By Dan LeFave

In what kinds of situations are you most productive? What factors strengthen or undermine your motivation? Most of us answer these questions in very different ways, and that’s at the heart of effective management over your own productivity or someone else’s.

It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” principle. The practices and habits that lead you to excel may not help your business partners or your colleagues. What works for your mentors doesn’t always work for you. Rituals, practices and habits matter.

In business, motivation gets you started but habit keeps you going. The problem isn’t that we lack motivation; it’s the consistency with which we can maintain our focus without getting distracted and going off track onto something less important.

Fortunately, there is a way of grouping people into two types of personality attributes that predicts productivity: active-focused versus defensive-focused. Although these types are not well known among entrepreneurs, they can be easily distinguished by their ability to “play to win” or the way they “play not to lose.”

Active-focus affects how we approach life’s demands and challenges. Active-focused people see their goals as a way of progressing and creating a path to achieve the rewards that will accrue when they reach them. They are growth oriented and they play to win. You’ll recognize active-focused people by their high level of comfort in risk-taking. They like to work fast, dream big and think creatively.

Unfortunately, all their risk-taking, fast working and positive thinking makes them more prone to error, less likely to think things through to the end, and usually unprepared with a plan B if things go sideways. However, that’s a price they are willing to pay, because for the active-focused individual, the worst thing is a failure to progress, an unearned reward and a chance not taken.

The active-focused are predominantly motivated by inspirational role models, the defensive-focused by cautionary stories.

In contrast, defensive-focused people view their goals as responsibilities and concentrate on keeping safe. They worry about what might go wrong if they aren’t careful enough or don’t work hard enough. They are watchful and consistently play to not lose. They hang on to what they have and prefer to maintain the status quo.

They are commonly more risk-averse and more likely to leave money on the table, but in contrast, their work is more carefully considered, thorough and accurate. Their method to success is to work slowly and meticulously. As a practice, they aren’t usually the most creative thinkers, but they may possess great analytical and problem-solving skills. While the active-minded generate plenty of ideas, both good and bad, it generally takes a defensive-minded individual to distinguish the difference between the two.

Although at various times everyone is concerned with both active and defensive thinking, most of us have a dominant motivational focus. It strongly affects what we value, what we pay attention to and how we feel when we succeed or fail. It determines our strengths and weaknesses personally and professionally. And it’s why the preferences and decisions of our otherwise focused colleagues can sometimes seem very odd.

Most people will be able to identify their dominant focus immediately. If you can’t, you can try our online survey to determine whether you are active-focused or defensive-focused.

Simply identifying your own personality type should help you embrace your greatest strengths as well as identify and compensate for your weaknesses. Studies show that defensive-focused individuals are likely to take up conventional work, requiring knowledge of rules and regulations, careful execution and a practice for thoroughness – they are predominately jobs in which attention to detail is what truly pays off.

The active-focused are likely to pursue “think-outside-the-box” jobs, in which they are rewarded for creative and innovative thinking, and where being practical isn’t emphasized.

Whichever area of focus fits you the best, it’s important to note that your overall productivity is affected by tendency to be active-focused and play to win or to be defensive-focused and play not to lose. When you play to not to lose, you limit your productivity and leave money on the table. But when you figure out how to play to win, you take advantage of opportunities and win more often.

Dan LeFave is the “Prepare for Success” coach, No. 1 best-selling author, speaker, habit-changer and the creator of the online program Live Without Limitations – Five Easy Steps to Release Old Limitations and Balance Your Life. He has been profiled on radio shows, in magazines, articles and podcasts, from Manhattan to Vancouver. Dan’s motto is, “Thoughts become untangled as they pass through your lips and over fingertips.” Visit his website.



  1. Well that sucks..” If you can’t, you can try our online survey to determine whether you are active-focused or defensive-focused.” Did the survey and never received the answer to my curiousty.

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