Do you have a big task looming over you? Maybe you need to update your pricing model, but it feels like it’ll take forever. Perhaps you really need to hire a new employee, but the whole process is so long and slow. It might be that you’ve got to complete your annual accounts, but can’t face starting. Overcome procrastination before it’s too late.
While business owners procrastinate less than most people, it’s still pretty common to put off big tasks – especially when the only person pushing you is yourself. If you find yourself putting off things on your to do list, it can eventually damage your business. However, scientific research shows that there’s a powerful way of getting around this problem.
The Zeigarnik effect
The Zeigarnik effect is a phycological phenomenon named after Bluma Zeigarnick, a Lithuanian psychologist who first observed it in 1927. Her research was sparked from the observation that waiters in cafes could remember all the details of a customer’s order before it had been paid for. However, the moment the order had been ‘closed’, the waiters could remember almost nothing about what customer had paid for.
She then carried out numerous experiments which seemed to confirm the theory: people are much better at remembering things before they are ‘complete’.
Zeigarnik conducted a study where she asked people to carry out certain tasks. With some of the participants, she stopped them mid-task, while others were left to finish the activity. A little while later, she asked all the participants what their tasks involved – the people who had been interrupted had a much better memory of what they had been doing, while those who finished the activity could remember much less.
The Zeigarnick effect suggests that once someone begins a task, they tend to have a sense of anxiety and focus until they have completed the task. They can remember all the details involved, they can plan and calculate, and they can motivate themselves to continue. Only on finishing the task can you get that sense of closure – a sort of mental sigh of relief – where you can then basically forget all about it.
How to use the Zeigarnik effect to motivate yourself
Now, how does this apply to that big or boring job you’ve been putting off?
The Zeigarnik effect suggests that when people start a task, they tend to feel a strong sense of urgency until they have completed it. Once you actually begin a piece of work, however tedious, it’s much more likely that you’ll see it through to the end.
So, when you’re faced with a huge task which you don’t really want to do, the Zeigarnik effect says you should just start the first step – however small. Whether it’s a case of logging into your accounting software, starting to brainstorm the job ad or reviewing your current pricing structure, the simple act of doing the most basic part of the task means the rest will almost inevitably follow.
For more tips on running your business like a boss, read our 10 Survival Tips For Entrepreneurs.