One question to ask yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

One question to ask yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

As an INFP (because you know I speak Myers-Briggs) I dwell in possibility: I love dreaming up new ideas, new projects. I am completely at home in the realm of what could be.

That means that compared to the limitless possibilities in my imagination, reality can be a real drag. In any given moment (or season), there are so many exciting things I could be doing, and so few things I actually am.

(If you can’t relate to this at all because you’re one of those foreign—and more common—types who has two feet planted firmly on the ground and focuses naturally on reality and not potential, I applaud you.)

This tension between what is and what could be is ever present.

This spring, I’ve been circling back to one question that’s kept me from spiraling into frustration (or flat-out losing my mind), and it is: what are my Big 3 right now?

There’s nothing magic about the number 3. I could certainly ask myself for my top 2, or 4, or 5. The magic isn’t in the answer; it’s in the question.

The question makes me reflect on what my life looks like right now: what are my responsibilities, what projects are on my plate? It prompts me to spell those out in my mind (or better yet, on paper), and then it forces me to prioritize them.

Before I stepped back and named my Big 3, I was constantly frustrated that I wasn’t getting all the important things done. I didn’t realize how many irons I had in the fire.

Listing out my Top 3 for this season was incredibly freeing. Why am I spending so much time on Project 1? It’s a priority right now. Why do I feel like I’m dropping the ball on Project 4? Because as much as I love and care about that project—as important as it is—it’s taking the back seat right now, and that’s okay. Why do I have zero time for Project 9? Well.

I keep my Big 3 to work-related tasks (the important Whole Life Stuff feels like a given), although it certainly doesn’t have to be that way. When we were in the throes of our kitchen remodel (still not done, but oh so close), construction-related tasks occupied a hefty percentage of my weekly schedule, loathe as I was to admit it. And my daily life certainly looks different in May and June, with four kids playing ball. While I may not want those calendar items to infringe on my working hours, they still do, and not facing it now will just make me tear my hair out later.

This little tip can’t work any miracles on my calendar or revolutionize my time management. But listing my Big 3 on a post-it and smacking it on my computer screen keeps me firmly grounded in reality. When I spell out what’s important right now, I don’t get so frustrated when I don’t have time for what’s not.

It’s a killer paradigm-shifter. And on a Monday morning, that feels like its own kind of miracle.

P.S. When progress is slow but not steady, and the tough love guide to planning ahead (if you’re not naturally a planner).

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16 comments

  1. This is exactly why The Day Designer was my favorite planner for so long. I used to waste so much time bouncing between ideas, and their “Top 3” list at the beginning of each page helped me narrow my focus.

  2. Meghan says:

    As an INFJ, I also live in a world of endless possibilities — but also in a world I like to keep in neat little boxes, at least on the outside. I love the Big 3, although often I can really only manage 2 actively. Each thing on my list is so important, and I need the list to remind myself that there’re are other priorities than the one I’m currently immersed in. Sometimes I even have to schedule blocks to make sure I don’t get obsessed with just one pursuit.

    • Brenda says:

      I agree with Betsy, this was exactly what I needed to start this work week. I will capture my BIG 3 or 4 in my Bullet Journal before going on with the rest of the day. Thanks Anne!

  3. Katia says:

    As a fellow INFP, I have always planned my day this way. I keep a scrap piece of paper on my desk, on which are listed my top priorities for the day. The longer ‘to do’ list is in a separate notebook, and each day, I pick and choose items from that list.

  4. Julie Haynie says:

    This is exactly what I needed this morning. This post has turned my day around and brought me peace on this crazy Monday. Thank you Anne!

  5. Rebecca says:

    ♡♡♡! I love b&w photography and was toying with the idea of using one of the photo gallery frames of my priorities to keep me focused. Perhaps if I can capture the beauty of either the task or the result, I can jumpstart my willpower. 🙂 A close up shot of a row of heirloom baby lettuces in weed free garden dirt is much more compelling than “weed garden” on the list every day!

  6. Andrea says:

    Oh, how I can relate. I’m an INFP as well, and I’ve always felt that my job working as a freelance writer/editor is equal parts perfect and crazy for my personality type. So much flexibility and creative freedom! So many fun possibilities and challenging opportunities! In other words: So many ideas and projects and deadlines to manage. (Ahem, not my strong suit.)

    I love this idea of focusing on the Big 3 for work projects. I’ve been using a bullet journal lately, and it’s helped tremendously, but I’ve still been feeling overwhelmed by the number of projects and ideas in the wings. I think this paradigm of pinpointing my current Big 3 will really help me focus my efforts every day. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  7. Kenia Sedler says:

    OOOOooo YES. I’m an INFJ, but I know *exactly* what you’re talking about!

    What seriously helped me find my center was a book called “The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One” by Margaret Lobenstine. In the book, she guides you in how to choose your top priorities in life *for now* (the emphasis is on the fact that when one chooses a few projects to work on now, that doesn’t mean you’re giving up on all the other projects—it just means they will come later). She calls your current priorities “Focal Points,” and she helps you to understand what it means, tangibly, to “succeed” at those goals and how do you know when you’ve reached it, is it realistic, how do you fit it into your life, etc.

    I keep a Focal Point journal, and besides the big life things such as my marriage, my family, and all that jazz (because as you say Anne, “the important Whole Life Stuff feels like a given”), I have picked 4 Focal Points, and anything and everything related to these projects is jotted down in this journal (it comes with pretty dividers). In the back of the journal, I keep a comprehensive list of all the other projects that I will get to *later*—which means that, *for now,* that is my list of projects that I do NOT engage with at this point in my life no matter what (otherwise, I lose focus, and I go back to square 1, feeling overwhelmed and spinning my wheels).

    Your mention of how your life is different in May and June also reminds me about how Lobenstine describes the differents ways that Focal Points can be managed in one’s life: some people juggle multiple FPs seasonally, switching from one FP in one season, to the next the following season, and back again to the “beginning” when the year rolls around; some juggle a few in parallel; some focus on 1 FP for a long time, then switch to another, and so on chronologically; and others still have 1 focal point that always remains in their life, while rotating through the others.

    In any case, for anyone who really struggles with having “too many passions” (not a bad problem to have, in my opinion), I highly recommend this book. Cheers!

  8. Love this. I wrote a little while ago about both my interest in and frustration with the approach in Gary Keller’s and Jay Papasan’s The One Thing. One Thing felt both constricting–because who really only has only *one thing*–and overwhelming–because they look at the one thing in your personal life, work life, spiritual life, relationships, etc.–which adds up to a lot of one things.

    Three priority projects feels more manageable. I just put up a reminder post-it on my laptop as well!

    https://romanreboot.com/2016/03/02/can-i-be-really-really-real-with-you-for-just-a-minute/

  9. Glen says:

    I rarely feel overwhelmed by a “faraway goal”. But reaallly often I feel overwhelmed by the number of single, day-to-day tasks, that are usually pretty simple individually, but together they form this impassable wall of stress. The “faraway goal” is usually very motivating for me. It’s the amount of small stuff that I get panicked about that I’d really like to find some method for.

  10. Jan Hassler says:

    Love this and makes me feel less alone in my INFJ ness! Heard this recently: Lots of lightening bolts, but not many hit the ground. Identify?

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