Action loop


I wrote about the action loop in Triumph over Time as a way of presenting a model that has been discussed and described in many different ways with many different names. I didn’t want to bring in the baggage of the other uses and terms, so, I tried to just call it what it is.

There are five components to an action loop. Each component is an action loop. It’s fractal and recursive:

  1. preparing,
  2. performing,
  3. reviewing,
  4. reflecting, and
  5. recharging.

There are two primary goals here. The first is determining a sustainable pace that can be maintained almost indefinitely. The second is overcoming Parkinson’s Law, avoiding the problem with fractals, and getting things to done.

Working to maintain a sustainable pace indefinitely helps to avoid burnout and bore-out. Burnout tends to happen when the task you are trying to complete is beyond your current skill or energy level; often not enough reviewing, reflecting, and recharging. Bore-out, on the other hand, tends to come from choosing tasks that aren’t challenging enough; by the end of the day you don’t have a healthy tiredness, for example.

The second bit is compound and basically comes down to get started and get it good enough. Because action loops are fractal, there’s a certain amount of preparing to preparing, which also has some preparing, for example; you may never get started, much less finished. We can also get stuck in performing because whatever we are doing or creating can always be improved; therefore, it’s important to define what good enough looks like—be ruthless—sometimes good enough is getting out of bed.


Section titled Preparing

Preparing is getting ready to perform some action.

For example, writing this article. I sat down, grabbed my laptop and signed in. I set a goal for what I wanted to talk about, a vision of the future, which was different than the present. I opened the file in the text editor I use. I added the title and date.

At that point, I was prepared.

With each keystroke, I also prepared. Moving my fingers over the correct key, thinking of what to say next, and so on.

Again, the action loop is fractal. It could be less than a second or as long as the life of the universe.


Section titled Performing

Performing is taking action toward the vision from preparing.

Each keystroke I make is part of the performance of writing this article. Each word, sentence, paragraph, and edit I make.

The fractal part of things tends to be an area where many of us get hung up, so, I apologize if it feels like I’m beating this horse to death. As I perform the act of writing this, I’m constantly shifting between adding a new word and sentence to reviewing and reflecting on what’s already there. This doesn’t stop the larger action loop of writing the article, it’s an action loop within that larger, longer action loop.


Section titled Reviewing

Reviewing is looking at the outcome of the performance.

How close is the outcome to the vision? Is it good enough?

I may decide to change a word or sentence during this review. If I decide to do that, it’s not that I’m necessarily sliding back into performing; think more overlap and less distinct phases and gates. Now, if I decide to scrap the whole thing after reviewing it, that’s a different story.


Section titled Reflecting

Reflecting is looking at the journey of getting to the outcome.

Did I get into a flow state? How easy or difficult was it? How was the environment? Do I want to write with this setup again? What could I do different to improve the next time?


Section titled Recharging

Recharging is stepping away from the loop to possibly return later.

As I write this I’m having what I refer to as a foggy-brain-day. This is what I’ve come to call days where, during certain activities, I’m not really there. However, as I write this, my brain is feeling clear and I’m actively engaged in the performance; the writing of this article is a recharging activity in this context and other things seem to be draining activities.

I tend to think of it in terms of battery packs:

  1. physical,
  2. mental, and
  3. emotional.

If you perform physical activity for a while and hit a point where you can’t do one more movement, that’s physical fatigue. My foggy-brain-day represents mental fatigue. If I’m not able to sit with my emotions, I’m likely experiencing emotional fatigue.

Rest, which may include sleep, is probably the most universal recharging activity and can help to recharge all the batteries. It’s also possible you can recharge a battery by performing actions that require that battery—odd as that might sound; writing this article required mental energy, however, it was recharging and invigorating for me. Having interactions with people you don’t appreciate may be emotionally draining for you while interacting with people you love and adore may be recharging.

Here’s the thing, while most of the activities within the action loop are optional, recharging is not. Eventually, you will need to recharge. For some this may happen when they end up in a hospital or pass out from exhaustion. We tend to call those moments a wakeup call to take better care of ourselves.

As with most practices, the action loop and its sub-components are about intention and mindfulness.