation encompasses a sense of belonging. Returning to Palistha Maharjan in Businesstopia, affiliation is expanded to include elements of collaboration, feeling of love and belonging, the propensity to group work, and desire for recognition while avoiding uncertainty or high-risk activities.

How to use achievement motivation to your advantage

So, knowing that your motivation can change over a period of time, it’s worth revisiting your entrepreneurial goal setting activities to make sure that your goals are items that your current self finds motivation in achieving. Now, don’t be put off if your goals are necessary but no longer motivational, it is often sufficient to make sure that the building blocks of your goals are personally motivational.

Turning off for Type A’s

Acknowledging that the inability to turn off is not healthy or productive in the long term, it becomes even more important to figure out how you personally can turn off and relax. This is by no means an exhaustive list and the things that work for me, may not work for you. So don’t be afraid to try some other things and note which ones work.

In line with changes in achievement motivation, you may find that you encounter new techniques for turning off or techniques that used to be effective become less so.

Alternative Focus

Currently I’m finding giving myself an alternative focus is a good way of turning off. I’m making sure to mix up my daily plans and targets so although I’m using routine and daily triggers (for instance, coffee and emails always happen together), I’m making sure that I set different achievable goals each day.

I’m doing this by going through different elements that need to be done and making sure to mix up the days. I don’t want to spend a full day writing for instance because I won’t be able to focus on the writing process effectively for that long, and also, I will find it too difficult to stop unless I’ve set myself a specific goal. Therefore rather than write a blog post (because then I’ll have to define when it’s done as part of the writing process), I’ll target writing 500 words, or writing for 55 minutes.

These are both quantifiable and are independent of the quality of the work and once I’ve achieved the target then I can legitimately cross it off my list. Whereas if I’d targetting writing a post I’d be editing as I go (terribly inefficient and the last third of the post always suffers from reduced attention), not as focused on the value of the content and struggle to define when “enough is enough”. Even when I have defined myself as finished I will still be obsessing about it.

My approach to alternative focus has, in a roundabout way, resulted in my strategy for efficiently crafting content, blog posts in this case. It has worked so well that I even wrote a post and recorded a YouTube video about it.

Iron tight Plan for Today, Tomorrow and This week

So, one way I’ve found helpful for being able to force myself to turn off is having a “must-do” list. I keep two colours of post-its next to me (I love a good post-it, but as a stationary aficionado I’ve restricted myself to only having stationary with a valid purpose) and use one colour for things that must be done today, and one for things that must be done after today (later).

This means when I’m in the middle of my today plan (which is either compiled as the last thing yesterday or first thing this morning) and I think of something that needs to be done today, or in the future, I will note it on the appropriate post-it and continue with what I’m working on. Once I get to a defined breakpoint I will then assess my today Post-it and add the tasks into my today priority list.

When prioritising your work, don’t forget to assess its value versus its urgency. There is a simple matrix that you can use to assess impact versus urgency to simplify your prioritisation process.

Impact versus Urgency

The power of routine

I find routine is an effective way of helping me turn off from my day. To help with it I have associated habits with specific activities. As long as I’ve managed to make the habits healthy this has benefited me; however, be aware of the odd unhealthy habit that will try and creep in.

For example, I had a short spell of celebrating the accomplishment with a glass of wine in the garden at the end of the day – not so healthy for your liver if you’re accomplishing a lot in a short period! So I’ve modified this habit to be a fancy drink in the garden (my current favourite is a glass of sparkling water or tonic water with a slice of lime in a very pretty glass), the wine still makes an occasional appearance – but I realised it was the ritual that was important for my routine, not the contents of the glass.

Bedtime

You will find a lot of efficiency guru’s saying that you can recapture a lot of valuable time by avoiding Netflix, and to a certain extent I agree with them, particularly if you’re in the habit of binge-watching. However, I also have found that watching an episode of something is a good signal to my brain to start winding down from the day.

Now, I usually break my multitasking rules while watching the episode of whatever series I happen to be enjoying at the moment, and do some Pinterest re-pinning at the same time. Pinterest is actually my preferred social media marketing tool at the moment because it is effectively designed to let you save and catalog blog posts that you find helpful. So I use re-pinning as a slowly winding down activity in the evening.

The electronic blue light now comes in to play, so I try to make sure I start my evening winding down at least a couple of hours before I plan on going to bed (and I do try to keep to a bedtime, although my body prefers it to change seasonally with the timing of the ambient light). Once the episode and pinning are done I put my electronics to silent (and on charge if necessary) and read a bit in a physical book to continue my winding down.

However, there is also a potential downside to my Netflix and Pin unwinding strategy, and this is that there is a suggestion of switching between multiple screens and/or activities triggers dopamine releases in the brain. This stimulates excitement at the point where we are trying to wind down and reinforces the negatives of multitasking. So, as an alternative strategy, I’m now adding in a bit of yoga to focus and recondition my mind for sleep and relaxation. Martine has written a great post about adding yoga into your routine to help you turn off at the end of the day and doing more with less that I’d highly recommend reading.

Morning

I love to wake up without an alarm – although of course, it’s not always possible. I keep to a fairly standard morning routine too. Mine involves doing a 5-minute house tidying activity (like any leftover dishes, sweeping the kitchen, etc) while waiting for the kettle to boil for coffee. For many years I’ve associated coffee with the initial daily prep activities – so I will drink my cup of coffee, check my emails, and add anything new required to my day plan.

Having a standard morning plan means I’m not lying in bed thinking about what I have to do when I get up – I know exactly what’s on the agenda. This also helps me with getting turning off and getting to sleep the night before because I’m not worried about any surprises first thing.

Day planning

I plan my day so that the most intellectually challenging activities happen first if at all possible. I know I’m at my best when I’m fresh, therefore if I have any gnarly challenges to work on I want to get them done and over with first thing. Now, as much as I’d love to just get on and plow through the challenge until it’s complete, unfortunately, that’s often not possible. So I plan my day in blocks.

I use 50 minute planning blocks for multiple reasons:

  • I know I can work effectively for 50 minutes without stopping
  • If you work on a display screen you are supposed to spend at least 5 minutes of every hour looking at something other than the screen
  • My Fitbit vibrates away on my wrist at 50 minutes past each working hour (set based on my standard getting up and bedtime) to tell me to take 250 steps if I haven’t already that hour.
turn off your mind and plan
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I revisit my plan (if necessary based on my post-its) in the 10-minute break I give myself every hour. I also usually top my drink, visit the bathroom, and try and get in some form of exercise to refresh my brain. I often add my exercise in as part of the daily plan – if I’m in the office (still at Corporate) I’m limited to walking, but if I’m at home there is nothing stopping me from setting a challenge – like 10 press-ups every hour, skipping, walking lunges, situps, etc.)

Setting up a home office? Check out our Ultimate Home Office Checklist!

Using your Goal achievement motivation to your advantage

So exhibiting type A behavioural traits, you have almost certainly identified that achievement motivation works for you, therefore leverage it! Try working your goal setting around routine based goals. Stimulating a sense of achievement for learning to turn off at an appropriate point in your day (and workload) can only benefit your health!

Importance of Exercise and Meditation

As a naturally competitive type, you are probably quite up on the values of exercise (although perhaps frustrated at your levels of ability when tacking new areas); but did you know it is effective in dealing with stress, anxiety, and in stimulating sleep?

“Regular exercise … relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts your overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference.”

Robinson, L., segal, J., Smith, M. (2019)

Adding a bit of exercise to your routine can be very helpful with turning your brain off. Now meditation – some people swear by it, and others don’t get on with it at all. Personally I swap back and forth between the two.

I find meditation can be a helpful calming activity and when I use it, often combined with yoga stretching and breathing, I immediately feel a lot calmer. I spent a year using the Calm app while I was traveling a lot for work. With a premium membership, you can download guided meditations to take anywhere, and the bedtime stories are fantastic (I used them with noise-canceling headphones to get to sleep on numerous crying baby laden long-haul flights).

So, wrapping it all up

Personality type, rather than being something defined and fixed exists on a fluid continuum. This positive thought means that we can leverage the advantages of the traits that we are naturally drawn to, and work to minimise the disadvantages of the traits driving us to less positive behaviours.

Through writing all of this down, the one thing that has struck me is the power of routine. I am much more effective if I organise my day to take advantage of my personal strengths and rhythms, and if I don’t plan in regular exercise and de-stressing activities, my negative traits tend to take over. I think I’m now off for a cycle ride to destress my brain!

I’d love to know what you think, healthy discussion in the comments please!

References

Maharjan, P. (2018). Achievement Theory of motivation. Businesstopia 9th January. https://www.businesstopia.net/human-resource/achievement-theory-motivation

McLeod, S. A. (2017). Type A personality. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-a.html

Robinson, L., Segal, J., Smith, M. (2019). The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Helpguide. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm

8 thoughts on “Type A Entrepreneur? Learn how to Leverage the Advantages”

  1. I like your suggestions here. I meditate and exercise to improve the quality of my life and work. Thanks a lot for putting this post together. This is quite an interesting post which I’ll have to read again.

    1. Hi Ivan,

      Thanks for your comments, I completely agree that meditation and exercise are key to improving quality of work, and both my work and life suffered when I was travelling excessively for work without time to focus sufficiently on etiher.

      Thanks,
      Lisa

  2. Very interesting article, in-depth and useful to readers.
    Love the structure of this too, kept me interested and wanting to read on which for me is a key tactic, congrats 🙂
    Thanks for writing and sharing this with us all!

  3. Hi Lisa,
    This is an awesome and highly informative article! I saw a lot of myself in this article….

    I’m definitely a “Type A personality” – with some slant. I worked in Oil and Gas (Regulatory) for the better part of my career before moving into Quality Management, so I can relate well to the “sacrificing to achieve” loop and being goal driven. However, I find that as a solo entrepreneur, these can actually be good drivers to channeling efforts to setting up and establishing a business.

    The “perfectionist tendencies” which I strongly relate with are my Archilles heel which unfortunately, I can’t seem to shake off. It does slow you down – but I’ve learned to put a positive spin on this. I want my work to be reflective of my organisational and attention to detail skills. Hardly an excuse, but it works for me! Periodic breaks certainly help and I like the idea of using your fitbit for this – I will try it out.

    You cannot underscore the power of regular exercise – which you have correctly highlighted. It really makes a difference in a lifestyle – clears the brain, is good for the heart and all the working systems of the body…..

    Really loved your article. Keep up the good work.

    Ceci

    1. Hi Ceci,

      Thank you for this, it’s so nice to hear other people’s experiences translating from Corporate Type A to Entrepreneur Type A!

      The next time I’m stumbling on my perfectionist tendencies I will remember what you’ve said, and cut myself some slack for for wanting my work to be a true reflection of my capabilities!

      Thanks,
      Lisa

  4. Hi Lisa ,

    I believe i am somewhere between Type A and Type B personnality .Really i like to get all my things done in time however my type B side sometimes kicks in and i leave it for another day .I would say i am more Type B than A though .Your article makes the whole things clear ,anybody can know which type they are .Thanks for this nice post .

    Jim-Kelly

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