Capturing open loops

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action journalI’ve been catching up with the latest developments over at the David Allen company.  For those of you not familiar with their work, they, and David in particular are the people behind Getting Things Done (or GTD as it is more commonly known). As usual they’re a company that’s not standing still. One example, David is working on a new book which will look to provide support to those wishing to teach/coach their children the GTD methodology – one to look forward to.

I’ve previously reviewed the GTD book. It’s still incredibly popular and seems to strike a chord with people looking to improve their productivity and reduce their overall stress.  The industry of productivity apps and tools that look to support the GTD methodology are further evidence to this point.  The methodology is rich with ideas and techniques to enhance personal productivity. It’s used extensively in multiple walks of life. I’ve supported people as they look to implement GTD. It never fails to surprise me just what a lift people can get from supporting themselves more effectively with a consistent productivity approach.

I’ve observed one of the key elements to success is the capturing and management of all the commitments and action related thoughts you have. Allen calls these things open loops. One person I’ve supported complained that by writing down all of his ‘stuff’ he felt overwhelmed. We explored this feeling further. He then went on to conclude that not tracking things was rather like spending money without checking your bank balance. Only to find out that you’re heavily overdrawn. Except in this case, it’s over drawn with your time (and probably the emotional bank accounts of those closest to you). Let’s not forget it’s 168 hours each week. No more. No less. To loose sight of this point is a major source of stress. Ouch.

Having a complete inventory really increases your understanding of commitments and likelihood of making progress on the things important to you. It will also increase your objectivity about the things you say yes or no to. In the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the ability to say no when you have a bigger yes burning inside. In my experience and working with others, that yes, comes in a variety of forms. Your inventory of existing stuff is a critical one.

I can hear the MBTI ‘p’ preference people saying that they don’t want to feel hemmed in with loads of commitments. I’d argue that to think like that is to not really grasp the principle. There’s plenty of creative and P preference people using GTD. At this stage it’s about externalising things so you can then manage them. Most people accept the need for a calendar to help manage events and appointments. And yet there’s lot of people who believe the mind is the right place to manage actions. Think about that for a moment. Allen sums this part of GTD up by concluding that the mind is a brilliant place for having thoughts but incredibly poor for managing them. This part of GTD is the first in a series of steps to productivity improvement. The next step is to organise your thoughts once you’ve captured them into a trusted system.  That’s the subject for another post.

So for now, why don’t you make a conscious effort over the next seven days to externalise your commitments and ideas. Doing this exercise genuinely is likely to be insightful. I’m interested to hear about how you get on. Go on, give it a go.

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