Perhaps, you know what it is to plan your work and see how some projects stay at the end of your to-do list forever. You can complete many other tasks, but these projects require a little more work so they slowly move down the list. Sometimes we have too much work so we don’t want to start doing time-consuming and cumbersome tasks. And most of us don’t have any idea how to finally get started and get them done.
Fortunately, everyone can tackle procrastination, moreover, our brain already has some mechanisms that we can use to increase our productivity and to get overwhelming tasks done. One of such mechanisms is called the Zeigarnik effect. In the 1920s, Bluma Zeigarnik, a psychiatrist and psychologist from Russia, started studying an interesting phenomenon. She noticed that waiters often didn’t write down any information but remembered all the orders until the bills were paid. As soon as the orders were completed, the waiters couldn’t remember what they’ve served before.
The Zeigarnik Effect: What Is It?
Zeigarnik decided to learn more about this effect and conducted a survey of 164 young and adult participants. They should complete various puzzles and other basic tasks, like craft projects and math problems. Every task required the participants to spend 3-5 minutes of their time. Sometimes, Zeigarnik and her team interrupted the participants who then were asked to recall what they’ve been working on. It turned out that people remembered unfinished tasks much better.
Our brain better remembers tasks we haven’t finished yet. It turns out that interrupted tasks make us more motivated to complete them. In addition, unfinished tasks make it more difficult to work on something else, as our brain keeps reminding us about them. A good example is an unsettled fight with a loved one. Your brain keeps thinking about this situation no matter whether you figured out what the solution is, or not.
How to Use the Zeigarnik Effect
The Zeigarnik effect has lots of possible applications. Moreover, all marketers know that we remember incomplete tasks better than complete ones, that’s why movie trailers work so effectively. For the same reason, sometimes we cannot get rid of jingles. They don’t actually end, we hear just a short part of a musical composition, and our brain perceives them as unfinished tasks. TV shows also use cliffhangers to make the audience anticipate every next episode. Even Charles Dickens used cliffhangers as a literary device, publishing fragments of his novels weekly or monthly, maintaining the sense of anticipation and being able to make some changes in the plot depending on the readers’ reaction. However, this effect has many other applications that can help everyone.
How to Get the Best Out of the Zeigarnik Effect
- Write down all the tasks that should be done. Sarah Allen, a content writer from Masterra who also has a Ph.D. degree in psychology, notes: “The truth is that Zeigarnik effect works not until some task gets actually done but as long as we don’t have a concrete plan. Our unconscious can’t write a plan so it pushes our conscious to think of this task more. Trying to figure out how it can be done.” If your mind keeps revisiting something that you haven’t completed yet. It distracts you from your current tasks and can cause anxiety. To avoid it, just write down everything you need to do and make sure you understand when and how you’re going to do it.
- If you suffer from procrastination and lack the motivation to start working on some big project, just make the first step and complete at least a part of it. Your brain will remember this task. And you will feel the need to return to it again, moving further until the whole project is done.
- Divide the most time-consuming and cumbersome tasks into several parts so that you will be more motivated to move to the next step, completing the whole task. Once you accomplish your short-term goals, your confidence and self-esteem will increase. Even if you haven’t completed the whole task yet, you will know that you did your best and got closer to your main goal.
- Knowing the Zeigarnik effect, you can also develop good habits. If you want to start running in the morning but lack motivation, run less than you’ve planned. It’s better than not running at all, and this will make you want to try it again.
- You can also remember any information better. For example, start reading some article and interrupt yourself, thinking about something else for a few minutes. After this, return to the article — you will remember more details this way.
As unfinished tasks keep popping up in our mind until we complete them. You can benefit from dividing big tasks into smaller parts so that your brain will constantly think of them until they are completed. Thus, this method can help you get better results. It can also help in various negotiations. If you want people to remember you, start telling an intriguing story, and then get interrupted, for example, by a phone call.
The Zeigarnik effect can be used by everyone in our everyday lives.
Featured image via Pixabay