The Zeigarnik Effect

If you are constantly looking for more efficient ways to work, then you will really appreciate what the Zeigarnik effect has to offer. It carries the name of Bluma Zeigarnik, a psychologist who first noticed this effect while she was watching waiters in a restaurant. The waiters seemed to remember complex orders that allowed them to deliver the right combination of food to the tables, yet the information vanished as the food was delivered. Zeigarnik observed that the uncompleted orders seemed to stick in the waiters’ minds until they were actually completed.

Now you’re probably wondering how the Zeigarnik effect improves productivity. Since we experience intrusive thoughts about uncompleted tasks, the key to productivity is working in focused periods of time, while avoiding multi-tasking and disruptions. Getting a task done means peace of mind, while the intrusive thoughts mean that you will experience anxiety when leaving a task unfinished to focus on something else.

Since multi-tasking is simply diverting your attention from one task to another (basically making the new task an interruption), your brain won’t allow you to fully focus on the new task because you have left the previous one uncompleted. That is why productivity techniques such as the Pomodoro technique work so well. Of course, another key element is adapting the time spent on focused work to the task at hand; some tasks will require a longer period of focused work than others.

Summing-up: The Zeigarnik Effect is about the human tendency to remember uncompleted tasks more than the tasks already completed. When people manage to start something they’re more inclined to finish it.

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