written by LOU BLASER

A version of this essay first appeared in Midlife Cues, a weekly newsletter about intentional living in our middle years. Get it in your inbox; you're going to love it.


I first learned about open loops while reading David Allen’s popular Getting Things Done.

Instantly, I understood one of the major sources of my stress.

Open loops, as Allen describes, are tasks, ideas, thoughts — anything really that’s “pulling our attention that doesn’t belong where it is, the way it is.”

When you can’t focus on what you’re doing because the brain’s busy trying to juggle a few other things? Open loops.

It’s what’s making you feel antsy while trying to pay attention to the latest 10 Percent Happier episode about meditation (oh, the irony!)

Even [people] who are not consciously ‘stressed out’ will invariably experience greater relaxation, better focus, and increased energy when they learn more effectively to control the ‘open loops’ of their lives.

Open loops use up energy in the background.

Think of open tabs in our browsers. If we’ve got too many of those open, we’ll soon notice the browser slowing down. Eventually, it’ll just crash.

Open loops have a similar effect on our brains. They keep our brains active even when we’re supposed to be taking a break!

How do we fix open loops?

Allen suggests an entire process in his book — the most important part of which is the collection step.

Here’s the simplified version:

  • Do a brain dump regularly. Collect these open loops (aka write ’em down) into collection buckets.
  • The goal is to get them out of our heads and into proper collection buckets.
  • Aim for less — not more — collection buckets.
  • Empty the collection buckets regularly.

Bottom Line:

Our brain has served us well all our lives.

Now, it needs a little help as we get older.

Imagine Dumbledore siphoning his thoughts with his wand and storing them in the Pensieve.

Let’s do like Dumbledore with our open loops.


“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.” — Seneca

The ability to remain calm through the chaos is a crucial skill and a competitive advantage.

If you haven’t mastered this yet, it’s worth the practice.


Meet Gen X’er Kathy Bourque.

Kathy says she’s not that different from the 25-year-old version of herself.

She’s still ambitious. Still confident.

Except that her confidence in her younger self may have come from arrogance. These days, it comes from knowing she’ll always have her back and will be able to figure it out, whatever happens.

Read the rest of Kathy’s profile here.


One of my collection buckets is called Quickies.

In here goes all the things that would only take a couple of minutes or so to get out of the way.

For some reason, this is the category of open loops that eats up so much of my brain energy. And when I’m feeling stressed, this bucket is the first one I try to empty as quickly as possible.

How are you dealing with your open loops? Or are you dealing with them at all? 🤭

Here’s to a joyful and easeful week ahead.

Cool Beans,
Lou Blaser


A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Midlife Cues and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on exploring how to navigate, thrive, and turn midlife into the best phase in our life.