This blog is shaped by the fact we are in Mental Health Awareness Month.

I was struck when I attended the 2019 MadWorld Summit, by their memorable event tag line: “We all have Mental Health”.

I’m reminded of this when I’m explaining to people about Horizon 2: Areas of Focus, in GTD®’s Horizons of Focus model. I explain that this horizon simply has things we should pay attention to from time-to-time to ensure that we are appropriately engaged with them. One of the examples I give as an Area of Focus that we all have in common is Health, the same is certainly true of Mental Health.

The Areas of Focus horizon, I believe, is a much more useful way to think about our lives than any form of ‘work-life balance’. Work-life balance for most people seems to come down to the time spent in these two states; and for most people with full-time jobs, where work time often bleeds into evenings and weekends, work fills more of their waking hours and therefore the balance is off. Indeed, just the fact that ‘work’ isn’t seen as ‘life’ is very telling!

Which side of the scales of work and life does Health, or Mental Health, weigh on?

If we think in terms of Areas of Focus, then we can see that Health is something we should consider both at work and in life. Other areas continue throughout our day as well, whether they are workdays or not: relationships continue, self-development, fitness, energy, and hopefully happiness and fun.

If you’re concerned about your ‘work-life balance’ I’d encourage you to grab a pen and paper and draw a mind map or a list of your Areas of Focus, both personal and professional. Then you may see which parts of your world you have been too focussed on and which deserve more attention. Whenever I feel a sense of imbalance I ‘pop up’ to visit this horizon.

According to a survey by data and analytics company GlobalData, 67.8% of people in the UK were found to be at least slightly concerned about their mental wellbeing as a result of the pandemic and one third of small-to-medium enterprises have, to some extent, increased their support for mental and physical wellbeing since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That’s great to hear, of course, although some of that support is ‘offering paid mental health sick days’ and ‘adding mental health cover on private medical insurances’. Vital, I’m sure, for people who have reached the point where they can no longer manage to continue working but what can we do to stop people needing these financial supports or help them back to work once they have had the needed respite?

This is where I think the GTD methodology stands out as a way to help. Like an advert for pain relief tablets, we go straight to the source of the pain. Dealing with what people have on their plates and what is coming at them in the form of demands on their time, emails, meetings, calls. Unlike pain killers however, we don’t simply mask the issue; we don’t try and distract from the amount of work demands or suggest ways of not doing your work but rather how to do your work more productively and, importantly, with less stress. Our goal is that you will get things under control and are eventually able, as David Allen says, “to enjoy the game of work and the job of life”.

This is certainly not easy for everyone to achieve straight away. While some people feel instant relief from doing a simple Mindsweep and learning to Clarify and Organise their commitments onto different lists, others will need to practise GTD for a while, until it becomes an integrated new way of working, before they can trust it and then get relief.

As a GTD coach (and not a therapist), there is no way of knowing which part of the GTD methodology will present someone with an opportunity to improve their mental health. Sometimes people need more sense of ‘control’ and stability with all the new stuff coming at them, which the 5-Steps of Mastering Workflow brings with it, others need more ‘perspective’ on why they are doing things and where they are headed, which the Horizons of Focus and the Natural Planning Model help with.

David Allen explains the Matrix of Self-management in his third book “Making it all work”, helping you to find out where you are in both the areas of control and perspective. If you’d like to find out where you’re sitting at the moment in this matrix and possibly what needs your focus, please take our free GTD-Q test here.

We all have Mental Health and we should all pay attention to it.


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