Closing Open Loops (or How To Stop Thinking About Work)

the Zeigarnik effect

When you run your own business, it can be hard to switch off and stop thinking about work.

Everything rests on you, so it is natural for your mind to always be going through what you need to do.

Over a long time, this mental churning can become exhausting.

Sometimes you need to completely switch-off from your business.

Forget about work and focus on life.

A term that every entrepreneur and solopreneur should know about is: The Zeigarnik Effect.

What?!, You say you don’t know term?

That’s a pity, because understanding this concept can help you to achieve better separation between work and relaxation.

The Zeigarnik effect can also help you become more focused and productive.

What is this magic Zeigarnik effect?

Essentially, the Zeigarnik effect is an effect that explains why we sometimes find it hard to let something go.

If you have heard of the Zeigarnik Effect, it’s probably because you’ve heard the story how psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, made her discovery.

Zeigarnik was, the story goes, enjoying dinner at a restaurant with her friends.

She was amazed that the waitress serving their table could remember all their names, and orders, without writing anything down!

But shortly after the meal was over, Zeigarnik returned to the restaurant to retrieve her forgotten purse.

The waitress didn’t even recognise her!

Zeigarnik wondered how could this waitress remember so much detail about her and her party, and then forget her everything about her only moments later?

Thus, she went about describing what we now know as the Zeigarnik effect.

Essentially, when the brain is working on something actively, it keeps all of the information and ideas relating to that subject to hand.

It’s like when you think about buying a new make and model of car.

Suddenly, you see cars of this type everywhere you look, when you had never really noticed them before.

Your brain becomes much more tuned-in to that topic or frequency.

You are more likely to spot things relating to the subject you’re considering, and you’re more likely to overhear people talking about that subject.

This is sometimes referred to as an “open loop.”

The waitress was actively thinking about her customers, she was entirely focussed on their names and needs.

The loop was open and remained open for the entire time she was serving her diners.

But once the meal was over, and her task was complete, the loop closed.

Her mind flushed out all information related to that task.

In short, the human mind will continue to actively work on a task until it is finished and the loop is closed.

Once the task is over, and the loop is closed, then mind can rest.

Working in Loops

So what does all this have to with you as a solopreneur?

Well, as a solopreneur, you are going to be juggling a LOT of disparate tasks all at once.

Chances are, that some of these tasks will stay “open” when you close the computer and go downstairs to be with your family.

But have you “switched off” in your mind?

If there are ideas and thoughts relating to work still lingering in your mind, then the answer is no.

You may find it is very difficult to focus on downtime with family, or whatever else it is you choose to do, because your brain is still churning over.

Your mind is still working out the problems you were struggling with during the work day.

This is why many of us find it so hard to switch off from work when our day is over.

This inability to switch off is the reason that many of us end up stressed and burned out.

The simple solution?

Find a way to symbolically “put a pin” in whatever it is that you were doing.

That could mean writing things down so that they’re off your mind.

Or it could mean finding a way to view the project as “complete”.

Chunking a large task into its component steps will achieve this.

If you can finish a single step today, the others can wait till tomorrow.

The 1 Minute Rule

You’ll find that there are a whole lot of small projects that will vie for your attention at any given time.

Perhaps you have emails you need to answer or phone calls you need to make.

These small tasks can end up stealing your mental “bandwidth” simply by remaining in an open state.

So if anything is very quick to finish, you should aim to finish it right away.

Consider subscribing to the “1 minute rule.”

That is to say that any job that takes less than one minute to complete should be completed immediately upon receiving it.

Final Thoughts

When you sub-divide your work into small, manageable tasks, it is easy to think hard and complete each task.

Tomorrow’s tasks are tomorrow’s problem, so forget about them till then,

One final way I have found to “close the loop” at the end of the work day is to write down today’s successes, and tomorrow’s goals.

You mentally tick-off the tasks you have completed, and place new tasks on the future pile.

Now you can forget about both and relax.

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Written by 

Co-Founder & CEO of Link Management Group. An Investor & Coach to Small Business Owners, for the past 30 years I have helped startup and early-stage businesses to enter new markets and achieve sustainable growth of both revenue and profits. I have experience across a diverse range of sectors including central government, information services, software, health insurance, pet products, couture fashion, entertainment and aviation.  How can I help your organisation accelerate growth and achieve its full potential? 

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