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GTD + Your Emotional Life

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GTD + Your Emotional Life

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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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?

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    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.

    More by this author

    Craig Childs

    Craig is an editor and web developer who writes about happiness and motivation at Lifehack

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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