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Incomplete tasks and the Zeigarnik Effect

Zeigarnik effect - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wikipedia says:

The Zeigarnik effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones.

Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik first studied the phenomenon after noticing that waiters seemed to remember orders only so long as the order was in the process of being served.

Further elucidated by errtravel:

While sitting in a restaurant in Vienna—every good story about a psychologist takes place in Vienna—Bluma Zeigarnik noticed that a waiter could remember a seemingly endless number of items that had been ordered by his customers. However, once he had delivered the orders to the waiting diners, he no longer remembered what he had just served….

Though Zeigarnik didn’t get her coffee cup refilled following her meal, she did get into the annals of psychology. Zeigarnik theorized that an incomplete task or unfinished business creates “psychic tension” within us. This tension acts as a motivator to drive us toward completing the task or finishing the business. In Gestalt terms, we are motivated to seek “closure…”

Apparently you can game the Zeigarnik Effect for more effective studying, employ it to goose your direct marketing plan, or just consider it as one excellent explanation for the allure of multi-tasking.

In any case, it’s a fascinating idea and sure would account for why it feels so worthwhile to “close the loop” whenever you can.

[ via Company23 ]

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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