There are theories and techniques that we use as part of our productivity strategies that go well beyond managing our to-do list and can be applied in all sorts of life scenarios.
The other way around is also true: systems developed by philosophers and life long learners can be used by everyone who wants to be more effective or productive in different parts of their life.
Where is this coming from?
I was recently reading a book by Scott Adams – Win Bigly. Set at the time of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, it presents different tools of persuasion, including the Zeigarnik effect.
What Is the Zeigarnik Effect?
The Zeigarnik effects is a theory that tries to explain the relationship between human memory and open tasks or issues.
Of course, you may have noticed that some information or tasks, no matter how important, simply seem to slip your mind. Others — even though objectively more trivial — are stuck to the foreground of your attention.
It’s clear that there are many factors playing their part in this process: emotional involvement and fatigue level are just a few examples. The Zeigarnik effect theory focuses on open loops as an incentive to your memory.
According to this theory, if you leave a loop or task open, you are more likely to remember it in the future. Simple, right?
In other words, people remember uncompleted or your unfinished tasks better than something they have completed.
How to Use the Zeigarnik Effect
You can take advantage of the Zeigarnik effect in your business, and life, in several ways. As a productivity enhancement, you can try to leave loops open to keep them at the center of your attention. That is because if you completely close a task, your brain is naturally brought to consider it “finished business” and forget it for good.
This is typically viewed as a negative, where an “open loop” causes problems…but switch that around and you can make it work for you.
There are more ways in which the Zeigarnik effect can be useful to you.
Open loops create anticipation, something that can bring great results with communication.
One of these is used by anyone writing a series of posts or emails – by anticipating that you will discuss something in a later email (let’s say the next newsletter or a press release) you will raise your readers’ attention and keep them interested in your content.
No matter where you apply the Zeigarnik effect, it’s important that you don’t overdo it.
It’s quite intuitive, really: if you keep too many loops open, you will give your audience a headache and lose their attention.
And if you keep too many tasks unfinished, you will defeat the whole purpose of leaving the most important issues as incomplete to highlight them in your mind, as all tasks will have become the same again.
I really enjoy this concept and it helps explain why open loops and incomplete tasks can cause stress and other issues.
However, what we usually miss is that there are positives to be found as well.
Want to really keep something front and center but you have to stop? Don’t wrap up the task or find a perfect” stopping point!