To Close Open Loops

To Close Open Loops
Photo by Zoriana Stakhniv / Unsplash

Here's a hypothesis: As we grow older, our open loops increase, making it harder for us to keep up with everything. The gestation period of things naturally increases, limiting our bandwidth to take on new things or complete the existing ones.  

Think about the last time you were swamped with tabs to close, messages to process, emails to read, meetings to attend, errands to run, and goals to achieve. These are all open loops. Andy Matuschak defines them best:

Tasks left undone, observations left unrecorded, replies yet to be written—these swirl about our minds, as if we’re rehearsing them over and over again to make sure they’re not forgotten.

This creates stress. We worry, think, and over-analyze, to the point that we begin to suffer from inaction. Closing open loops, then, becomes important. Now, while you'll find a lot of articles, frameworks, and methods teaching you how to close these open loops, none have quite worked for me. For example, I find the framework of 'Delete, Delegate, Defer, Do' quite generic.

So this week, I was thinking about how I am intuitively managing the stress of these open loops while also functioning at optimal capacity at work.

My discovery is, frankly, not as exciting but also simultaneously counter-intuitive. Here's the insight: Open loops are best left open because they do not matter.

I realized that most of the open loops I was worried about either didn't really matter to me or were things I had not carefully examined. For example, worrying about not reading X or not learning Y is an open loop, but it probably doesn't matter if you have another goal in mind which you really want to accomplish.

Experientially, it looks like we're capable of focusing on only one goal at a time. It's a simple realization for me, but it is equally profound. Perhaps realizing one's limitations is also an accomplishment of sorts.

So, open loops. I've learned to let most open loops remain open, and close the ones that really, really matter to me. In due course, the pending open loops will close one way or the other.

Until next time,