Why Unfinished Tasks Stay in Your Brain – The Zeigarnik Effect

feeling stressed out because of all the tasks you still have to finish? Feeling
stress about unfinished jobs is quite common. It even has a name: the Zeigarnik
effect. Here’s more on how unfinished tasks affect your memory and tips to
prevent getting overwhelmed.

How unfinished tasks
overload your memory

In 1927 the
Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik was researching memory. She conducted
research on waiters taking orders and came to an interesting conclusion. She conducted
research on how waiters in restaurants used their memory, while serving dinner
to their clients.

Once the
waiters finished serving the orders, they forgot the contents of the order.
Nothing special so far. However, once they only partially delivered their
orders, they knew exactly what was in the order and what they still needed to
deliver to the tables.

found that participants, who were interrupted during a task, were able to
recall the details of that specific task 90 percent better than the
participants that weren’t interrupted.

This has
both positive and negative implications for you in the workplace. It’s good
that you are aware of them, so you can take maximum advantage of this.

How too many unfinished
tasks can cause stress and anxiety

When you
have too many unfinished tasks, your brain keeps on going over the details of
all of these tasks. This is an important cause of stress and anxiety, because
of course you prefer all of those tasks finished. Therefore, it is important
that you manage the amount of unfinished tasks that go around in your head.

clear goals and saying no more often

By setting
clear goals for what you want to achieve for the day and week, it is easier to
ignore other smaller tasks. Therefore, you’ll be less inclined to keep on going
over them in your head. Also, it helps you to say no to unimportant requests
that other persons may ask of you. This way, it’s easier to keep the amount of
tasks to a minimum.

tiny tasks when you’re least productive

We all have
times in the day that we are most productive. Don’t waste that time with tiny
tasks, but make sure to work on your priorities then. Our productivity is
simply not distributed over the day in a linear fashion. I usually have less
energy late in the afternoon or in the evening. Therefore, I make sure to do
those tiny tasks in that timeframe.

This way I
don’t have to worry about those smaller tasks anymore, and I’m still doing
productive work while having less energy.

anxiety if you have too many tasks

important to set goals and to determine for yourself what is not important.
However, this is a process and you will not change overnight. Subconsciously, you
still might want to finish those unimportant tasks. Changing this is a journey.
Make sure to keep prioritizing and skipping on unimportant tasks anyway.

also a way to deal with the resulting anxiety called the ABCDE
. With this method, you learn to reframe an existing situation in a
more positive way. Make sure to read my article in the aforementioned hyperlink
if you want to know more details about this method.

How strategic
procrastination can help you

Your brain
processes tasks and information in the background. So when you’re in the car or
taking a shower, subconsciously you’ll still be going over the tasks that were
on your mind during the day.

This is a
blessing in disguise for working on complex tasks. The only thing you have to
do is start with that task for half an hour or an hour. Make sure to focus on that
task during that timeframe, but do not put too much effort in it.

Then stop
with the task unfinished. The beauty of this is that you can go and do
something fun, and your brain will still be working on the problem. Also while
sleeping, you will connect the problem with other information already stored in
your memory to come up with novel solutions.

So why work
your ass of? Just take a nap. As you see, procrastination has its time and
place. However, you need to apply it in a strategic way. If you haven’t worked
with focused attention on a problem, you’ll of course also not come up with a
great solution by sleeping or doing something fun.

That’s it
for this week. If you liked this post, don’t forget to hit the like button and
share it on social media. See you back here next week for another article!

Sources / further reads:
The Zeigarnik Effect Explained