I recently saw an article about “The Annoying Cognitive Habit That Makes You Feel Like Your Work Is Never Done,” and I thought, ‘Hmm, I need to read this,’ So I left it open in a tab on my Chrome window to remind me to do so later in the day.
Over the next few days, I knew that I wouldn’t have time to read it so I moved it from a tab to its own window–I could just minimize the window, and then I’d remember to read it later. A couple of weeks passed, and my Chrome app crashed. I was flustered as I tried to remember the name of the article and, once I did, I decided that this one needed a bookmark. And not just any bookmark, a new bookmarks folder on my bookmarks tab so that I could always be reminded that it was there awaiting my free time.
For three more weeks, I thought a lot about this article. ‘I should really read that article!’ I thought. ‘There is probably a lot that I can learn from this annoying habit!’ I considered. ‘I wonder what the annoying cognitive habit actually is?’ I mused. The idea that this article needed my attention was somewhat consuming, and I began to think about times in my schedule in which I could carve out 15 minutes for reading.
As I reflected on my calendar and when I could commit to opening this bookmark that judgingly glares back at me, begging to be read, I remembered some other projects that demanded my time. Which projects were those, again? I’d have to check my Trello board, which meant–oh, shoot! I forgot about that project.
Finally, five weeks into this all-consuming anticipation of article browsing, I read the article. “The Zeigarnik effect is a psychological phenomenon which asserts that our brains tend to hold onto tasks that it considers “incomplete.” Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist for the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, says the way the brain perceives tasks can be thought of like opening and closing windows — and it notices when the window is still open. “It sort of stays spinning in your brain,” she says, like a nagging sensation.”
So I have ironically created a Zeigarnik effect surrounding my interest in reading an article about the Zeigarnik effect.
The blog post, which can be found on The Financial Diet, explains that for creatives, managers, and executives–among others–the Zeigarnik effect is an almost inherent phenomenon likely to occur due to the nature of our work.
You see, this effect leaves us feeling like our tasks are omnipresent and always lingering, which can feel haunting and, well, annoying.
TFD even stresses that “There’s no actual way to ‘defeat’ the Zeigarnik effect. Your brain will always fixate more on incomplete tasks. But you can take steps in order to not have that fixation be so pervasive that it rules your life. It simply requires being proactive and disciplined in order to replace potentially unhealthy behavior with healthier habits.”
With 24/7 access to our phone, calendar reminders, and desktop alerts, the effect is hard to avoid and eliminate altogether. For someone who has several open projects on my plate at any given time, I’ve found the following to help… a bit.
• Break-up screen time into slots no more than 2 hours. There’s a lack of productivity that comes with staring into the abyss of the interwebs and Google docs for longer than 119 minutes. A 15-minute stroll outside (or away from my workspace) can typically remedy this issue.
• Keep that phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’. Of course, I can still access my phone. But after a few minutes of not being distracted by its lit-up alerts, I find myself less likely to check on it.
• Don’t pass the buck. This is essentially pushing the effect from your desk onto another. Checklists within my Trello boards have been a lifesaver.
• Commit to the most annoying task first. The annoyance can be remedied by a zone-out-worthy Pandora station on 80% volume in earbuds. May I suggest Buddha Lounge?
• To Do or To Don’t? Limit the to-do lists! I read somewhere that anything more than three to-dos at once is counterproductive and overwhelming. Within one to-do usually lies about five different tasks. Creating a “what needs to be done right now, today” has relieved the overwhelm.
• Let it go! No, not the way Elsa suggested in Frozen, but let go of that task by letting it be done! The Haven Co-Working Co-Founder, Carrie Douglass, has a great saying: “Done is better than perfect.” Can we get an amen?
If you’d like to read the full blog post from The Financial Diet, you can do so here.
Unless that creates an annoying task for you to complete, in which case I suggest getting back to work.
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Haven Member, Social Media Manager