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Use the Zeigarnik Effect to overcome procrastination

procrastinationAre you guilty of procrastination?  If so, you’re not alone.  As a leader, you’re constantly juggling many priorities, and there are always a few items on the to-do list that seem to slip from one list to the next.  Usually, the procrastination is either because the task is so large that the even the thought of tackling it is overwhelming.  Or it’s because the task is just something that you don’t really want to do.  Either way, the end result of procrastination is that the task gets pushed further out into the future.  And sometimes it simply just doesn’t get done.

If you think it’s time for the procrastination to end, then consider how you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage.  So called because it was observed by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the Zeigarnik Effect states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks.

Use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage

To better understand the connection between procrastination and the Zeigarnik Effect, some background information about Zeigarnik’s research is useful.  In a series of experiments, she asked individuals to do several simple tasks such as solving puzzles and stringing beads.  For some of the tasks, the participants were allowed to complete them, and for others, they were interrupted about half-way through.  Interestingly, she discovered that people were twice as likely to recall the tasks during which they’d been interrupted than those they completed.

So …. if you want to overcome procrastination, the best thing to do is to get started.  If you just initiate the task and get it underway, the Zeigarnik Effect will kick in.  Because the project will now be incomplete, you won’t be able to forget about it.  And you will seek to relieve the tension by bringing closure.  Ergo, getting the job done!  Item checked off the to-do list!

So … I’m curious to know.  Have you used the Zeigarnik Effect to your benefit?  Perhaps you’ve been using it all along, but you just didn’t know that it had a name!  Do share your experiences by commenting below.

P.S.  If you want even more insights into to how to overcome procrastination, then you may find this helpful: A 9-point plan for overcoming procrastination, which I wrote as one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide, the online portal for Profit Magazine.

Procrastination: why it happens and how to conquer it!

Back in September 2015, in one of my regular columns for ProfitGuide, the online portal for Profit Magazine, I wrote about how leaders can overcome the endless cycle of procrastination.  You know … procrastination … the situation where you put off doing stuff until it becomes critical, vow that you’ll never put yourself in those circumstances again, but of course, finding yourself exhausted from the last sprint to the finish line find yourself in exactly the same condition yet another time!

Published in The Downtown Victoria Magazine

Overcoming procrastinationWell, I was pretty thrilled when The Downtown Victoria Magazine chose to reprint my article in their special insert in Victoria’s Times Colonist on November 23.  I realize that we’re already in February, but I just recently got my hands on a hard copy of the publication so I had to share!  Yes, I know that the print is too tiny in the photo for you to be able to read the article, but you can read the original version at ProfitGuide.com – A 9-Point Plan for Overcoming Procrastination.

Big shout out to the DVBA!

As many of you who regularly read the blog know, I only just last year opened a new office on the west coast Continue reading

Procrastination: why do today what you can put off till tomorrow?

My latest column for ProfitGuide.com is up this morning. Today’s column is part of Productivity Week and is about how leaders (or anybody) can overcome the endless cycle of procrastination. You know … the one where you put off doing stuff until it becomes critical, vow that you’ll never put yourself in that situation again, but of course, finding yourself exhausted from the last sprint to the finish line find yourself in exactly the same condition yet another time!

A 9-Point Plan for Overcoming Procrastination

ProfitGuide090815

So these are my top five ideas for ways to overcome procrastination – what are yours? Please share what has worked (or not) for you and let’s learn from one another.

P.S. In case you didn’t know, I am a regular member of ProfitGuide.com’s panel of business experts. You can find links to my previous columns on their site. For your information, Profit Magazine is a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans, so I’m pretty chuffed to be in such esteemed company.

“Happy birthday to me” is a great way to overcome procrastination

So continuing with our topic of practical ways to overcome procrastination (I offered the 5-minute technique and the salami technique in previous blog posts), I have one more to put forward.  I call this “happy birthday to me”, so called because it has to do with giving myself a gift.  Let’s face it: it’s easy to put off things that don’t have a positive result in the near future; it’s hard to get motivated to do something if the reward is too far out in time.  But if I can see a short-term reward, I find I can make a task feel much more immediate and so it gets done.  And if I can’t envision a prize on the immediate horizon, then I just create my own.  A walk down to the local coffee shop or 15 minutes of Angry Birds after I’ve finished a task is as much a reward or “gift” as anything else.  Perhaps most importantly, “happy birthday to me” works!

Jump in and share your ideas on how you overcome procrastination.  This is the last of three posts on this subject (at least for now), but you can add your comments to this or the previous two posts anytime.

Use “the salami technique” to overcome procrastination

Last week I offered up the 5-minute technique to overcome procrastination and I promised I’d share a couple more in this week’s blog posts.  So here’s another approach I’ve used quite successfully: I call it “the salami technique”.  I find this particularly useful when the task seems too big or overwhelming and for that reason I seem to lack direction.  Now I know that the name sounds odd but it refers to the fact that salami, as a roll, is decidedly unappetizing, but once you slice it up and pile the thin slices on to your sandwich, it suddenly becomes much more enticing and tempting.  In the same way, if you take your task or your project and slice it into smaller and smaller pieces by function or time, you will find that it will become easier to handle, or more interesting to start with, or you’ll be able to visualize the end result more clearly.  By “slicing” the task into smaller pieces, you’ll find that it isn’t as big or overwhelming or as uninteresting as you thought.  So the salami technique is – slice it up!

Well, what do you think?  Do you have other things that you do to overcome procrastination?  Do share.

Use the 5-minute technique to overcome procrastination

Almost every leader I know is guilty of procrastination, guilty of putting off things till later, usually until it becomes a crisis. And even knowing that the eventual outcome will be a frenzied manic effort to get things done at the last minute, most people procrastinate anyway. So why do people put off the inevitable? Usually because of one or more of three reasons – they don’t like doing it, they see it as too big and overwhelming, and they don’t know how to do it. Here’s one thing that you can do to overcome dragging your feet.

I call it “the 5-minute technique” and it works really well for things that I don’t like doing; usually for me, that means routine tasks. So for example, I dislike routine filing and I am apt to put it off for as long as I possibly can, usually until the “to be filed” basket is overflowing. The 5-minute technique is exactly what it sounds like. I set a timer for five minutes, and for that period of time I do nothing but file. Once the timer goes off I have the option of resetting it for another five minutes, or just patting myself on the back and moving on to something else. But because it’s just five minutes, I do it – I figure I can tackle anything if it’s just five minutes, even the stuff I don’t like. And often, I find that the first five minutes builds momentum for another five. So it gets done!

I’ve got a couple more ideas that I have used very successfully to get things off my to-do list, and I’ll share them with you in next week’s blog posts. But for now, what about you? How do you overcome procrastination? Share your approaches please.