Lucas Brenner » Articles » The Zeigarnik Effect Can Destroy Productivity

What Is the Zeigarnik Effect?

The Zeigarnik effect is a psychological phenomenon that cannot be scientifically proven beyond doubt. However, many people, including me, know this effect from their experience.

The effect describes that one remembers unfinished tasks better than completed ones. So unfinished tasks stay in your mind, even if you are working on other things. The effect also has something to do with perfectionism, because it is also about completing tasks in the best possible way.

What Are the Advantages of the Zeigarnik Effect?

This phenomenon makes you notice when you still have something to do. It is easier to collect your tasks and write them down by brainstorming, because you have them in your head anyway. You don't forget commitments so easily and you know what to do next.

The Zeigarnik effect definitely has positive sides, but it also has disadvantages…

What Are the Disadvantages of the Zeigarnik Effect?

This effect, especially when it is strong, can lead to chronic stress and overwork, because you are always thinking about your unfinished tasks. One might be very high performing, but this is at the expense of one's mental health.

You no longer live in the present, but are restless internally. As a result, you work longer and harder than would be healthy. Sometimes these habits even carry over into your free time, because even then you can't stop thinking about the tasks you haven't completed.

When you can't do tasks yet, for example because of deadlines or because you're waiting for something, the Zeigarnik effect is going to throw you off-balance.

Especially shortly before larger projects, I notice the Zeigarnik effect in me. I keep overthinking certain tasks that I can't yet (fully) complete. As a result, my ability to concentrate decreases and I feel restless and unproductive.

However, you can also productively integrate the Zeigarnik effect into your life…

How Can You Use the Zeigarnik Effect Meaningfully in Everyday Life?

Thinking about a problem for a while can help in finding a solution. The Zeigarnik effect is a good way to do this because you continue to search for a solution subconsciously. Also, the effect keeps the concentration on the project high because the mind automatically returns to it.

With an organized to-do list, on which you write down all tasks, you can trick your brain. It then thinks you've already done the task and lets it rest, even though you've “only” written it down. When I write down my plans and tasks, I don't think about them over and over again. But remember that productivity is not the goal.

Finally, you can also integrate the Zeigarnik effect into your everyday work with the so-called “Hemingway method.” You interrupt your work in the middle of a sentence and resume it at exactly that point the next day. This keeps the brain working in the meantime and makes it easier to get started.

So, the Zeigarnik effect has both positive and negative sides. It can increase productivity if you use it correctly, but it can also cause you to destroy the possibility of working productively.

If you observe this phenomenon in yourself, remember that you must use the power of the effect purposefully! Let go of the negative sides and prevent obsessive thinking about a problem. Instead, focus the energy on a difficult problem you want to solve. You will see what powers and ideas your subconscious mind can develop when you nurture it!