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Do this daily to keep procrastination at bay

Updated: Jan 16, 2022

In a previous post, I shared about helping habits stick for the long-term. I mentioned that I would write about what to do once you're done with your work. There are two creative ways to put the following concept into action that can be vital to your well-being and creative energy.

First, I want to acknowledge that most people I know don't have a problem shutting work from their mind once the work day is done. Sometimes however, when we have nagging projects or to-dos that take time to complete, they can linger in our minds outside of work hours. Psychologists call occurrences of this nature, the Zeigarnik effect.

This effect, which is named for the experimental work of the early-twentieth-century psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes that how we remember incomplete tasks longer than completed tasks. We can then extrapolate how unfinished business can easily seep into our minds during our evenings and weekends.

To prevent the Zeigarnik effect, psychologists Roy Baumeister and E.J. Masicampo in their research paper Consider it Done recommends making a plan for how you would later complete the incomplete task. According to their paper:

"Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits. Once a plan is made, the drive to attain a goal is suspended--allowing goal-related cognitive activity to cease--and is resumed at the specified later time."

So as described above, the first way to combat the Zeigarnik effect is by planning how you will complete a task. We procrastinate when we are confused or when we don't clearly see a way forward. Planning brings clarity and allows us to move past barriers more quickly, which keeps procrastination at bay.

There are times, however, that you may not want to combat the Zeigarnik effect. This bring us to the second way to use the Zeigarnik effect. During these times you can leave tasks undone to generate motivation to complete the task.

For example, when you're doing something exciting and you need to stop, leave the task undone until you can come back to it. The undone task generates excitement and you will find yourself itching to get back to it.

When I started writing this post for example, I had to stop earlier than anticipated. I was so looking forward to continuing that it motivated me to change my schedule so I could continue writing. In cases like this, you can use the Zeigarnik effect to your advantage to harness your energy to complete a task. This works if the task you want to complete is exciting to you.

If your task is less interesting and a bit daunting, be sure to make a plan for how you will move forward in the next session. By adding next step planning to your shut down ritual each day, you will stay on top of your work and leave procrastination in the dust.

Cheering you on,


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