How do you manage time when you have only a few hours to figure out how to keep the world from ending? You manage it as a Perceiver would, concentrating on the one thing that matters most in the moment, not making a list or doing forward planning, but looking for the one factor that will stop the missiles from launching.

In the 1983 movie, Wargames, David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is an intelligent, underachieving teen who spends his time hacking into systems as a game. During an automated modern search, he finds a strange computer that presents a list of games to play. Lightman guesses the password. A list of games appears. As girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) watches, he begins playing “Global Thermonuclear War” and targets his hometown (Seattle) and Las Vegas, and a great part of the rest of the world for Soviet strikes. He goes from games to saving the world from destruction.

Nothing causes more friction in in the workplace and at home than the way Judgers and Perceivers manage time. I’ve had Judgers corner me after a personality type session and tell me in desperation that they have a Perceiver on their staff whose life goal is to give them a heart attack and take them to an early grave.
Consider the Judger—he/she makes the list and mows it down number by number, from top to bottom down the page. Their daily mantra is to plan your work and work your plan. They tell you daily, “Keep me updated and don’t let me be surprised. If something starts to go south, set your posterior down in my office and tell me all about it—bad news doesn’t get better with age.” These are the people who make five year plans, put budgets together for large organizations, run projects that build dams, send space crafts to Mars, and see that airlines run on time.

Consider the Perceiver—he/she believes that life and work is about Performance. That’s the essence of what being a Perceiver is. You have to do the critical act in the precise moment. Precision isn’t in a list. It’s in the willingness to be present in what you’re doing moment by moment—becoming a great musical performer, a distinguished mathematician, a fighter pilot, a computer programmer, a designer, an artist, a courtroom lawyer. The fundamental skill of these and hundreds of others does not lie in the kind of moment-by-moment standard operating procedures cherished and required by those of a Judging preference.

Make no mistake, and you’ll agree, that time management is critical. At almost any point on the planet today in the 21st Century, you have to move fast if you want to survive. You have to manage your time well, and different personality types have distinct approaches to time management. You’ll learn more about how your type manages time from this series.

Jonathan, the computer that likes end of the world games.

Traditional time management was a real hoot. In the 1980’s you had to start by buying the most shiny, elegant, expensive, leather -bound binder that contained your yearly calendar. You wouldn’t leave home without one, and it was good to coordinate your notebook with a $300 pen. Some people still use that system today, but I never did it well. I’m glad to be in the twenty-first century, where we have calendar invites zapping us from all over the globe, plus bells and whistles to remind us. There are dozens of apps that take different approaches to time.

Perceivers often adapt to traditional ways that the workplace tends to manage time, but it is often an uneasy truce between Perceivers and Judgers at best. What often happens in the organizations we work with is that down one end of the hall are the salespeople, who are often Perceivers. In another corner are the people in IT who are also often of the Perceiving preference. A great many people interfacing with customers in the call center, solving problems and improvising, are also Perceivers. They run into problems with the project managers, relentless J’s, upper management filled with Judging types, accounting, and all those who make the railroad run on time.

Perceivers’ contributions are often recognized with a “Yes, but, we’re always waiting on him.” Perceivers can infuriate Judgers by appearing to hide and be generally slippery. At their worst, they don’t get promoted because Judging types see them as unreliable, never dotting Is and and crossing Ts.

What’s wild is that Perceivers often get down on themselves and see themselves as second class citizens of the corporate world. They can lose self-confidence as the feeling of really not being in the mainstream of the organizational march to completion is often reinforced by bosses and colleagues.

As the world is on the edge of destruction, David strolls through the NORAD war room.

As an ENTJ, I have Perceivers on my team, not by accident, but as an effective strategy. On my team Perceivers have a way of getting results that I can’t do well as a J. Some Js think that P stands for Pathology, and nothing could be farther from the truth. If you want a result that has multiple possible outcomes that can’t be known when you begin, don’t deploy a J, send a P. I’d like to see Perceivers proud of themselves instead of thinking of themselves as people dragging up the rear of achievement.

It is true that as a P, you need to be in the right role. My team members are technology and design driven. These are areas where you never know the right results until you see them. They ensure that the website interface is perfectly obvious to the user, the design clicks perfectly. The Perceiver will try again and again, and they may not show up when you think they should, but you get a brilliant design they send to you at 3 am.

J’s are famous for strategic planning where there are milestones outlined across several walls. You need these people, and I am one of them. But I would wind up with a meaningless plan if I didn’t have a bunch of people who never look at my plans or think of them as important. At just the right moment, under the right inspiration, they create magic, majesty, and yes, they make me money. That doesn’t mean that P’s don’t have to work harder to hit the mid-points of a project, and I have had arguments with them many times when they just didn’t think it was important to answer my email. But they came through brilliantly in a way that J’s usually don’t.

  • Grenae Thompson

    Thank you for this article, Jack. So nice to see “P” (as in INFP, me) associated with Performance instead of Procrastination!

  • DrJohnDrozdal

    Hi Jack,

    Once again you have a provocative article. For me the key point in your Wargames metaphor (am I really did like the movie) early starting vs. pressure-prompted facet on the J-P scale. Judgers tend to be early starting – they start working on a project as soon as they get so they can get to closure and cross it off the list with time to spare before the deadline. Perceivers, on the other hand, tend to need the pressure of a deadline to get the creative juices flowing and they tend to work calmly right up to the deadline. In your scenario, there is no better deadline than the impending end of the world to get the Perceiving David Lightman to focus and save the day!

  • Gwyntaglaw

    As an INFP, I found my way into a crisis-driven job. It fitted me like a glove, because every time a crisis hit (nearly every day), it helped me whittle down the infinite possibilities that I usually see before me to just a few. Then it was quite simple to present the best of them to my manager (who was usually freaking out, and couldn’t understand how I remained so calm).

    That’s what I see Perceivers can do. They stand back, and can see a thousand ways to solve any problem. So why choose among them, when you can just marvel at them all? But when crunch time comes, the natural constraints of time, resources and options close in, and so do the possibilities.

  • Ann Holm

    Time management is essentially a preference for plan/closure versus openess/flexibility. Both done to the extreme can lead to functional difficulties. I attended a seminar once by Daniel Siegel. He stated that all disorders of the mind are either judgment to excess (OCD for example) or perception to the extreme (such as in schizophrenia). His visual was that of a river where judgment was on one side of the bank and perception was on the other. When one navigates the river roughly toward the middle, the boat glides along effectively. When one gets to close to bank or the other, then dysfunction occurs and at it’s worst, pathology. I prefer riding it as close as I can to the perception side but every now and again, I have to put out my stick so I don’t crash into it’s banks!

  • Petra

    Hi Jack! ENFP here. Loved your article as I was just talking about it with a class the other day. The question was, “Do you think J = OCD?” Really, we are all on the spectrum, (I liked the river analogy!) and when we go too far to one side, it can become harmful to ourselves and potentially others. But, to see one of my uber J buddies relax and just take in a moment – whether they had to schedule it or not – is a beautiful thing!