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Does GTD help with Depression or other mental disorders?

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  • Does GTD help with Depression or other mental disorders?

    I have read that GTD is making great inroads into helping ADD people have a more meaningful life. GTD is a tool that can give so many people hope.

    With all the broken agreements, incompletes, and open loops that are the norm in our fast-paced world, it's no surprise that mental illness is on the rise.

    Since Next-Action decision making produces Clarity, Accountability, Productivity, and Empowerment, it seems that this way of life would be an antidote preventing the slide into mental illness.

    Do you have a story about how GTD has pulled you, or someone you know, out of the clutches of depression or another form of mental illness?

    I know that depression is still "taboo" talk in many circles, especially if it is from personal knowledge.

    Can you envision a future where GTD is the drug of choice instead of Paxil, Prozac, or Lexipro?


  • #2

    Stephen, I would love to read whatever you've seen about GTD helping people with ADD-style thinking. Can you hook me up with those references?

    ADD or not, many of us were never taught basic organizational skills. Nor was there anyone to mimic. Growing up, most adults around me had their stuff together and were getting things done, but they were not doing anything much out of the ordinary. I did see that one should file paid bills alphabetically... But I never learned what to do with the creative projects and their necessary gold and dross. Really compounding the problem was that nobody talked about this organizational stuff. It was a bigger secret than sex. Who could you ask a dopey question such as "what do I do with my half-written history of widgets? "

    I am not being literal, of course, but I am here to tell ya, that it is extremely depressing and crazy-making and terribly damaging to self-esteem to have incompletes, messes, and what-might-have-beens. The snowball effects are considerable.

    By nature, I am about average when it comes to being organized and getting things accomplished. Yet the healing (corny word, but apt) that even I have felt from the little bit of GTD that I have understood and applied cannot be underestimated.

    I've known others - so much more gifted, and so talented - who are depressed because they are not meeting their potential and using their gifts. One guy says it's his FAMILY CURSE that he has accomplished nothing, that he has had great ideas and dreams that rot half finished in his attic. It is very heartbreaking to observe. Some of these people take Prozac. Some use numbing techniques (TV, excessive on-line activity) to cope. I try to observe this behavior and use it as a reverse-roll-model. I try to implement more GTD every day.


    • #3

      Thanks, Stephen.
      Helpful, too.


      • #4
        I discovered GTD a number of years ago -- I don't implement it as fully as I could but I'm pretty good at it so far. For all of my pregnancies I have dealt with very severe post-partum depression. Only for the last pregnancy did I have experence w/GTD and I think it made a tremendous difference.

        When I could feel the depression start to overtake me like a fog, I cannot tell you how comforting it was to know that I had full confidence in my collection tools and in being able to break projects and actions down. The "next action" on some of my projects were actually "itty-itty-bitty-next-action-wannabees" but that was all that I could handle until I got through the worst of it. Some days my only progress was staying alive another day.

        In the past, coming out of a bad depression usually lead to an awful secondary depression from all the debris of not functioning well for some time. This last time around, the secondary depression was not so bad -- I was overwhelemed with what had to be done, but not paralyzed. I knew where I had left off with all my important projects and I knew how to jump in with processing. (I also liberally moved about half of my projects to the trashcan or to "someday/maybe".)

        GTD is powerful, but I don't see it directly doing anything for the low-serotonin in my brain or for the dramatic hormone shifts after giving birth. While lack of organization can contribute to depression, I don't think organization all by itself cures it either.



        • #5
          Meg, very interesting. I like how you articulated it. It gives me better understanding of GTD as structure. Jane


          • #6
            In the past, coming out of a bad depression usually lead to an awful secondary depression from all the debris of not functioning well for some time. This last time around, the secondary depression was not so bad -- I was overwhelemed with what had to be done, but not paralyzed. I knew where I had left off with all my important projects and I knew how to jump in with processing. (I also liberally moved about half of my projects to the trashcan or to "someday/maybe".)
            IMO, this is brilliant, and a terrific affirmative response to the question of whether GTD can help one in depression. I can't find sourcing for it, but I have read that completing tasks releases endorphins, the feel-good chemical ("runner's high," etc.). If this is true, then if a depressed person isn't constitutionally incapable of experiencing that pleasure, getting things done should help. I don't see it altering fundamental neurotransmitter problems and alleviating clinical depression, or offsetting a circumstance-based depression (job loss, death of a loved one), but in working out of general downward spiral, it could at least theoretically be a boon. You feel morose, but commit to your NA and get it done and get a little lift of satisfaction/brain chemicals in the wake of accomplishment; you commit to and finish another NA, with the same result, and feel incrementally better. The demonstrable results justify the sense of pleasure and satisfaction. In this sense, GTD could be seen as a form of behavior modification (action vs. inertia). It may be less useful in AD/HD, simply because the lack of a hard structure in determining the right NAs makes that a morass of possibility, or an ADD sandtrap. All IMO.

            Meg, is the concept of "secondary depression" yours?


            • #7
              Any type of Behavior Therapy can be useful when dealing with a depression.
              But along with this, one needs to do a lot of work with ones thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.
              And for very serious depression, antidepressants can be very helpful.
              So its best if one does all of these, pharmacological, behavioral, and cognitive-emotive.

              But for those with Obsessive personality traits, GTD and things like this, really could just make the problem much worse. Some people with this problem go overboard and literally try to order EVERY single tiny Next Action in their existence, and create a type of obsessive, perfectionistic spiral, which ends in dumping the system, and moving on to the NEXT system....

              I would stick to proven and tested Cognitive-Behavioral-Emotive methods for serious psychological problems.

              Since this thread is about mental disorders, have a look (below) at the criteria for the Obsessive Personality...very interesting.


              Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder

              Diagnostic Criteria
              A pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by four (or more) of the following:

              1. is preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost
              2. shows perfectionism that interferes with task completion (e.g., is unable to complete a project because his or her own overly strict standards are not met)
              3. is excessively devoted to work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure activities and friendships (not accounted for by obvious economic necessity)
              4. is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification)
              5. is unable to discard worn-out or worthless objects even when they have no sentimental value
              6. is reluctant to delegate tasks or to work with others unless they submit to exactly his or her way of doing things
              7. adopts a miserly spending style toward both self and others; money is viewed as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes
              8. shows rigidity and stubbornness
              Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-31-2006, 12:17 PM.


              • #8
                The "secondary depression" is just based on my own experience -- it's probably a common phenomenon.

                I also agree that GTD would be a mess to implement in the midst of a bad depressive episode. My very limited experience has been that having the structure in place before a bad episode made it easier to keep moving. GTD didn't "fix" the depression, but it did allow me to hold on to some small pieces of my normal self -- that helped me weather the lows.



                • #9
                  I have depression and anxiety. A few years ago I did CBT and it helped tremndously, in fact if you're ready to feel better I'm a firm believer that's the way out without medication. I jsut read GTD last weekend. I loved it so much I wrote my CBT therapist a letter suggesting she look into it for helping her patients.

                  More than anything I think it helps with anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety include worry, a sense of overwhelming doom, constant spinning over the same thought. One of the things CBT teaches you is to get those thoughts -- out of your head, so you can examine them.

                  CBT helps with the internal view. The emotional organization. How to examine and evaluate the messages you tell yourself (often you don't realize the extent of your internal dialog until you go through the CBT process.) The theory being that thoughts/feelings/behaviors are all eelated. Each influences the other. If you can control one of those, you can affect the other two.

                  That said from what I've read in GTD. GTD provides amazing techniques for the next phase. How to organize the external. And how to organize your interactions no so much with your internal dialog, but the dialog you have with the world. It also provides a guide for how to get it all out of your head in an organized and productive fashion.

                  Also, the technique of breaking things down to next steps is incredibly helpful for both depression and anxiety. For depression it makes it easier to get going. A little step at a time. For anxiety it would help break down that overwhelming panic sense of doom into manageable actions.

                  Like another poster said, CBT and GTD complement each other. I don't think someone who has depression or anxiety could just do GTD and feel better. You really have to get a handle on the internal messages before you start with the external. Without changing that you might not be able to see or feel your progress. You might sabotage yourself with negative thinking, you're not even aware of.

                  That said, GTD is definitely the next phase. I can't wait to implement it.


                  • #10
                    Here is a very basic fact sheet about CBT.


                    • #11
                      GTD and mental disorders

                      I agree with all of the above but would add that there are a few ways that GTD can be especially helpful.
                      1. anything that reduces stress helps.
                      2. clarifying thinking is always helpful.
                      3. If you are not taking care of your basic business due to emotions then doing the work step by step can only help.You will feel more in control.
                      4. Some depressions are charcterized by "work inhibition" and I don't know of any clinical approach that really takes on that symptom as a focus of treatment.

                      There are sometimes when GTD could possibly do some harm:
                      1. Someone in a manic state or getting into one who does not realize that he or she is getting "up there".
                      2. Someone who is so obsessive that he or she just obsesses about GTD methodology and doing it not right but just perfectluy, hair splitting the terminology, etc and never gets to an action.
                      3. Someone whose goals are anti-social.
                      4. Someone who is too fragile to take the bigger perspective.
                      5. Someone who tries to adopt the system too fast.
                      6. Someone who believes it is a substitute for treatment.
                      7.Someone who floats from one self-help method to another, hopeing and praying that it will finally work but just can't work the method and then feels like a failure. That person would be wise to pick one step and do that step until he or she gets it right or has a clear reason for why it does not apply to them.


                      • #12
                        The "secondary depression" thing mentioned above has happened to me also, so it's not just Meg (if I remember who made that original post).

                        (Considering registering for the forums when I get home.)


                        • #13
                          GTD & Depression, other disorder

                          I have not fully actualized GTD in my life to my satisfaction. I have had many challenges that are in the realm of this topic. I do know one big thing, when I am able to harness the desperation that accompanies my own intolerance of being disordered + the traits which are similar to OCPD (namely an above average attention to detail) + the discipline needed to keep it together, this all = self-esteem/self-repect/self-confidence and at the very least the illusion of having 'it' all together. Then I am free to be paying attention to all those other altitudes & levels of life.


                          • #14
                            I have suffered from depression for many years and have been on medication for 16 years. I purchased the GTD book, thinking it would help me "get my life in order". Anyway, I have put the book away and abandoned all hope of implementing GTD because it just seems so overwhelming and doesn't appear to have "structure" (for lack of a better word) to it. Something about not having a "To Do" list just throws me off balance and I can't seem to grasp how to handle daily workflow with GTD. Any suggestions?


                            • #15
                              Some things about GTD did not make real sense to me until I got the Time/Design system. It's set up physically in a way that holds information in a logical way, so it's all accessible but ordered and not overwhelming. It is, IMO, the missing piece of the puzzle. I hadn't known DA's history with Time/System (Time/Design) until recently, and while the absence of a recommendation for the system is understandable, it seems a shame.

                              I have no relationship to Time/System except as a new customer, and I am still doing basic GTD implementation, so take my recommendation accordingly. But for if you're having trouble putting a GTD system together and want to be paper-based, I think it's worth a look.