Tag Archives: productivity

The Zeigarnik Effect and the Force of Incomplete Tasks

Why do unre­solved issues linger in our mind, mak­ing us pon­der them for days on end? Why are cliff­hangers so suc­cess­ful in get­ting view­ers to tune in to the next epis­ode? How can we over­come pro­cras­tin­a­tion? These ques­tions can be answered by learn­ing about the psy­cho­lo­gic­al concept/theory known as the Zeigarnik effect.

‘Dis­covered’ by Soviet psy­cho­lo­gist Bluma Zeigarnik back in the 1920s, the Zeigarnik effect states that we remem­ber incom­plete or inter­rup­ted tasks bet­ter than com­pleted tasks.

And so, to those ques­tions. It’s easy to see how the Zeigarnik effect could be respons­ible for the suc­cess of sus­pense as a dra­mat­ic device, but for over­com­ing pro­cras­tin­a­tion? Use the effect to your advant­age and start at the simplest, smal­lest part of your task. After that, the unfin­ished nature of the lar­ger task will push you toward action.

Beware, though: the effect has been shown to dimin­ish if we don’t expect to do well on the inter­rup­ted task (or are oth­er­wise com­pletely not motiv­ated).

via @jonahlehrer

An Ignore List, Setting Schedules and Other Time Management Ideas

Man­aging time effect­ively is a mat­ter of cul­tiv­at­ing a con­sist­ent and delib­er­ate habit through a num­ber of easy steps, says Peter Breg­man, sug­gest­ing a three-stage pro­cess: detailed plan­ning, refo­cus­sing (sched­uled breaks) and review­ing.

I’ve dabbled with The Pomodoro Tech­nique and GTD and neither have really helped me (gran­ted, I don’t have chron­ic time-man­age­ment issues and instead just har­bour a desire to be more effi­cient), and I’m unsure wheth­er Bregman’s sug­ges­ted tech­nique would help those in need of help.

How­ever, what I did like from Breg­man is the idea of cre­at­ing an ignore list in addi­tion to a to do list, and this brief look at stud­ies show­ing the import­ance of cre­at­ing detailed sched­ules and plans:

In their book The Power of Full Engage­ment, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a study in which a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam dur­ing a peri­od of 30 days. 100% of those who said where and when they were going to do it com­pleted the exam. Only 53% of the oth­ers did.

In anoth­er study, drug addicts in with­draw­al (can you find a more stressed-out pop­u­la­tion?) agreed to write an essay before 5 p.m. on a cer­tain day. 80% of those who said when and where they would write the essay com­pleted it. None of the oth­ers did.

If you want to get some­thing done, decide when and where you’re going to do it. Oth­er­wise, take it off your list.

In Praise of Self-Tracking: The Data-Driven Life

It is a nat­ur­al desire to strive for self-improve­ment and seek know­ledge about one­self, but until recently it has been dif­fi­cult or impossible to do so object­ively and quant­it­at­ively.

Now, through self-track­ing sys­tems and applic­a­tions that are becom­ing pre­val­ent in many of our lives thanks to a num­ber of tech­no­lo­gic­al advances and soci­olo­gic­al changes, we can, at last, find the answers to ques­tions that were once bey­ond us.

That is the essence of Gary Wolf’s com­pre­hens­ive study of the self-track­ing phe­nomen­on, look­ing at how we are head­ing toward ‘the quan­ti­fied self’ and a ‘data-driv­en life’… and what this means.

When the famil­i­ar pen-and-paper meth­ods of self-ana­lys­is are enhanced by sensors that mon­it­or our beha­vi­or auto­mat­ic­ally, the pro­cess of self-track­ing becomes both more allur­ing and more mean­ing­ful. Auto­mated sensors do more than give us facts; they also remind us that our ordin­ary beha­vi­or con­tains obscure quant­it­at­ive sig­nals that can be used to inform our beha­vi­or, once we learn to read them. […]

The goal isn’t to fig­ure out some­thing about human beings gen­er­ally but to dis­cov­er some­thing about your­self. Their valid­ity may be nar­row, but it is beau­ti­fully rel­ev­ant. Gen­er­ally, when we try to change, we simply thrash about: we impro­vise, guess, for­get our res­ults or change the con­di­tions without even noti­cing the res­ults. Errors are pos­sible in self-track­ing and self-exper­i­ment, of course. It is easy to mis­take a tran­si­ent effect for a per­man­ent one, or miss some hid­den factor that is influ­en­cing your data and con­found­ing your con­clu­sions. But once you start gath­er­ing data, record­ing the dates, tog­gling the con­di­tions back and forth while keep­ing care­ful records of the out­come, you gain a tre­mend­ous advant­age over the nor­mal human prac­tice of mak­ing no val­id effort what­so­ever.

via @vaughanbell

After Procrastination, Self-Forgiveness Limits Further Procrastination

In a short art­icle sum­mar­ising six “sur­pris­ing insights from the social sci­ences” we are told how those in power­ful pos­i­tions show little restraint when presen­ted with food and are informed that the per­ceived “attract­ive­ness advant­age” of more soci­able people is there simply because they groom them­selves bet­ter.

How­ever I feel that the only con­struct­ive insight is to be found from the short look at how we can stop pro­cras­tin­at­ing by for­giv­ing ourselves for pre­vi­ous trans­gres­sions (the lack of guilt lim­its any fur­ther pro­cras­tin­a­tion):

Recent research has sug­ges­ted that for­give­ness is good for your health. But it may also be good for your study habits. Stu­dents who pro­cras­tin­ated in study­ing for an exam — but for­gave them­selves for doing so — pro­cras­tin­ated less and got a high­er grade on a sub­sequent exam. One might nor­mally expect such a self-for­giv­ing stu­dent to keep on pro­cras­tin­at­ing. How­ever, self-for­give­ness mit­ig­ated the guilt and rumin­a­tion — and desire to pro­cras­tin­ate fur­ther to avoid these neg­at­ive feel­ings — that res­ul­ted from the ini­tial bout of pro­cras­tin­a­tion, mak­ing it easi­er to study for the next exam.

Questioning (Not Telling) Ourselves is the Best Call-to-Action

Think­ing about wheth­er we will do a task or not (“Will I…?”) rather than focus­ing on actu­ally per­form­ing the task (“I will….”) has been shown to increase both the prob­ab­il­ity of us even­tu­ally under­tak­ing the task and how suc­cess­fully we will per­form it.

The idea seems that “inter­rog­at­ive self-talk”, rather than declar­at­ive state­ments, leads to more intern­al motiv­a­tion due to a great­er feel­ing of autonomy.

Voter turnout in an elec­tion increased to 86.7% in people who had been asked to make a pre­dic­tion about wheth­er they would vote, com­pared to 61.5% in those who were not asked the ques­tion.

When a res­taur­ant changed the receptionist’s script when tak­ing a book­ing from ‘Please call if you have to can­cel,’ to ‘Will you call if you have to can­cel?’ the no-show rate dropped from 30% to 10%.

Pro­fess­or Richard Cialdini attrib­utes this effect to our need to act in ways that are con­sist­ent with our pre­vi­ously estab­lished views of ourselves. Ask­ing ourselves ques­tions that draw atten­tion to our motiv­a­tions force us to define who we are and what is import­ant to us. Hav­ing defined these things, we have to act in accord­ance with them or face cog­nit­ive dis­son­ance.

Those two anec­dotes (voter turnout, res­taur­ant can­cel­la­tions) are taken from chapter 16 of Robert Cialdini’s Yes! (pre­vi­ously).

Will you tweet about this study?

via @cojadate