Conquering The Open Loops Of Productivity

Copyright © 2010 Marlon Ribunal. Visit the original article at

Post written by Marlon Ribunal.
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[Author’s Note: This is the Fourth Part of the Series The 3 Fundamental Principles Of Productivity“]


Part I – Rituals

Part II – Systems

Part III – Tools


Part III – Tools

An open loop, according to David Allen, is “anything pulling at your attention that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is”. This could be the personal project you’ve been planning for months that couldn’t find itself close to realization or an uncompleted work wanting for some attention. No matter how committed we are with our responsibilities and no matter how diligent we are in responding to our duties we could still find ourselves leaving some stuff hanging somewhere. And if you are like most people, you consider this as just part and parcel of life. Live with that or let it suck the life out of you. That’s a choice you have to make at one point or another.

How to deal with the open loops is a question we always try to  find answers for. We cannot seem to contain these open loops no matter how hard we try. You don’t actually try closing them out but must control them so that they won’t blow you up into pieces. The only thing that you can do is to prevent the build up of new “open loops” on top of your existing “open loops”. It’s like avoiding to create more backlog over growing backlog. Our inability to control things causes us to stress out.

You must control all your open loops before they start “pulling at your attention.” The key is for you to be able to define the tipping point where you cannot allow further build up of these open loops. It’s okay to leave something open as long as you commit yourself to closing it out at a certain point – when you can actually do it. There are just things or events that cause us to have these open loops and we can’t do anything about that. When we hear other people say “you can’t really get things done” or “GTD is not possible” they actually mean “you cannot close out all your open loops”. The thing is – and I cannot stress this enough – you don’t try closing them out but must control them.

The open loops can become constant source of stress if not controlled. They can also bring chaos to your productivity system if you don’t address them when they need to be addressed. This is the reason why we need a dependable tool that will keep our sanity and  productivity system glued together. We will take a quick look at some productivity tools that could help us push our productivity objectives to the next level. But before we go do that, let us take into consideration few factors that will influence our decision in choosing the right tool. You don’t just pick up your tool haphazardly but you go through that decision-making process.

File System

The tool that we integrate to our productivity system must go hand in hand with our file system or the stuff that we work with. Like what I said in a previous post, the tool must not add an overhead to or further complicate the productivity system. We must be able to sort and arrange the data that we capture in a familiar fashion.

Proactive Or Reactive

The tool must enable us to become proactive so we can focus on getting things done and not on putting out fires. It must provide functionalities that will help us manage the open loops effectively and help us move our task to the next action easily.

Task Schedule

There are tasks that we need to bring into completion right away and there are the ones that we need to schedule to other days. Most open loops need to be scheduled for a couple of reasons: One is to make sure that we don’t forget about them. The second reason is so we can get them out of our mind as we deal with current tasks. Task scheduling eases the burden of having to remember so many things at the same time.


We need some functionalities that can make us focus on one thing at a time. We must be able to tell what we need to accomplish in a glimpse at any given time. It must provide us an overview of all the current tasks and open loops in an easy step.

There are more factors that we need to consider in choosing our tool. I have mentioned some here and here. Here are some of the ToDo List and Task Management tools that I like and would recommend to friends:

  • Work On This – “Workonthis is an online task board allowing individuals and teams to create lists and share tasks. Changes to lists are immediately available to your team for easy sharing of what is going on and what is done.” You can quickly create tasks in a snap in the “Ongoing” tab and let the open loops be managed in the “To Follow Up” tab. The collaboration functionalities make this tool a great tool to have for team-based projects.
  • Producteev – According to the tool’s site, “Producteev will help you manage your tasks from wherever you’re comfortable working : E-mail, IM, Web, iPhone, Gmail, Google Calendar, etc.” The ubiquity of this tool makes it desirable for anyone wanting to be productive, specially to those that are always on the move.
  • Nirvana – This is a “GTD software for Getting Things Done.” Read my quick review of this tool here.
  • Do It – This tool is similar to the Nirvana GTD tool. You can use this tool in 4 ways: In your web browser, as a Windows Client, in an Android phone, and iPhone. The 3 clients (Windows, Android and iPhone) can sync with the web version. The 2 phone clients can sync to the Windows version.
  • Simple GTD – Of course, there’s SimpleGTD web tool which is my favorite for its simplicity. Read my review of this tool here.
  • GTD Agenda – This is one of the tools designed with the GTD system in mind. Goals, Projects, Tasks, Checklists, Schedules, and Calendar – you can manage them in this tool. You can also use this tool in the Zen-To-Done Productivity System of Leo Babauta.
  • Analog Tool – You can use digital tools if that is your preference, but the analog option can be as efficient. Aside from Organizers, you can use Moleskine or Field Notes as a capture, todo list manager, and overall productivity notebook tool.
  • Others – I have mentioned some tools in this post, “The Habit Of To-Do List

We all have open loops in some form or another that we need to take care of.  On top of that we have our current tasks and projects that we need to look after. Although the effective use of these tools can address these open loops and the management needs of our productivity system, our productivity does not totally depend on them. It takes more than a “good system” and “good tool” to be productive. Up next, we will wrap this series in a quick summary.

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