I believe that splitting your concentration and even – gasp – multitasking means you end up with lots of things not finished. Probably not as good as they could be, either, but chiefly unfinished. Writer James Clear argues that there’s more to this one-thing-only approach, though, and he starts with trying to prove its value:
If you want to master multiple habits and stick to them for good, then you need to figure out how to be consistent. How can you do that?
Well, here is one of the most robust findings from psychology research on how to actually follow through on your goals:
Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”
Researchers found that people who filled out this sentence were 2x to 3x more likely to actually exercise compared to a control group who did not make plans for their future behavior. Psychologists call these specific plans “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior.
Never heard of her. But Bluma Zeigarnik was very perceptive and also diligent: what she noticed and then tested in the 1920s is a human truth that applies today, will surely always apply, and which helps your productivity.
Some accounts have it that Zeigarnik noticed this effect while she was watching waiters in a restaurant. The waiters seemed to remember complex orders that allowed them to deliver the right combination of food to the tables, yet the information vanished as the food was delivered. Zeigarnik observed that the uncompleted orders seemed to stick in the waiters’ minds until they were actually completed.
Zeigarnik didn’t leave it at that, though. Back in her laboratory, she conducted studies in which subjects were required to complete various puzzles. Some of the subjects were interrupted during the tasks. All the subjects were then asked to describe what tasks they had done. It turns out that adults remembered the interrupted tasks 90% better than the completed tasks, and that children were even more likely to recall the uncompleted tasks. In other words, uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them!
If you look around you, you will start to notice the Zeigarnik effect pretty much everywhere. It is especially used in media and advertising. Have you ever wondered why cliffhangers work so well or why you just can’t get yourself to stop watching that series on Netflix (just one more episode)?
As writer Ernest Hemingway once said about writing a novel, “it is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.” But the Zeigarnik effect can actually be used to positively impact your work productivity.