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Have you ever gotten back from a trip, or jumped back into work after a busy weekend, and your mind felt like a mess?
Sometimes it feels like there is way too much to do, and you simply don’t have the energy to do it. (Can you relate?)
Today I’m going to bring you into my life and show you exactly–step by step–how to get out of this frenzied state and totally calm your mind. (Because I’m in that mental mess right now…)
I’ve literally replicated this method hundreds of times, and it always works.
This is simply a process of closing the “open loops.”
What’s an open loop?
I first learned about these from David Allen’s best-seller, Getting Things Done®. Essentially, they’re commitments made to yourself or to another person that haven’t yet been fulfilled. They’re hanging out in limbo (your brain), and they essentially drain your energy without you even realizing it (like when you have a bunch of apps open on your phone at the same time).
Here are my current open loops (feel free to skim…you’ll get the point):
- I have 65 emails needing my attention. Most of them are quick, but some of them represent bigger challenges I need to resolve.
- My good friend is moving this week, and I told her I would help her, but we never decided when.
- I finished a Q&A class the other day with a group Eric and I mentor, and I need to post the recording and a bunch of links that go with it.
- Our car is atrocious after driving 10+ hours with our four children, and there are a few things in the trunk that need to be carefully stored in the garage, but I need to find a place for them first.
- Eric and I are diving deep into YNAB and working really well together on our budget, but I haven’t put in any of the quarterly or semi-annual billings, and I need his help. I also forgot to log the receipts for purchases I made yesterday (because my phone battery was low, and I didn’t want to use it while I was out and about).
- I told the piano teacher I would send him his payment this month via PayPal because I was out of checks, but my new PayPal account required me to wait two days before I could link my bank account, and I think it should be ready now.
- I’m podcasting with Jonathan Bailor for the SANE Show this Friday, and we were originally going to have Alia on the show, but she’s going to be at a conference, so I need to figure out new topics.
- I spent the whole vacation brainstorming AMAZING goals and ideas into a spiral notebook, and I am dying to get them into Asana, which I’m currently using for task management, but I need quiet time, and there simply hasn’t been enough.
- I have a podcast with Greg McKeown (author of Essentialism) ready to go, but 16 different things need to happen for each podcast, and I want to type out the steps and create a replicable process for future podcasts, so this is kind of waiting until I have time.
- Eric and I are re-doing our shopping cart, and we need to figure out our pricing structure on a couple of products, but I don’t quite know how to make that decision.
There are a couple of other things weighing on me, as well, but they’re a little too personal to record here, so I’ll just leave it at that.
I’m guessing the open loops I listed above parallel your open loops. Our lives are unique, but most of us have a HUGE list of things on our minds.
So what do we do about them?
My first instinct is to climb back into bed and watch When Calls the Heart, but that won’t solve the issue. Instead, I’m going to make a plan that I know I can execute.
Step 1: Identify what can be done in two minutes or less.
David Allen’s two-minute rule says that when you have a two-minute task, you don’t write it down on a task list. You just do it.
- I can text my friend and tell her I’m free tonight from 6-8 to help her move. (Done…I just did it while I wrote this post, and she texted me back to confirm.)
- I can log the two receipts from yesterday. (Done! It was actually three…and now they’re all set.)
- I can log into PayPal and see if my bank information is ready. (Done…I had to quickly log into my bank, as well, to see which test deposits they made, and then the whole process was finished.)
- I can quickly let our wonderful assistant Danielle know about the SANE Show topics I need. She’s already planning to gather questions from the SANE Families Facebook group, so this should be easy. (Done…and as I was typing out the email, I realized there was one show Jonathan and I didn’t get to last time we recorded that is already outlined in our Google doc. Yay! This is going to be easy.)
Side Note: Jonathan Bailor, from SANE Solutions, wrote a book called The Calorie Myth, that totally changed my life. I learned how I never have to be hungry again by eating lots of healthy foods.
Step 2: Figure out what can be delegated.
This part can get a little tricky because you might not have anyone else to help you right now. And even if you can delegate part of a project, you still own the project. It also feels a bit overwhelming because delegation can take time, and if you don’t have time, you think, “I’ll just do it myself.”
Danielle and I share tasks with each other in Asana, so for something like posting the links from the Q&A call, I simply outline all the details, select Danielle as the designee for that step, and give it a Friday deadline. I don’t need a calendar trigger to follow up because Danielle is 100% trustworthy.
Interested in using Asana? Find more of our Asana resources here!
Next, I’d like a couple of my children to help clean out the car before we go on an outing today, so I’m going to make a note in my planner to work with them after breakfast. (There’s a little appointment schedule in my paper planner where I record quick things to do around the house or with the children. I only use this tool for my home-related tasks because I don’t like to always be on my phone. Work = digital. Home = paper…for now.)
Step 3: Block out time for key discussions.
Eric and I work from home together, and although we have an outing planned with the children this morning, we’ll be back in the office this afternoon. That would be a good time to talk with him about the YNAB categories and next steps on establishing our pricing structure–plus we need to finish up a worksheet we’ve been filling out for an online course we’re taking.
I put all of that into a task in Asana with a deadline of 3pm today:
Step 4: Identify the best time to work on bigger projects.
Looking at my initial list of “overwhelm,” the only things left are getting my emails to zero, figuring out when to post Greg McKeown’s interview, and putting all of my ideas into Asana.
Eric and our girls are going to be involved in a big conference this weekend at church, so I’m actually going to have quite a bit of time to do computer work while they’re gone. I’m going to wait until then to work on our content calendar and put my ideas from my notebook into Asana. (I’ll record two triggers in Asana right now so I won’t forget to do those things on Friday…)
The “Emails to Zero” can be started right now.
I’ll go through a similar process of completing the two-minute ones right away, delegating what I can, creating agendas/discussion items, and noting details for project-related emails within Asana.
All emails that are linked to a task, discussion, or project are referenced alongside the task itself and added to my @Tickler folder (I’ll write something like, “See email 7/12 @Tickler), where they will wait patiently until they are needed. That way, my inbox stays at zero.
You have a lot coming at you. I get it. And while no day ever goes exactly as planned, when your brain knows that there’s a plan in place to review and accomplish the tasks and projects on your plate, your mind will feel calm. No more open loops, and no more anxiety over those to dos.
It’s a little piece of heaven every day.
This process of closing open loops is exactly what we do inside of our Steps to Everyday Productivity program. Want to learn more simple tips to build your very own “command central”? Join us for a class this week!
And for a few simple tips you can apply right away to begin architecting your life, download this free guide: Five Life-Changing Habits Most People Overlook.
Thanks April!! Love seeing how easy and simple this is. Just got home from vacation too so the timing is perfect. You’re going to love YNAB. We have used it for years!!! Xo
April Perry says
Rachelle, your enthusiasm for it was one of the major reasons I trusted it. We do love it so far. Hope your day is wonderful! Welcome home. 🙂
April Perry says
Hi Claudia! It’s You Need a Budget–a great tool for keeping track of your spending! Check out http://www.ynab.com.
I’m excited about this post! Thanks for getting me motivated to check some things off of my to do list!
April Perry says
Absolutely, Michelle! Hope your day is wonderful!
I love your reminders about the basic GTD processes and principles because I seem to always start to slip over time and getting back to the basics always teduces stress.
April Perry says
Heidi, I’m the exact same way. The whole reason I wrote this post was because I was feeling totally overwhelmed. I needed to remind myself that it’s possible to get out of it. 🙂
Jana @ OhThatsTasty says
My single biggest hurdle with GTD is making sure I go through my inbox on a regular basis. I just seem to resist it, for some reason. Any tips?
April Perry says
Hi Jana! Have you tried setting it as an appointment on your calendar? Or do you have your Weekly Review reminders and flow chart in an accessible spot for you to review? I’d love to know what scares you about it. 🙂 What feels hard? Is there too much going on in your life right now? I find when I procrastinate something it’s because I have worries or fears I don’t want to face–or I think it will be harder than it really is. I’d love to be helpful!
I have the opposite problem–I go through my inbox because it’s comforting and easy, and it feels good to get it to zero. However, it often means that I don’t get to the long list of more important/urgent things…
April Perry says
Melissa, you’ve hit on something so key! It’s easy to move toward “quick wins” and not dive into the bigger/harder projects. I’ve found that setting a time limit of 15 min in the morning for email works–and then I don’t check it again until I’ve completed some of my bigger projects and tasks. Recognizing the habit is the first step. 🙂 Wishing you the best!
Thank you so much for sharing so many specifics. Did you do a mind sweep to come up with this list of open loops? How do you remember it all after being outside of the system for awhile? I tend to forget the things that I didn’t put right into my inbox, and then don’t necessarily remember them when I’m sitting down to do my weekly review, and the trigger list of ideas for the mind sweep can be overwhelming. So I just put off making a list and hope that next time that thought comes to me, it isn’t too late, and I have a handy way to catch that thought available at that time… Not the best system.
April Perry says
Hi Kristen! Great question. Usually when I am on vacation, I end up jotting little notes down in my planner…or a few things will pile up in my task list or calendar. I did sit down and do a mini-mind sweep, reviewing my email inbox, my task lists, my calendar, and anything else I’d jotted down on a Post-it or something… The key for me has been to write EVERYTHING down somewhere I can easily pull it together once I have time to get my head on straight. My paper planner is great for that because it gives me a place to throw everything when things are busy. Or I send myself a quick email because I know I always process my email inbox. Hope that helps! I’d love to find out what ends up working best for you!
What about when a lot of the loops take a lot more time than 2 minutes to do? And they can’t be closed because of other circumstances?
Like, I have 2 bushes sitting in my sunroom needing to be planted (they were mail order, so really didn’t have too much of a choice as to when I got them) but it’s too muddy right now, and it’s driving me crazy. More rain is supposed to be on the way this week.
Also have 4 seed packets that need to planted in the garden, but pretty much same problem as above…although I’ve had them for awhile, but other things like trimming bushes, etc. always seem to get in the way of getting that done. With the rain, everything is growing!
I also wanted to transplant some volunteer sunflowers in my garden, but now see problem above!
I did get my strawberries planted a couple of weeks ago when we had dry 80 degree weather, but rototilled the garden 3 times to keep weeds from coming back so soon, so by the time I got that done, and the strawberries planted I was too tired to plant the seed packets or transplant the sunflowers, besides it was getting dark.
Now with all the rain, the garden needs to be rototilled again, you see where I’m going with this?
And at the same time I’m trying to get 4 email inboxes to zero so that I can forward 3 of them to a single inbox. Unroll.me was very frustrating for me, so I’m trying Clean Email. Still is time consuming.
Also trying to get my routines in place and my command center set up. I had my desk cleared off and have before pics taken, and it felt so good, but with everything I have going on, it’s starting to get piled up again, and I’m just feeling overwhelmed with everything. My husband is working at home right now, so he’s on the computer a lot, and I need a new laptop, which is from 2013, but it’s a touch screen and I really like it a lot. I haven’t been able to find one that has everything this one has, but it’s getting pretty clunky in it’s speed. I keep telling myself I need to just do a refresh on it, and see it that helps, but…”never have time to do it.”
[Now that’s actually something that would take just a little more than 2 minutes, to get the refresh started, but I wouldn’t be able to use my laptop until it’s done, and then I’d have to get everything downloaded back on to it…but maybe it’s kind of like the guy who was trying to cut fire wood with a dull axe because he didn’t have time to sharpen it. If my laptop would run faster, I wouldn’t have to wait for my husband to get off the computer, so I could get more stuff done.]
I have also been working on spring cleaning, and have gotten some stuff off my list there which, feels great, but still a lot to do there, too (we have a 2,600 sq ft ranch style house on a half acre with a full basement which is pretty much all torn up right now because we were finally getting the water damage fixed from last spring, when this whole coronavirus thing hit, but hopefully they’ll be starting back up on it next week).
Sorry, I just really unloaded, but I have a lot of things that take a lot more than 2 mins, and right now, the outside stuff has to take precedence if we have a nice day and it’s dried out.
It’s just my husband and I at home now, it was easier when our son’s could come home, and help, but they’re far enough away that it isn’t possible right now. We are trying to get our house ready to sell, we decided to stay in it until my husband retires (I’m a substitute teacher, so I’ll just retire when he does) which we were hoping would be next year, but not sure about that now.
I know it’s all in the Lord’s hands, and with everything I’ve been unloading it sounds like I’m not trusting, but actually spiritually I’ve got a lot of peace about everything, but I just would like to be able to move forward more with the STEP program, and feel like I’m in an overwhelming limbo, and I’m feeling guilty for spending so much money on something when I’m not making much progress.
Taryn Wood says
Sandra, we hear you! Life can feel SO overwhelming sometimes. Luckily, we have tools available to help us. Many of the projects you’ve mentioned fall into Step #4 as mentioned here in this article. “Step 4: Identify the best time to work on bigger projects.” You’ve already mentioned how you’re looking at some of that. That’s good! Keep moving through the STEP program and you’ll learn more about how to prioritize and move through your projects one step at a time. You’re doing great!