The other day I listened to a GTD Nordic podcast co-hosted by Morten Røvik and Lars Rothschild Henriksen on how GTD can help manage worries. I found it frankly interesting because it’s something I hadn’t thought about.
The truth is that in recent years there are too many things happening globally making it impossible not to worry: climate change, severe economic recessions, the Covid-19 pandemic and, to top it all off, the recent invasion of Ukraine by a guy who will undoubtedly go down in history as a very dangerous lunatic. Then, of course, there are all those personal issues that worry anyone at any time: work, family, personal relationships, the economy, health, etc.
Many of these worries have to do with things over which we have no control and, therefore, usually do nothing about. Nothing except worry, of course.
How can GTD help you manage all these concerns?
First of all, as you do with any other thing that catches your attention, you must capture these things. It is important that you identify the things that worry you because if you don’t, these will keep popping into your head with little room for anything else. It’s not that you will stop worrying just because you write down something that worries you, but becoming aware of it will help you approach the problem in the best possible way.
When the moment of clarifying comes, you will ask yourself the usual questions. Answering “what is this really?” will allow you to reflect on the main reasons for your concern and that will help you to relativize the issue. Then comes the ultimate question: Is it actionable?
This is a key point to lessen the pressure of a worry or even eliminate it. What can you do about it? If you can’t do anything about it, you should take it on board and try to adopt a stoic attitude about it (one of the maxims of stoicism, as a philosophy of life, is to understand what things are out of your control and limit worries to what you can control).
I know, throwing something away into the trash won’t get rid of the worry in your brain. But it will help you become aware of the nature of the worry and manage it more effectively. Having an active concern about the evolving invasion of Ukraine and its implications is not the same as being overcome by events and not being able to think about anything else.
But what if you could do something about it? Then you will have to define a next action and throw it into your Next Actions lists. This will make you focus on what you can do rather than on a logical but sterile preoccupation.
Sometimes we think there is nothing to be done, but there is. If we go back to the war in Ukraine (it’s my main concern today), there are some things you can do, from donating money to help the country and the refugees who are forced to leave it, to joining a foreign legion, picking up a rifle and defending your ideals with your life. You can also use your social media and amplify the message of rejection of the invasion. This is more important than it seems. Governments and corporations are increasingly influenced by such messages when they are massive, and because of this, many countries and multinationals are acting in ways not seen before to pressure Putin to abandon his goal. Your bit helps.
In the podcast Morten points out a solution that may help with those concerns that you can’t do anything about. It is to add it to a “worry list” that you would spend some time thinking about during the Weekly Review. During that time you would try to worry deeply about the things on that list. This is also related to stoicism, in that when you proactively deal with your negative emotions, applying a significant emotional charge at chosen times, they no longer haunt you with the same force the rest of the time.
In short, when you have a worry you need to either accept that you can’t do anything, or realize that you can do something (to the best of your ability), and do it. Worrying, besides being useless, will cause you not to pay the necessary attention to other aspects of your life, which may end up generating more worries.
Here is the original podcast: