Monday, July 11, 2022

Million dollar idea : How to Develop Conscientiousness


The question of how to develop and increase conscientiousness is a million-dollar question that parents and various arms of the government want to be answered. It is no surprise that this is one of those questions that I've kept at the back of my head because one way to summarise my life is all about witnessing folks who are less talented and intelligent than I move on to thrash me in all areas of my life.

How big is such a question?
  • Ritalin, a drug that deals with ADHD, rakes in millions every year. Some folks without ADHD take the drug to help them concentrate in class and do coding. 
  • Angela Duckworth earned millions in defence contracts to teach grit and resilience to US Air Force.
  • Teen camps that can turn students around probably generate many times more revenue than investment training courses.  
I don't think the question of developing conscientiousness can be fully answered because a lot of interventions may not result in permanent change. I am only 10 percentiles above the median in conscientiousness, and only became more conscientious after I got older.

If there are few ways to make someone more conscientiousness, borderline conscientious folks like me have to rely on changing the way I work to be more effective. So while I can never be as punctilious as some of my ISTJ colleagues at work, I can develop a system to be as effective as these very OCD people.

These systems to virtually raise conscientiousness comes in many forms :
  • Getting things done or GTD is a popular productivity system. ( Which I just can't follow, sadly )
  • Marie Kondo's KonMari system is an organizational principle for physical objects.
  • Lawyers use a simple system called IRAC to improve their legal writing. 
  • Even entering all your stock picks in Stocks Cafe is a system. ( Vital one, in fact! )
The beauty of Building a Second Brain is that it jazzes up note-taking. Knowledge workers often have to capture notes from different media from images to paragraphs of text to .wav files. The author teaches a simple system called PARA to organise your notes :
  • Projects - Ongoing projects. For me the courses I conduct are projects.
  • Areas - Areas of interest. For me, it is Investments, Health, Parenting, Lifestyle Design and Comedy.
  • Resources - Material related to specific Subjects. I split mine into areas like Engineering, Finance, Psychology, Philosophy, and Law
  • Archives - Completed Projects that are no longer being run.
I think I can sense an improvement in my quality of life after I've installed Microsoft OneNote on all my devices and I can now capture interesting snippets of information without really caring what format they come in. Not only do I have something to relate to my training material, but it's also easier to help my body of knowledge evolve. When organizing my notes, I can suddenly recall that one area of study can solve a problem in another.

Of course, my low conscientiousness does affect how much I can integrate this into my life. I can install note-taking software and build a taxonomy of notes. I still can't build an over-arching productivity system out of this note-taking tool because it feels as uncompromising as GTD. 

But hey, it's managed to change my life in a small way. 

I think the final lesson about developing conscientiousness is that baseline conscientiousness is often required before life can flourish. Blog readers will forward my posts if I regale them with stories of that guy who promised to make out 100 prostitutes in a year, but productivity posts like this will see a much more lukewarm response.  

Worse, nothing much can be done for folks who don't read blogs at all. 



  1. Hardworking can't be taught. It can be coerced but it won't result in self development for the individual or levelling up for society.

    The brutal truth is that conscientiousness is an internalized trait i.e. self-motivation & self-drive.

    As a corollary to conscientiousness is working smart or being on the right ball. Too many just work hard & expect to be rewarded just for working hard.

    Be glad you're not those extreme ISTJ people. They're one step away from mental issues like GAD, depression, mood disorders, PTSD etc.

  2. Keeping track of one's finances (beyond just investments in Stocks Cafe) is an important system that everybody should have but nobody teaches. If corporations have income statements, balance sheets and cashflow statements, then so should individuals. Being conscientious is key to helping one understand the intention behind one's actions and how that aligns with one's own greater goals in life. Thanks for this post!

  3. onenote is very good indeed - picked up that up in my previous coy and using it ever since, picking up new stuff (processes, notes, discussions etc...) is a lot more easier & a quick download/refresher when i need all that in my head.