The Zeigarnik Effect (or Why Your Brain Won't Let You Forget)

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Productivity Quote:"It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?" - Henry David Thoreau

Have you ever wondered why you can remember something you halfway completed and then left BUT you can't remember what said in the email you fully wrote and sent?

This is because of the Zeigarnik effect.

In this week's Productivity Minute, we are going to be exploring the Zeigarnik effect and how you can use it to your advantage!

This concept was discovered by Bluma Zeigarnik after she realized that waiters in a restaurant could remember a customer's details better BEFORE they had paid for their meal better than those who had not.

If you think about it, this does make sense.

Your brain puts extra focus on the important things you need to get back to OVER the things you have already completed.

This is great when you are a waiter or in a survival situation but it's not ideal when you are trying to work on a project only to have your mind occupied by an email or other task that is still pending.

How can create a workaround so that you don't compromise your ability to focus, stay productive, and produce quality work?

  1. Keep a notepad next to you when working. As you remember things, write them down. This signals to your brain that you no longer have to remember the item because it has been captured.

  2. Improve your to-do list. When you are writing down your to-do list or catering tasks, make sure you are writing your items down in a way that tells you exactly what to do. "Send email to Janice" becomes "Send project update email to Janice in Marketing (re: new production schedule)". While this improved note-taking does take more time, it frees up your brain to not "hold on" to details and frees up your mind to focus.

  3. Use the 5 min rule. If a task can be completed in less than 5 min and you are outside of a time block period, DO IT THEN! This will allow you to complete a task and be done with it without it pestering you.

Have you ever fallen victim to the Zeigarnik Effect?

Let me know what happened!

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