The Science of Getting Things Done

New Science of Emotional Well-being Series: Part 2

There is a curious paradox that while many leaders feel anxious about remote and sustainable productivity, many people on their teams feel like they’re working harder than ever. The reality is that shifts in our emotional landscapes are provoking unchartered challenges in our ability to get things done. As it turns out, how we manage our emotions has everything to do with how we manage our time.

According to the latest brain science, there is a compelling relationship between how we do and how we feel. Everything we do relates to how we feel. What we get done and how easily we get things done on any given day often reflects our feelings and emotions. This isn’t just a coincidence. This is how our brain is wired to work.

Under the hood of our conscious mind, our brain runs millions of predictive simulations to bootstrap feelings and emotions that make sense of our moment to moment experience and prepare our body for action. Our emotions are our brain’s best guesses at what it all means. Our brain energizes action based on our feelings and emotions. 

So, based on this neurological reality, what is a good approach to getting things going and done when we don’t “feel up to” doing something? These are natural moments of feeling stressed, tired, anxious, or burned out. We can’t always count on feelings and emotions that inspire us into doing what needs doing. We can’t “will” or “should” any feelings or emotions into existence.

However, because we are the author of our emotions, we can compose emotions that make constructive action more possible. Just as the feeling “I’m just in a crappy mood” is an emotion, so is the feeling “when there is something undone, and I could blow it off,” or “I can just do it without feeling in the mood for it and enjoy the feeling of doneness.”

This is an emotion. It is a granular, experience-specific emotion. It is more meaningful than the generic, clichéd emotions of feeling stressed, burned out, or crappy. Because it is more situationally-specific, it makes action more accessible and has more ability to create energy than postponement. We make emotions more granular when we compose them with specifics about what’s situationally true, what might be true, and what we like and would also like.

According to countless studies, there is a direct relationship between the situational precision of our emotions and how well we do in any aspects of our life. We have more satisfying relationships. We are healthier, enjoy more, and struggle less. It is an optimally energy-efficient and realistic way of life. That’s why our current understanding of emotional well-being is experiencing ourself as the author of our emotions. How we feel is entirely related to the variety and granularity of our emotions. 

We get things done.

This post includes excerpts from The Poetry of Human Emotion: A Science-based Guide to Emotional Well-being (Jack Ricchiuto, 2020 NuanceWorks). Learn more here.


About Jack

In my late twenties I had the good fortune to have mentors who were practice leaders in what was then called the Human Potentials Movement. They inspired me to help organizations and communities realize their potential in ways they never imagined. It became clear this was the core gift that would shape the past 40 years.