Verbs, Nouns and You

Businessman with post-itAre you a “verb” person or a “noun” person? Does it matter? Knowing how you relate to the world around you does matter. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t critical whether your engagement with the world around you using just verbs or only nouns, but knowing which you focus on does matter. “Why?” you might ask.

As an accountant and business advisor I have loads of conversations about productivity with clients. There are generally two kinds of people: Those who think in verbs and those who think in nouns. Which are you? An easy way to find out is to pull out a recent “to do” list. If you don’t use them, take a few moments now to jot down 30 or more items you know you need to complete in the next three months.

Look at the first word of each item on your “to do” list. Are those first words verbs or nouns? Typically the tasks on my “to do” list start with an action verb such as, “Email client RE:,” or, “Call HMRC about CT returns. . . ,” or “Read the new book by. . .”

Neither nouns or verbs are “better” than each other. They each have their benefits.

So why is your preference for nouns or verbs important? Noun/verb preference helps identify how you think. . . and how you work. When striving to work smarter knowing your noun/verb preference gives you an important awareness about how you view the world.

For example, people who have lots of nouns in their “to do” lists tend to be visionary, big-picture thinkers. They easily talk in generalities and often want to discuss the large aspects of a project before identifying the details and actions needed to get the job done. Of course many of these “noun defined” tasks also have several actions (verbs) involved in their completion. However, the nouns often act as benchmarks, or placeholders, for things you might need to think about, plan or take action on.

On the other hand, people who have lots of verbs in their “to do” lists tend to have clearly defined tasks that need to be completed (generally sooner than later). Every task on each line of a verb-focused person typically starts with an action verb, large or small. “Verb workers” manage their productivity in terms of action, delegation and progress. They see the steps that need to be accomplished to make the long-term vision (noun) come true.

Of course, if there are “big” action verbs such as “Plan,” “Discuss,” or “Implement,” it is important to identify how to break that large task into manageable smaller tasks to get the larger task started and moving forward. Personally, I strive to have the smaller tasks on my list be things that can be accomplished in blocks of 15-30 minutes, allowing me to easily keep moving forward, making consistent progress.

Try this experiment. Take a piece of paper and for the next 15 minutes write in your handwriting a list of the many big things you are thinking about. . . the nouns on the “to do” list in your mind. Maybe include a trip you’re planning or someone you need to talk.

When the time is up, turn the page over and for each item you listed, identify one single action you can take in the next week. One action (verb) that moves you forward on (or completes) that task. Even if the task is huge, identify one task you can absolutely, positively achieve in the next week. When you identify work at this do-able level of action you will see progress consistently.

Make this exercise of breaking the visionary “noun” tasks and the huge “verb” tasks into smaller, manageable action-oriented tasks part of your process for task completion, and you’ll consistently work smarter resulting in making your best even better.