Open Loops: How to Just Say “No” to Them

This month, we’ve been talking about how to close loops in your WordPress business. However, now we need to look at why you're opening so many loops in the first place.

In the following video, I’m going to talk about why open loops are problematic and how the sheer quantity of them only serves to aggravate the issue even more.

The Problem with Open Loops

Think about the last time you saw a child running around with their shoelaces untied. Sure, it looks like they’re having a good time, running those legs as fast as they can towards a destination. But you know what’s coming. You’re about to watch them fall flat on their face. The stumble breaks them out of the moment and forces them to stand up, shake off the pain and get going again. (But not before finally taking the time to tie their shoes.)

That’s what open loops do to your productivity. By leaving a loop open, you’re bound to get tripped up because of the distraction they pose, the inconvenience they cause or the stress their presence alone makes.

While it’s easy to point to incomplete projects as open loops in your workflow, opportunities for closing the loop can be found everywhere.

  • Projects
  • Bad client relationships
  • Tasks
  • Emails
  • Unpaid invoices
  • And so on

At some point, you have to close every loop that you open. But wouldn’t it be better if you never opened them in the first place? Every time you open a loop, it’s something you have to think about or take action on. Considering your brain can only store anywhere from 5 to 9 things at once…

Why divert attention from what matters most with open loops?

Tip #1 for Dealing with Open Loops

When you get that urge to open a new loop, be brutally honest with yourself:

Is this new thing absolutely necessary to take on?
If “no”, then don’t do it! Delete it from your list and remove it from your sight and brain.

If “yes”, go to the next question.

Does it need to be handled right now?
If “no”, then you can either defer it to a later time or delete it altogether. If it’s absolutely critical, you’ll know when it’s time to add it back to the list.

If “yes”, go to the final question.

Do you have time to tackle it?
If “no”, then delegate it to someone else. Or take a serious look at your open loops and decide what’s expendable. Something needs to be deleted to make room for what’s essential.

If “yes”, do it now. Get it done. Close that loop.

Tip #2 for Dealing with Open Loops

Look at your email inbox next.

  • Unsubscribe from everything that’s inessential or “nice to have”.
  • Turn off alerts using a tool like Boomerang for Gmail or Spark.
  • Schedule dedicated time each day (or week, if you’re feeling ambitious) to check messages.

What this boils down to is better time management. In other words, stop spending time managing messages. Reduce the noise, so you feel less of a pull to check in.

Tip #3 for Dealing with Open Loops

Your smartphone is another major source of open loops.

Sharon Begley, a researcher who studies compulsions, has this to say about notification overload and why we feed into it:

“What's emerged in the last few years is that the dopamine circuitry actually predicts how much you will like something and how much pleasure it will give you. Then it calculates how much reality corresponds to the prediction or falls short. The emerging idea seems to be that when reality falls short, we feel a dopamine plunge. That feels bad, so we keep trying to do something that will make reality live up to expectations.”

She refers to this as a circuit or loop:

“[W]e feel driven and compelled to keep trying, like one of these days it's going to feel great. If it never does, then you're in this essentially infinite dopamine loop.”

Notifications from mobile apps might seem like a convenient way to know when something is deserving of our attention… but is it?

I see those red notification markers now and think they resemble chicken pox – because that’s what they are! A virus that spreads from app to app, begging us to itch those spots instead of focus on the tasks that need to get done.

The best way to handle this is to stop with mobile notifications. If it’s essential, put it into your project management tool and deal with it. If it’s not, your brain can’t afford to be distracted by it.

Wrapping Up

The key to productivity, in my opinion, is to have fewer open loops. Every time you open a new one, your brain is pulled in another direction, preventing you from getting critical matters done. If you can teach yourself to say “no” to things that just aren’t important, you’ll see a big boost in productivity as a result.

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Simon Kelly

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