You know what’s less sustainable than survival mode? Pretending to live in survival mode, telling yourself that everything non-essential can wait until less stressful times, and then fretting over those non-essential things anyway.
Recently, I woke up in the middle of night worried about some old classics: Is it time to renew my car’s registration? When is that doctor’s appointment I pushed back 72 times already? Did I ever respond to that email about a collaboration I’m actually really excited about?
Individually, none of these unresolved issues is that big of a deal. And none is urgent enough to go on my daily to-do list. But our brains tend to focus on incomplete or interrupted tasks — it’s a phenomenon called the Zeigarnik Effect. And having all these open loops, as the writer David Allen calls them, does create some psychic stress.
As Allen writes in his productivity bible Getting Things Done: “An Open Loop is anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is.” It’s hard to ever reach a state of flow or deep work when part of your subconscious is constantly flitting around back there going “Wait! Did we ever return that library book?” It’s like having an app running in the background that you don’t notice until your phone emits a “low battery” death rattle.
And as creativity coach Sam Chilcott writes:
If many obligations are left resolved in your mind, they will keep battling for your attention throughout the day and even until you go to sleep. Having all these open loops can lead to overwhelm, which leads to stress, which means you can’t concentrate on the task at hand due to knowing there are others out there.
It’s a good time to take a collective breath and gather ourselves. Take an hour today and close as many loops as you can. You’ll be surprised at how stress-relieving it can be just to sweep a handful of tiny tasks clear out of your consciousness.