How many times have you started a job, task or goal and not finished it? Yeah me too, loads! I have often said to myself if only there was a key to being able to get everything done quicker, I would have so much more time. Let’s face it time is the ultimate currency yet none of us can buy any more of it.
I wanted to share with you something that has helped me in a big way, specifically over the last 4-6 weeks as I have personally felt overwhelmed with all of the ‘really important’ things that ‘only I can do’ and ‘need’ to be done immediately and in fact is what I believe the key to getting ‘it’ done.
The Zeigarnik Effect
There you go, thats the key.
Ok, I’ll give you a little more than that.
Bluma Zeigarnik was a Lithuanian-born psychologist who first described this effect in her doctoral thesis in the late 1920s. Some accounts have it that Zeigarnik 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.
Zeigarnik didn’t leave it at that, though. Back in her laboratory, she conducted studies in which subjects were required to complete various puzzles. Some of the subjects were interrupted during the tasks. All the subjects were then asked to describe what tasks they had done. It turns out that adults remembered the interrupted tasks 90% better than the completed tasks, and that children were even more likely to recall the uncompleted tasks. In other words, uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them!
If you look around you, you will start to notice the Zeigarnik effect pretty much everywhere. It is especially used in media and advertising. Have you ever wondered why cliffhangers work so well?, lets face it when you hear the ‘dum dum dum dum dum dum’ at the end of Eastenders you cant wait to see the next one can you?! or ever wondered why you just can’t get yourself to stop watching that series on Netflix ‘just one more episode’?
As writer Ernest Hemingway once said about writing a novel, “it is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.” But the Zeigarnik effect can actually be used to positively impact your work productivity.
The Zeigarnik effect and productivity
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.
Good news for procrastinators
The Zeigarnik effect means good news for procrastinators: you are less likely to procrastinate once you actually start a task. You’re more inclined to finish something if you start it. So how do you actually get started? It depends on what kind of procrastinator you are. If you’re likely to procrastinate because you’re faced with a big project, then don’t think about starting with the hardest chunk of work. Start with the very next step, break it down into its most simple form. You’ll be more likely to finish the task simply because you started. The Zeigarnik effect shows us that the key to beating procrastination is starting somewhere… anywhere.
So there you have it… The Key To Getting It Done, try it.
Until next time…make it happen.
p.s. Have you downloaded my free ebook Staying Positive: 10 Simple Tips to Staying Positive? Click here to download it now!