Rounding out the year, ready for a season of celebration and mass partying, it’s time to take a look at all your open loops. Closed loops, too, of course - you want to give yourself credit for everything you’ve done and everything that went well. As you dance into the New Year, you want to ask yourself, how much unfinished business do you want to carry forward? You’re close enough to the countdown that you can use that sense of a deadline for momentum. Close your loops and start the New Year feeling ready for anything.
What is an open loop? It’s a catchphrase from the productivity system known as GTD, or Getting Things Done, by David Allen. If you’re looking for a good winter read, that would be an excellent choice. An open loop is any unfinished business with the power to distract you or disturb your peace of mind.
An open loop might be anything: an unpaid debt, a picture you want to hang somewhere, a flirty text you’ve left on Read, an argument you’ve had with a friend, or a postponed decision to move, change jobs, or go to the dentist. If it makes you squirm a little, if you wince when you even think about it, it’s an open loop.
That’s the point of closing your loops. You want to be free of the icky, creepy feelings that come up when you think of your unfinished business. Peace of mind is impossible with that sort of crud going on.
Your physical environment is very much a reflection of open loops in your life. Some open loops are purely internal, like when you delay making up with a friend or breaking off a dead romance. There’s no outer sign, no material evidence. The rest of it, though, shows up as clutter. Unopened envelopes! Expired prescriptions, expired food, expired coupons! Clothes that don’t fit! Shopping bags with the purchases still inside! Unread books! Unfinished craft projects! Partial to-do lists! (To-maybe lists? To-dither?)
Most people have a dream, or, rather, most people have a whole lot of dreams. They don’t come true because there are so many that sound equally appealing, it feels impossible to choose between them. If you have five dreams and you put equal effort toward each one, then you’ve made 20% progress on each. That’s where quitting comes from! With the discipline to choose just one and only one, to cut off the other four dreams, then you can make one come true. Close the loop. With that feeling of progress and possibility, you have that much more confidence to choose the next dream and put all your effort toward that. Five dreams in five years, rather than 20% progress and five quits in one year.
How can you have faith in yourself when you keep quitting on yourself? When you keep quitting on your dreams?
Most dreams are so modest that they’re almost boring. Get organized, lose that weight, clean out the garage, might as well put “floss your teeth” on there. Ho-hum. Those are starter goals! Those are goals that work in the service of something bigger. Get organized so it’s easier to focus when you start your business and then quit your day job. Lose weight so you can hike the PCT or get a black belt in something. Clean out the garage so you can set up your work bench and build a battle bot or make your own guitar. Floss your teeth... um... so you can crush it in your next job interview. I dunno. I don’t know your life, I don’t know how big your actual dreams are. I just know they’re bigger than the one-size-fits-all goals on the magazine covers.
If you choose a big enough dream, and it matters enough to you, then those basic off-the-shelf goals can be knocked out in a few months. You can completely turn around any of those basic scenarios in three months, no problem. You can go bigger, too - I know a lot of people who could complete the work for their college degree in only one term, and you can train for a marathon in four months. The only way to get more juice out of a humdrum goal is to do it faster, at record-setting pace.
It really doesn’t matter how long it takes you to reach your goals and finally start living your dreams. It doesn’t matter because once you reach them, you’ll have a fresh new perspective, and this time period will just be a blip. It will be no more memorable or consequential than climbing a flight of stairs.
Open loops are like hanging out in a stairwell. The only time people do that is when they need somewhere to sit while they’re waiting for something or making a phone call. That happens sometimes. Sometimes a loop needs to stay open for a while because we’re deliberately creating an opportunity for something to happen, something that needs input from someone else. A job offer, a signed contract, approval for a grant or a loan, that ‘yes’ to your ‘U up?’ text. Usually, though, our loops are only open because of inertia. We haven’t bothered to close them. We haven’t bothered because we have nothing better to do and no brighter ideas for how to spend our focus and attention and our precious time.
Let this time be different. Treat this upcoming New Year as a chance to experiment and try something else for a change. What would happen if you rushed around and closed as many loops as possible over the next couple of weeks? What if you played a game and spent the thirty-one days of January closing even more? What would your New Year look like if you truly did feel like you were starting the game at square one?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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