How To Feel Less Overwhelmed

Have you ever had a song come on the radio or that your kids asked “Alexa” to play that you internally, really disliked? In an effort to avoid listening to “Baby Shark” again, you either skipped the song or asked Alexa to do the skipping for you.  

But then, that song played again in your brain over, and over, and over all day.  

Baby Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo 

Baby Shark, doo-doo, doo-doo 

You wanted it to stop. You don’t even like that song, but it was on this permanent repeat in your head.  

Did you know that that’s because of the Zeigarnik effect? This is when a task that’s not completed or a song that’s not finished pops back into your head. It’s your brain reminding you that there’s a job to be done – a task to be finished. This “open loop” as Davis Allen labels them, haunts us.  

This same thing happens with unfinished thoughts.  

That anniversary trip you were planning for next year but never did anything about? Open loop.  

That gift for your kid’s birthday party you said you were going to get but didn’t? Open loop. 

That report you were going to share after your meeting? Open loop.  

In his book, “Redeeming Your Time”, Jordan Raynor describes an open loop as anything professional or personal, big or small, urgent or distant, that you have any level of internal commitment to doing in the future.

Open loops can cause 3 problems –  

  1. They make it impossible to be fully present 
  2. Commitments may be missed  
  3. They cause anxiety and stress when too many are open at a time  

So how do we prevent them from becoming problems?  

First, write them down. Anything professional or personal, big or small, urgent or distance that you’ve made a commitment to doing in the future . Whether that’s in your phone, on a piece of paper, or in a task management system, writing down your open loops will immediately make you feel less overwhelmed.

Then, once you’ve collected your open loops, begin to prioritize them. What absolutely has to get done? What could get done, but isn’t necessary? What can you delete from the list?

The better you capture your open loops and then prioritize, the less overwhelmed you’ll feel and the more intentional you will become.

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