Feeling overwhelmed? Draw the pyramid.

July 28, 2015 | 19 comments

Before I tell you the life-changing revelation I’ve been dying to share with you, I first have to take a moment to say THANK YOU!!!

Last week I released my ebook of humor essays, Like Living Among Scorpions, and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this…


And this…


And this…



Now that I have established that you guys are THE BEST, I will continue my story:

I’ve come to believe that one of the secrets to maintaining peace in your life is learning to know what is urgent from what is important. A lot of life management experts talk about this; it’s a critical distinction to make when thinking about what you plan to accomplish each day.

But here’s the thing —

When I am in the middle of a crazy week, where I find myself trying to manage various personal projects amidst the chaos of having six young children in a three-bedroom house, it is often hard for me to make good judgement calls about what is urgent vs. what is important.

What matters more:

Finishing re-organizing my daughters’ room or getting started on Fall school planning?

Dealing with that important task from my radio producer or the important task from the Homeowners’ Association?

Planning a movie night to hang out with the kids or opening the mountain of mail on my desk?

When I find myself spinning in this vortex of decisions, I freeze up. I start one task, then abandon it to start another, and, long story short, somehow it always ends with me looking up from Instagram to wonder how on earth it’s already time for dinner.

I was thinking over all of this in the Adoration chapel at our church the other day, and this idea came to me:


Somewhere in the mess of thoughts that jumbled my mind, I knew my life priorities. I knew that I should value that one thing over that other thingy, but I couldn’t focus long enough to get it all clear because so many urgent (but not necessarily important) stressors pulled at my attention.

There in the chapel, I was inspired to grab a pen and whatever I could find to write on — in this case, a rental car receipt from the back pocket of my purse — and actually, physically draw a pyramid that reflected my priorities:


In priority order, the levels of the pyramid I drew are:

  1. GOD: Making time for prayer, Sacraments, and connection with God.
  2. HOUSEHOLD: Anything related to the wellbeing of my husband and kids, and my relationships with them. Also, making sure my house doesn’t look too much like the aftermath of a Toys R Us explosion.
  3. HEALTH: Making sure I’m looking after my physical and mental needs. Carving out time for jogging and watching my favorite stupid TV shows would both be in this category. (I was tempted to put this before Household, since I can take care of my family better if I’m in good shape myself, but I find that it’s hard to make time for exercise and relaxation if my household is falling apart at the seams.)
  4. WORK: Paid work as well as volunteer jobs and creative pursuits — basically anything that involves challenges or deadlines external to personal or family life.

Once I had that tangible reminder of what matters in life, I worked through the pyramid from the bottom up. At each level, I asked questions like:

  • How am I doing in this department?
  • Am I giving this level of the pyramid the right amount of my focus?
  • What changes do I need to make to ensure that this level is getting the right amount of my time and energy?

With each step, I did not move up on the pyramid until I had peace that I had a plan to get on track on the current level.

I’ve been doing this system for a few weeks now, and it’s changed my life. It’s been tremendously helpful with implementing Mother Teresa’s revolutionary time management system that I’ve written about before, which is a lifeline for helping me find my way back on track when I’m overwhelmed.

But here’s the key:

I need to pick up a pen and actually draw the pyramid each day.

Thinking about it doesn’t cut it. Looking at the pyramid I drew yesterday isn’t enough. Each morning when I think through my day, I need to write out my priory structure anew.

Here’s a shot of the dry erase board in my (messy) bedroom office from today:




With six kids and homeschooling and speaking and a weekly radio show and all the other stuff that I have going on, I am no stranger to feeling like there is more on my to-do list than I could complete in 20 lifetimes. And that’s why I wanted to share my little pyramid system — because I can honestly say that this is one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done in terms of maintaining a sense of balance in my life.

To summarize, here’s the system:

1. Draw the pyramid.

2. Start at the bottom, and at each level ask the questions:

  • How am I doing in this department?
  • Am I giving this level of the pyramid the right amount of my focus (too much? not enough?)
  • What changes do I need to make to ensure that I’m giving this area of my life the time and energy it deserves?

3. Don’t move up to the next level of the pyramid until you have complete peace about the current level.

As a thank-you gift for your awesome support of Like Living Among Scorpions, I made a free printable that you can download and/or print that will walk you through this exercise that I’ve been doing!

You can get it here:


It’s not very fancy, but I hope you find it as helpful as I have. This simple morning exercise has brought a lot of peace to my life, as I hope it does for yours as well.

And thank you so, so much again for your support for the new ebook!


  1. Mary Redling

    Jen: once again I stand in awe of you. I can barely get myself out the door most days, and I don’t have children to worry about. I will definitely try the pyramid. I loved loved loved the new book. I laughed out loud many times And have recommended it to everyone I know. God bless you and thank you for all you give us

  2. Brigid

    like a mini examen — I love this.

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      I hadn’t thought of the connection to the Examen – that’s awesome! Thanks!

  3. Jenny Ryan

    So simple. Yet so helpful and exactly what I need right now.

  4. Sarah

    Just bought your book over here on Ol’ Blighty, v. excited to read it. 🙂

    I love the pyramid idea, I’m going to try that, thanks. xx

  5. Joy

    I’m just like you when faced with these decisions — I totally freeze and get distracted. I think this is simple enough that even I could try it! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    And also, congrats on how well your e-book is doing! That’s awesome! 🙂



  7. Kristin

    love this!!!! And so incredibly fitting: Today’s the feast day of St Martha, she’s got plenty to teach me in this department!

  8. Marisa Cadena

    Jennifer, I gave a copy of your book, Something Other Than God, to my 28yr old ‘little lost sheep’ who claims she is athiest. I ask for prayers from you and your listeners, for Audrey. May your words touch her soul and open her eyes to the unconditional love and happiness she can enjoy, on her life journey with God.

  9. Becky

    Have you read “Walking with Purpose” by Lisa Brennenkmeyer (sorry, I butchered that last name). It is about this very concept and super practical. Love your insights, as always!

  10. Leane

    Thank you, Jen. This is very helpful and I will be using it. Blessings to you, your family and all your endeavors! 🙂

  11. Laura

    How did you know that I needed this? Thank you for the reminder that God always has to come first or the rest of it won’t make sense. And thank you for always being a proverbial open book to the rest of us out here in the everyday world. It helps to know that we are not alone in doing this crazy thing called life. God bless you.

  12. Erika Marie

    Great idea! I’m very visual so I like this idea of using a visual benchmark to keep me accountable during the day.

    My only problem with things like this is that I still have to be the one to keep myself accountable to it and decide whether I’ve done “enough” in the family department. Darn mom guilt and paralysis by analysis. 😉

  13. Erika Marie

    P.S. Have you heard of Trello? It’s a nice way to organize my to-do list visually by category boards and cards.

  14. Mary Beth S

    Oh my, if your office is messy, I’m in deep trouble!! Thanks for this plan on St. Martha’s feast day; just today at work I got a message something was urgent – I froze, then decided I couldn’t do that task till I finished another (you guessed it, less urgent one). I think the evil one loves to play with our minds & hearts to make us our own worst enemies. Thanks for your awesomeness, & congrats on new book.

  15. Caroline

    This is great. Funny how “making people like and approve of me” isn’t on there, but boy do I act like it should be.

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