Get rid of your open loops and unchain your brain

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When I started this blog I mentioned a certain childish glee I’d felt as a young man reading Getting Things Done and ultimately not “Getting It Done”. My main issues at the time were:

  • A lack of understanding of what poor time management under pressure feels like
  • A lack of understanding of what it feels like to have multiple goals/projects in flight at once
  • A lack of experience of what it feels like to be on top of these things and “in the zone”.

Something that has always resonated with me though, since the first time I started reading Getting Things Done, is David Allen’s notion of ‘Open Loops’.


“You perform best when you haven’t got lots of fermenting ideas/thoughts (open loops) clogging up your brain.”


My interpretation of an open loop is that it’s a bit like a process running on your computer that takes up some of the system memory (RAM). The more things you have running, the more sluggishly your system performs. David Allen says the same thing of open loops; only this time it’s not a process that’s running but an incomplete, uncaptured task or action.

GTD states that a brain is designed for coming up with ideas, not storing them. Its basic premise is that you perform best when you haven’t got lots of fermenting ideas/thoughts (open loops) clogging up your brain and the only way to achieve this is to have a robust system for getting stuff out of your brain (by writing things down). Your system also needs to be robust enough that you have embedded routines for reviewing and actioning what you have written down; otherwise you start subconsciously creating open loops for worrying about when you’re going to review what you’ve captured…


“I lacked the wisdom and experience to put a robust system into place.”


When I first got my head around this concept and the notion of a ‘capture’ process that would get the open loops out of my head and into a task management system it was like a little flash bulb going off in my head. Could this be the answer to become more organised and spending fewer night lying awake trying to process the day’s events and tomorrow’s tasks?

Ultimately my quest for productivity at a younger age failed because I lacked the wisdom and experience to put a robust system into place to support the fundamental notion of managing my open loops; This time around I believe I have the right skills – and an era where helpful tools abound – to keep me on the course to improved productivity.

 

How do you manage your open loops?

 

I’m experimenting with Sketchnotes as a productivity tool – you can find my sketchnote for this post here


Image © Tund | Dreamstime.com

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5 comments

  1. GTD clicked into place for me once I combined it with Evernote. As with you it took a while! Now I force myself to review my important to-dos daily, and all of them once a week. At that time I also make sure all active projects have one or more to-dos. Then that’s the open loops pretty much handled.

    Evernote combines with GTD really well and fdor me it was instantly blissful using the combination. I’ve blogged about how I apply it here: http://heymalc.com/time-management-made-really-easy-gtd-evernote

    There are so many ways of capturing data to Evernote today – phone, tablet, email, via Readability or RSS reader, etc – that collecting your data is a dream.

    Good to find your blog – I’ll make a note to keep an eye on it. I like your Siri idea – it’s easier than my “notes in are” method which takes 5-6 keystrokes.

    Cheers

    Malc

    1. Thanks for your comment Malc! Evernote as a GTD tool does seem a popular option, and I agree that the ‘Secret Weapon’ type approach seems the most logical.

      I can see how it can work, but personally I like to keep Evernote as a pure repository for reference data (i.e. stuff I want to keep long term). I have separate tools for temporary capture (like articles to read) and tasks (which I used a dedicated task manager, Nozbe, for).

      I think you’ve done a great job of describing your system in your article – I’m sure many others will find it useful! Be sure to check out my archives for other EN and related articles and of course there’s plenty more to come!

      regards,

      BC

  2. Reblogged this on GTD for CIOs and commented:
    “Open Loops” are the source of subconscious stress. Use GTD to eliminate them!

  3. […] When I started this blog I mentioned a certain childish glee I’d felt as a young man reading Getting Things Done and ultimately not “Getting It Done”. My main issues at the time were: A lack of und…  […]

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