There is something mysteriously pleasing about circles. Artists use them in paintings and sculpture. We select them in the fabrics we choose for our clothes and in our decoration. Photographers are subliminally drawn to their beauty in nature. They are pleasing to look at … but there’s more to it than that. They are also symbolic.
Circles are representative of peace, love, and completeness. It’s that latter element which draws us so much. We love closure and completeness. Unfinished business causes anxiety and tension.
So that brings us to the subject of “open loops.” David Allen in his book, Getting Things Done, speaks of open loops as a hindrance to productivity. So what does he mean?
What is an Open Loop?
An open loop is anything that you’ve started on that has been left ‘unresolved’ and often that involves other people or a potentially stressful/anxiety-inducing exchange. A good example of this for instance would be calling back a client to discuss future work or perhaps having a difficult conversation with a service provider who has let you down. Maybe it’s negotiating a better price on some supplies.
In other words, this is that job that you’ve been putting off; one that you have to do but you really don’t want to. And in fact, open loops even exist in our private lives and include things like calling back a friend to tell them we have to reject their invitation, or calling the landlord to tell them the shower isn’t heating up.
Our natural tendency with these sorts of tasks is to put them off and hope they go away. Of course they do not and in fact they will also end up making you less productive in other areas due to the fact that you won’t be able to concentrate as much on other tasks. Having these sorts of open loops ‘hanging over you’ can prevent you from getting on with your other jobs properly.
How to Prevent Open Loops
If you have been putting off these kinds of tasks, then in future you should focus on getting them out the way early so that you can focus your attention 100% on more important tasks. At the same time though, you can also take steps to try and prevent these open loops from emerging in the first place. You might even choose to dedicate a day or half a day just to closing these loops.
One way to do this is to make sure that you resolve everything as soon as the opportunity comes up. Don’t defer decisions – make them quickly and you can always change your mind later on. Be bold in your decisions and resolve every problem as it comes up where possible.
The one exclusion from this proposal, however, is to start each day with an item left over from yesterday’s “6 Things List.” You will be facing the day with energy as you look forward to finishing the project you started the day before.
Positive focus is the important thing here – and not mental draining.
You will find yourself accomplishing more than you thought you could as you proceed with these plans.