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Inbox doom (vicious cycle)

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  • Inbox doom (vicious cycle)

    Ok, long story short: I have depression (I made a thread about GTD and depression a while ago. Yeah, I'm going to whine about it some more .) and it makes doing GTD a bit difficult. I'm being treated and all, but I still have bouts of depression that are worse than normal which causes me to kind of shutdown anything that doesn't have the highest of priorities (like eating, etc.)

    The problem I present to you all is this: I'll get my GTD system all up and running smooth during one of my better periods. A depressed period hits and my GTD system is closed for business during that time (could be a couple weeks, a month.) When I come out of it and can function somewhat normally again, I now have a huge pile of stuff in my inbox and out-of-date lists. This overwhelms me causing me to procrastinate, and my inbox continues to grow and lists continue to grow cobwebs.

    Right now, I'm at the last stage mentioned; cleaning up the mess I've made. I've moved from my normal stylish in-tray to a big green "banker's box" to hold all of the inbox stuff and just sitting near it feels like I'm being taunted by the bogeyman. I've tried the "get started on just a little bit each day to tackle the beast" method just to realize how little of a dent I was putting into it and then got overwhelmed again.

    I suppose this question is similar to those regarding getting back on the GTD wagon after falling off, but the frequency of it for me is kind of discouraging. I'm hoping that somebody here might be able to lend some wisdom on how I may outsmart this chaotic critter.

  • #2
    I'm not really qualified to offer much advice in this case, but I can give you a bit of credit and that might make a difference. Even in a depressed state, you're still least collecting stuff into an inbox (nevermind the size) and not spreading it all over your life. At least it's contained so that when you are in a functional state you can deal with it.

    The only real advice I can give is to do whatever you can to keep your head empty. When you are in that functional state and you process that stuff, be very selective about which projects you let into your life, make good use of your Someday/Maybe list and don't let the size of that list bother you. Your depression puts a drain on your psychological reserves and imposes a limitation (energy) on how much you can actually do, so don't feel guilty for moving things there.

    For you it's especially important to track your commitments outside of your head. Open loops in your head will only make the depression worse. By keeping your head empty, you might even reduce the frequency and length of your severe bouts that shut you down.

    I know it's not really a solution but hopefully it might help you to manage things and stay afloat when your depression puts you out of commission.

    Best wishes and good luck.



    • #3
      I don't know if I can offer any helpful advice, because I feel that I'm often stuck in that same cycle myself.

      Can you take your inbox home? I'm lucky to have pretty flexible employers, and sometimes I find it helpful to just take as much stuff as possible home with me, skip a day in the office, and process my inbox or clean up my lists at home in front of a stupid guilty pleasure movie. In fact, I would say that Buffy has probably helped me get stuff done more than any other person! For me, it's a combination of moving to a more comfortable environment and distraction. I'm partly focused on my DVDs (but it's not a new blockbuster so it doesn't have my full attention), I'm on my comfy couch wearing my slippers, and because I'm comfortable and a little distracted, I'm not agonising and feeling guilty over every piece of paper.

      If you can't get a day at home, try going to a coffee shop for an hour and get what you can done in that time. Or maybe headphones and music would work for you and you can stay in your office.

      The other thing that I find helpful (but other people think is bizarre, so your mileage may vary) is to tidy my desk and workspace. When I get overwhelmed, I sometimes just start tidying so that at least I have control over that one aspect of the work at hand. I may just dump everything into my inbox, I may not actually get any work done, but I think that hour spent cleaning is often a very useful way for me to just go "okay, I can handle this" and then move on to actually doing the work. Otherwise, I'll just sit there and get more overwhelmed.


      • #4
        Thank you both for your advice and your understanding.

        Luke, I especially like your idea on trying to keep an emphasis on keeping my head empty, even during my depressed times. That part, I think, would be more tolerable to do during those times than processing my inbox and such, so I think I'll try and do that more often. I also think your idea of keeping more things in Someday/Maybe instead of my active projects makes a lot of sense as well.

        SpoonFed, I've done the desk cleanup and the coffee house thing for a while with some regular success, so I'm glad to hear that others do the same. I like your idea of keeping part of the mind partially distracted by a favorite/familiar DVD. I think I'm going to try that next time.


        • #5
          Dear Enigma,

          Some good ideas.

          For me, I have several choices when this happens.

          Sometimes, I do a re-boot, and come into the office over a weekend, literally starting again. If I don't complete the re-boot, I hide the old stuff collected (in a pending email folder or a cupboard). And start to deal with it 15 minutes a day, as time allows.

          Btw, I often haven't got through all the old email, and it doesnt seem to matter. If it's urgent someone shouts.

          Another good way that works for me is to ask for help. Sometimes, I have had a trusted assistant and had her sit with me and help me. Recently a friend came in for a couple of hours after work to sort through piles from the cupboard. Then we went out for a meal. Some years ago, I also had a dear friend who came round and helped me for several days. She understood when it was all too much, and I took to my bed! Later, we traded assistance for each other.

          One of the coaches here said you dont have to be perfect. Implementing some GTD ideas, processes, hints or tips can make a difference. Thinking about it, I think one thing that really helps me if I'm low, is when I have projects well specified. That helps me know what I'm doing and why, when life's a bit hazy and tough.

          And managing self talk is sooo important to me. Eradicate the back chat if you can and encourage yrself - you rock for tackling this stuff. Recognise what you are doing.

          If your home gets less than organised and restful, I highly recommend FlyLady. She also rocks! You can do anything in 15 minutes or if that's too long try 2 minutes! Buy a timer for home and the office and use it. Even 2 minutes repeated several times a day, starts to show good results.

          Good luck,

          Last edited by Hermione; 05-28-2009, 05:41 PM.


          • #6
            Motion is key

            When I read your post, the first thing that came to mind was this heavily underlined passage in my copy of Making It All Work:

            "Ultimately, motion is key. Truly, taking any action will give you more of a sense of control than hanging back in hesitation, even if the action might not be the "right" one or the best one to take."

            This echoes something I read years ago in Stephen Cope's great book Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, to the effect that being physically in motion has a way of getting thoughts and emotions moving also, and can be a way of moving through and sometimes out of depression, or any set of emotions for that matter, especially negative ones which have a way freezing you in place.

            And where is it that DA says, "When it doubt, clean a drawer?"


            • #7
              Hermione, thanks for the encouraging words. You raised some very good points. Sometimes I can be too hard on myself, so it's comforting to read your experiences. I'm going to look into "FlyLady" tonight.

              Dan Owen, trying to initiate momentum in just about any way sounds like an interesting concept and makes sense. Perhaps a little Taichi is in order before trying to attempt tackling my inbox each day. Do you happen to have the page number to that quote in Making it All Work? I'd like to bookmark it for future reference.


              • #8
                P. 192.

                His next sentence talks about applying this concept in the martial arts. I like your Tai Chi idea!


                • #9
                  Have you read the book Get It Done When You're Depressed, by Julie A. Fast?


                  The only book I've ever seen that takes a productivity-oriented approach to depression. It's not about curing depression, it's about getting things done while depressed, and much of it could be combined with GTD.

                  In fact I'd recommend it to people who don't suffer from depression, too!


                  • #10
                    Getting Back To Zero

                    I wish you the best. I think we all get somewhat out of kilter and recently I had some things that I had to deal with that threw me off track and I've started posting about how I deal with it on my blog (the link is in my signature) if you are interested in having a look.

                    Like you say, it's basically about taking small steps towards improvement. While it is easy advice to give, it's not always easy advice to execute.

                    Good luck to you and remember that you have a system in place which is probably half the battle.