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High Executive, Low Contingency: An Important INTJ Thought Transition

Friday August 6, 2021

One of the most important life upgrades for INTJs is learning to differentiate execution and constructive action from reflection and introspection.

All of those things are important; that second group of things is more commonly INTJ.

INTJs are primarily perceptive—that is, we take in information via our subjective intuition. It is our dominant cognitive function. If overused, we can feel too dreamy or grandiose about future things, or we can end up thinking in terms of “what will definitely happen” as opposed to “what I want to have happen,” or “what I will try to do about it.”

In my own productivity system, my daily journaling template contains the following phrase right above my list of Square items:

“High Executive, Low Contingency”

Let me explain why this is, starting with an examination of that phrase.

What is meant by High Executive?

Here are some examples:

  • Directly acknowledging that you need to move forward with a problem, task, or project—keep items on a list or a calendar.
    • Introverts are well known for ignoring or avoiding newly-developing issues. This kind of acknowledgement activity helps you avoid that risk.
    • This includes any kind of task, from your hobbies to your paying job, to working on relationship issues—which areas need more of your executive function?
  • Actively exploring and recording what’s needed next. Include all of this information along with the task on your list.
    • Time estimate (If an item will take longer than 5-10 minutes I break it into parts)
    • Next steps clearly indicated
    • Any other ideas that come to mind
  • Writing down what you don’t like about a task, if it bugs you.
  • Making a plan! More below.
  • Working on a new problem ASAP, even if in draft mode.

What is meant by Low Contingency?

Contingency thinking usually involves concerns about the future of a project or undertaking.

These concerns often sound like…

  • Well, I could do that, but then what would happen is…
  • Oh, I can immediately see the problem in this plan.
  • These things always start well, but then…
  • I could move forward, but I am pretty sure that X or Y will happen…which is annoying because…

Boom! Progress blocked.

This is relevant to INTJs due to our primary cognitive function, Ni, or Introverted Intuition, also known as “Visioning”. It is a helpful contingency-planning function, so INTJs tend to be good at speculating about future outcomes. So good, in fact, that the word “speculation” becomes kind of an insult—hey, we KNOW! Right?

And, while these kinds of concerns always block progress, they can sometimes be reasonable.

Personally, “Low Contingency” is probably impossible for me. I’m simply way too aware of these outcomes as a baseline; it’s a huge part of who I am. That’s why I say “Low” instead of “A Little Less”. I try to overemphasize the risk of this kind of thinking in my notes to myself.

Still, some contingency thinking is useful. And for that reason, I encourage executive activity that is also integrative and plan-based.

Don’t Skip Planning

This is a very common problem for beginners to this process. It’s also a common problem for over-executive people. I’ve been there myself.

High-quality executive function INCLUDES planning.

Being more executive is not the same as improvising.

It is not the same as undertaking the next idea that comes to you.

Sometimes these kind of things feel much better than doing nothing, but they are not the same as working from a plan.

Being more executive is also not the same as hurrying around and making low-quality decisions. Sometimes this kind of activity feels rewarding, but it’s not the same.

INTJs tend to fall in this trap when they get frustrated with a lack of progress, slip into opposite-type ESFP “NOW” mode and start scrambling for traction and executing without thinking things through.

How to Plan Actively for Execution

Active planning is a great way around this:

  • Keep an ongoing, developing plan for the specific area or task
  • Always know where it is kept
  • Label it as a plan
  • Indicate problems with the plan as they come up
  • Revise the plan way more than you admire, cherish, or love the plan
  • Schedule ongoing plan review with others if possible, to hold yourself accountable

You’ll know that your planning is supporting executive activity when:

  • Problems come up—they always do, but now you respond actively more often, instead of stopping work
  • Among your first responses to a problem is, “OK, what could I/we do about this?”
  • The plan is treated more like a constantly-changing support structure than something to be admired
  • You find yourself changing your approach to planning over time
  • You find yourself evaluating how you’d do things differently, next time

Favor Showing & Reviewing a Plan before Showing Results

A lot of INTJs tell me that they feel pressure to show results when they work with other people. Please be careful here!

A lot of times it’s better to show a plan and show progress.

If you work to show results too early, it can compromise the quality of your work and process. Results naturally follow as the plan unfolds. Skipping the plan-review and progress-review can too easily undermine your later work, or make your work less efficient later. (I consider this reasonable attention to contingency)

Skipping forward to showing results can also make other people uncomfortable, or become a demonstration of poor planning skills on your part.

It can also make others feel bad, or feel like they have been dragged along while being excluded from the process-oriented aspects of the work. Keep the process-minded people around you in mind as much as possible.

The following personality types are known to be very process-minded: INTP, INFP, ISFP, and ISFJ. The relevant interaction style shared by these four types is known as Behind the Scenes.

The act of sharing a plan helps YOU in some ways, but it also helps THEM orient themselves to where you’re at, and they will feel more included.

If someone is continually pressuring you to show results WITHOUT showing a plan, or reviewing a plan, it may be wise to reevaluate your work with this person. Maybe they don’t take it as seriously as you do, and maybe that’s a problem or a sign of an inequity in your working relationship.

How to get Enough Contingency Planning, but not Too Much?

It can help to learn to be careful, or more nuanced, with contingency planning. It’s a natural gift for INTJs, which also means it can easily be overused.

It’s a good idea to work to a standard with contingency planning—meet some minimum bar that you’ve already specified.

For example, it may be a good idea to specify the types of contingencies that you’ll allow to interrupt your work. Maybe something like: “A problematic issue which I think will certainly develop within 30 days and may cause the project to fail completely.”

If some future outcome / possibility is bugging you, always write it down and make a simple plan. Use your imagination and be creative in developing workarounds that fit the context. Try to avoid derailing the current project—instead, support it and its timely completion as much as you can.

Executive Addiction?

Beginners sometimes find that they get really black & white results from new processes. It will take some time to get used to a higher level of execution.

For this reason, I wanted to briefly mention a problem that beginners encounter when emphasizing executive processes:

An executive lifestyle can also be addicting. It feels good to be on the rails! The energy feels like it could help you accomplish just about anything. But in fact, it’s often best used in well-planned bursts, rather than as a permanent, always-on mode.

To avoid the risky downsides of this kind of activity, consider using a system that helps you avoid productivity exhaustion.

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