Closing Loops: A Useful Principle for People with Highly Sensitive Physiology?
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“Open loops” within the psyche take up mental and emotional bandwidth.
In his 2002 book Getting Things Done, David Allen presented practical strategies to enhance personal productivity and reduce stress. A fundamental principle discussed in the book is the concept of “closing loops.” While useful for enhancing productivity, this idea takes on an added significance for those of us with highly sensitive physiology.
People with heightened sensitivity possess an increased depth of processing and are more attuned to sensory input.
In this article, we will explore why Allen’s concept of closing loops is particularly relevant for individuals with highly sensitive physiology, enabling them to offload their depth of processing and reduce their susceptibility to overwhelm.
David Allen’s principle of closing loops emphasizes the importance of resolving “open loops”, which are unfinished tasks or unresolved issues.
The Principle of Closing Loops
Let’s first look at Allen’s methodology. After a short summary, we’ll look at how it can be helpful and useful for people with highly sensitive physiology, or “the highly sensitive person” as the subject is sometime called.
Allen’s principle of “closing loops” emphasizes the importance of resolving “open loops”, which are unfinished tasks or unresolved issues. By capturing, clarifying, and organizing ideas, commitments and obligations, individuals can free up mental (and emotional) space and reduce the cognitive load associated with unfinished business.
Here are the details of Allen’s method (practical example to follow):
Capture: The first part of the method is to capture all incoming tasks, commitments, and ideas. This involves having a reliable system in place to gather and record these inputs. It could be a physical notebook, a digital note-taking application, or any other tool that suits an individual’s preferences. The purpose is to collect and externalize everything that needs attention. The act of externalizing, or writing down tasks, commitments, and ideas allows the brain to stop working to hold on to them. This frees up mental bandwidth and reduces stress.
Clarify: Once tasks and commitments are captured, it is important to clarify what each item represents and what needs to be done to complete it. This step involves reviewing each item and determining its significance, desired outcome, and necessary actions. Allen suggests asking specific questions about each item, such as “What is the desired outcome?” and “What is the next physical action required to move this forward?” This clarity helps individuals gain a comprehensive understanding of their commitments and paves the way for effective decision-making.
Organize: After clarifying the nature of each task, commitments are organized into appropriate categories. Allen introduces a set of lists or categories to manage different types of commitments effectively. These include:
Next Actions: This list contains specific, actionable tasks that can be completed in a single step. Each item should represent a physical action that can be taken immediately, such as “Call John to schedule a meeting.”
Projects: Projects consist of multiple tasks or actions required to achieve a desired outcome. Each project should have a clear definition, a specific outcome, and a list of associated next actions. For example, if the project is to “Plan a team offsite,” related next actions might include “Research potential venues,” “Create a budget,” and “Send invitations.”
Waiting For: This list captures commitments or tasks that are dependent on others. It includes items that individuals are waiting for, such as a response from a colleague or the delivery of necessary materials. Keeping track of these dependencies ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.
Someday/Maybe: This category serves as a holding place for ideas, aspirations, and potential projects that are not immediate priorities but may be relevant in the future. It allows individuals to free up mental space by capturing these thoughts without committing to immediate action.
Reference: This category includes reference materials, information, and resources that may be needed for future use. It helps individuals maintain a reliable repository of relevant information without cluttering their active task lists.
Review and Execute: Closing loops requires regular reviews and updates. Allen suggests conducting weekly and daily reviews to ensure that commitments are up to date, new inputs are captured, and tasks are appropriately prioritized. During these reviews, individuals can reassess their lists, update progress, and determine the next actions to be taken. By consistently reviewing and executing tasks, individuals can maintain momentum, stay on top of their commitments, and close the loop on outstanding items.
A Practical Example
You can of course take what you like from his system and leave the rest. For me, his system is a bit rigid. I don’t think I’m quite as identified with “doing” as he is. However, “doing” is a part of my life. Out of his suggestions, I have adopted some elements that are helpful for me.
To share a practical example, I have a shortcut setup on my phone where I can hold down the Siri button and simply speak the words “to me”. That verbal command automatically opens a new email addressed to me. I can then just tap on the mic icon and start dictating into the email. I do this when I’m out and about and think of things I need to do or have important ideas I want to remember.
“To me: Let Susan know that the HSP meetup system is ready. Find out if she has discovered anything about the grant applications.”
“To me: Pick up vitamin D today.”
“To me: Send the website credentials to the developer.”
Later, when sitting at my desk, I review my emails and take action on the various emails that I’ve sent to myself. If I’m not ready to deal with a particular topic, I can snooze the email to a later date. Or, I might add it to a list. This system works well for me and I don’t have to try and remember things for later. The method really does reduce cognitive load and stress.
Why Is This Important for People with Highly Sensitive Physiology?
MRI scans have shown that people who have highly sensitive physiology (HSP), have increased processing in certain parts of the brain. Here is a video about it:
So, not only are we taking in more sensory input all the time, we are deeply processing and integrating all that information as well. This combination produces heightened awareness and valuable insights. This is part of the evolutionary function of highly sensitive physiology.
Because of our depth of processing, “open loops” can take up more energy and bandwidth for us than they do for the average person. Conversely, we may stand to benefit more by externalizing unfinished business – so that it can be dealt with at the appropriate time.
Unfinished tasks and unresolved issues, whether from work, or our relationships, or our visions for our lives, take up space in our nervous systems. When something is circling inside of us, it’s engaging our depth of processing, has an associated energy cost, and is therefore directly related to our susceptibility to becoming overwhelmed.
Allen’s system, or elements of it; therefore, may be helpful in:
externalizing some of our depth of processing into actionable steps in the physical world.
taking some of the load off of our nervous systems.
The concept of “closing loops” can be genuinely useful. Beyond day to day productivity, are there any “open loops” in your life that are no longer serving you? Are there any situations or relationships that need to be resolved or “closed out” to free up mental, emotional, or spiritual space?
The depth of processing that highly sensitive physiology affords us is valuable. Oftentimes we will process something from multiple angles, trying to get at the truth of a situation or event. The power to be able to do this is a gift. However, where we can get into trouble is when we’re unconsciously using this power on topics, people, and situations that are not providing some value in return. Or in some cases, we may not yet have learned how how harness our gifts.
Freeing Up Creativity
In addition to managing work and everyday tasks, the practice of closing loops can help to free up one’s creativity. A relaxed mind and nervous system more easily accesses creativity, joy and fun. Externalizing ideas, commitments and tasks can be an important part of setting boundaries in one’s life and making more space for fun.
Because our brains and nervous systems process more, and more deeply, David Allen’s observations about closing loops can be particularly useful for people with highly sensitive physiology.
Potential benefits include:
Reduce mental and emotional stress by writing things down.
Be more productive if that’s something that’s important to you. Increased productivity can be a foundation for having more personal time and space in one’s life.
Clarifying your life by developing a system to close loops.
Channeling sensory input in a productive way and enhance decision making.
Achieve a sense of closure and accomplishment more often.
Free up more internal space for creativity and fun.
Many people with highly sensitive physiology have gotten to used to living life in a perpetual state of overwhelm. This article has addressed one of many methods for slowly undoing that way of life. For more content like this, sign up for the newsletter below or join the community of people with highly sensitive physiology and make new friends, both from around the word, and in your local community.
What do You Think?
What are your thoughts about high sensitivity, depth of processing, productivity, or open and closed loops? Comment below.