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GTD + Your Emotional Life

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.

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    Craig Childs

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

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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