It’s a theory of mine that the way you manage your emotions is critical to managing the rest of your life. If you are confused and/or distracted by something emotional – ie. not tangible and in your head – it will negatively affect your work and the people around you.

So why not apply GTD methods of organization to your feelings and everything icky? It may sound stupid to some of you, but I know people who would immediately benefit from this kind of thought process.

If we can manage our emotional relationships like we do business relationships, maybe we’d have less trouble. If we could organize all personal stuff like you do your work stuff, could we become emotionally productive?

gtd emotions

To start off with, we’ll run through the GTD Workflow and how we can apply it to new and surfacing emotions.

Emotional Workflow

First things first. You’ve got to get it out of your head. The underlining principle for Getting Things Done is getting it out of your thoughts and into a tangible system. Somewhere that it’s not nagging in the back of your mind.

The first main difference between your regular GTD Workflow and one for emotions, is that some emotions don’t even get to your inbox – which we’ll discuss in a minute. First of all, we’ll discuss whether or not the emotion should be acted on.

Is it actionable?

This is tricky. Firstly let’s assume it is actionable immediately. Your feelings are hurt in public, so you react. If you don’t, it plagues you the rest of the day. That’s an item that should be actioned immediately. It could be done right away, and so should.

What if you shouldn’t action it at all? It’s trash. Someone makes a snide remark, but what is the use in getting into it? You’re bigger than that, so you trash the remark. That immediate feeling of hurt, or anger, is dismissed because it serves no purpose.

Inbox

Now let’s get into those emotions that aren’t so easily dealt with.

Although your head is essentially your inbox, we need to get things out of there. The first idea that comes to mind is a journal. Lots of people keep personal journals [not blogs] and jot down the random occurrences of each day. This is very healthy.

To keep redundancy to a minimum we could maintain a focus in the journal of emotion-specific details. If something really bugged you about someone today, and it made you look at them differently, we can write about that. Just get it out there.

Having to write something intangible down gives it meaning and context. Something that seems so important in your head may look absurd after writing it down.

But say we’re out and we’re not writing in a journal, and something happens. A handy thing would be to have a Hipster PDA or something to write in. Many of us following a GTD process will have something like this, so add another section for emotion-related stuff.

This serves to get the emotion out of our head and in the open. Now it is something we can physically deal with.

Reference

If something comes up that you can’t deal with immediately, we can reference it. This goes back to the journal. Essentially a journal is an emotional reference. What may help, however, is some sort of organization. Instead of writing in the journal chronologically, day by day, we could separate our writing into sections.

Something simple first: ‘good’ and ‘bad’ sections. Good, it’d be nice to look back on this section to help you out of a bad mood, or a confidence booster. Bad, this section may only exist for you to vent. Over time you’ll begin to notice patterns and petty grievances that you grow out of. If there’s a clear documentation of these things, it’s easier to make changes to decrease the negative in your life.

We can organize our reference library into all kinds of sections. Family and friends, or social and personal. However, when we start organizing things into people, then I think we’re creating projects.

Projects

People are continuous projects. Your relationship with your mother goes on. Our emotional relationship with her is an ongoing experience and so can’t be referenced, but worked on.

If we had specific emotional goals to achieve within that relationship, then we can make plans to get things working. Your ToDo list for mum might include birthdays, favors and gifts. You do that anyway, mark dates in your calendar, why not do so in context to a goal in your relationship?

Like people who don’t need systems to keep themselves organized and productive, you may not see any value in an emotional system. You may even find it crass, and un-human. This is true, it isn’t a very human thing to think of emotions so objectively.

Prioritize

The value in prioritizing and organizing your emotions, I think, is important to do, if only in some small manner.

If you’re always caught up in the small problems and can’t get over certain hardships that shouldn’t hold you back, wouldn’t you want to form a habit of not falling into those traps again?

When a system is in place you become used to organizing things into what’s important and of value, and what really isn’t a priority.

Now, I wouldn’t suggest a definitive process that will lead to emotional bliss. There are so many things that affect our lives that we couldn’t possibly pigeon-hole, or delegate times to deal with.

However, we’re trying to organize our lives to be more productive in work so we have more time and energy in our lives. If we can do the same for emotions so we’re not continuously caught up in unimportant squabbles or regularly depressed over something we can’t change, then we can live the lives we want.

Try this:

  • Get it out of your head. Write it down and see it objectively.
  • Organize to prioritize. If it’s important, it’s probably building on something like a relationship. Put that into a project and work on it. Anything less important is probably just worth archiving for reference. If you’re organizing that into more definable areas, all the better to help you out in the future.
  • Think about your emotions. Don’t let anything unnecessary affect the rest of your life negatively.

Emotions define our lives and our relationships with others. Make them work for you and not against you.

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