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The Zeigarnik Effect: Why You Should Focus On Completing One Task Before Moving to Another
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The Zeigarnik Effect: Why You Should Focus On Completing One Task Before Moving to Another

Most of us are often looking for ways to improve productivity. And that is why we should understand the Zeigarnik Effect, according to which incomplete tasks linger more in our minds than completed tasks, thereby adding to our stress.


What it means?

In the 1920s, Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, observed that restaurant waiters remembered a complex order only till the order was in the process of being prepared and served, but not after it was served. Uncompleted orders stayed in their mind for a long period. Thus she went on and conducted an insightful study.

In the study, participants were asked to complete various puzzles. Some of them were interrupted during the tasks. After a while, all of them were asked to talk about the tasks they performed. Interestingly, most of them remembered interrupted tasks 90% better than the completed tasks. The children were in fact more likely to recall the uncompleted tasks. Again, it proved Zeigarnik's observation at the restaurant, uncompleted tasks stays on our mind until we finish them.

Zeigarnik Effect and multitasking

Zeigarnik's study also talks about how the human nature to recall uncompleted tasks adds to stress thereby making multitasking a productivity killer and how it is important to shift away from it. While multitasking has always been something people have a high regard for, if we observe really productive people, we will understand that they don't multitask. They consider multitasking a real killer. Research conducted at Stanford University confirms that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time.

Zeigarnik Effect and Mark Twain's 'Eat a Live Frog' Theory

"Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day," said Mark Twain. This insight from Twain has become the greatest productivity tip for many employees. Many successful people vouch for this idea. "Eating live frog" was also discussed widely in the book "Eat That Frog" written by Brian Tracy.

He said that the first thing we do every morning is to eat a live frog. It means we complete the most important and difficult task as soon as we get to the office. This means we should focus on completing one task first and then go to another, precisely what Zeigarnik Effect is all about. This way we can also be satisfied that the worst thing has already happened and it's going to be a smooth sail from then on. Ultra productive people know their Most Important Task (MIT) and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions.


(Also read: 20 Things About Life I Wish I Had Known When I Was 20 Years Old )

(Image Credit: Thinkstock)

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