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A productivity guru brings nirvana to an executive – A true story

A productivity guru brings nirvana to an executive – A true story

Posted on August 24, 2011

Once upon a time there was a king who was loved by all his subjects. The king had everything that he wanted but still was not happy. The reason for his unhappiness was all the things that the king wanted to do but did not have time to do. The king started searching for a wise man who could find more hours in his day.

After a lot of searching, the king found a sage who could help him. The sage said that his advice was simple and full of common sense. He also told him that it was common sense but not common practice. After saying these words, the guru wrote four words and gave it to the king.

The king started following the advice of the wise man. In a few months, the king started accomplishing more and was getting a lot of things done. These four words of advice made the king one of the best kings ever.

The advice was “Finish what you start”.

The same advice is given by today’s productivity gurus but in a modern way. “Finish what you start” is now replaced by “Close all open loops”

Here is a personal story from the productivity guru, David Allen. A busy executive drowning in work, hired David Allen to help him cope with his work load. David Allen gave out the same advice that the sage gave to the king. “Close all open loops”. To help the executive internalize this advice, David Allen took out a sticky note that was on the executive’s desk. On that note was written “Mom”.

The word mom according to David Allen was a great example of an open loop. He asked a series of questions to close out this loop.

“Do you have a mom?”


“Is she alive?”


“What about mom does this note remind you?”

“Her Birthday”

“What about her birthday is on your mind?”

“A surprise party” (A Project)

“What do you have to do first to throw a surprise party?”

“Call my sister” (Next Action)

From the word “Mom”, David Allen was able to extract a project, “Throw a surprise party for mom on her birthday” and a next action to “Call my sister”. It is a classic example of closing out an open loop.

If a successful executive needs hand holding to close an open loop as simple as that then it is safe to assume that a lot of us have open loops. These open loops are like coins in our pocket that are always making a jingling noise in our heads. These open loops need to get categorized as projects that need a start and an end. To close all open loops is common sense but not common practice.

I have many open loops that I know I need to close. Maybe someday…

Disclaimer: David Allen’s personal experience is adapted from one of his lectures whose video is linked below. It is a lot funnier hearing David Allen recount this story. Enjoy!

The Do Lectures – David Allen’s video

Thanks for reading this post.

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