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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.

    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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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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