Zeigarnik effect and productivity


Effect of Directed Forgetting

In 1927, in a restaurant in Berlin, Dr. Kurt Lewin and his colleagues were engaging in a long conversation. The waiter had not yet given them their bill, so Lewin called him over and asked for the amount. The waiter told him immediately, and Lewin paid and reengaged in the conversation for some number of minutes. Suddenly though, Lewin had an insight—he called the waiter over a second time and asked again for the amount of their bill. The waiter no longer knew.

The Zeigarnik Effect

This day marked the beginning of something known as the Zeigarnik Effect, a theory which was first dreamed up by Lewin and then later researched and named after his colleague.

When a person intends to perform a task, a quasi-need is established which causes a strong desire for fulfillment of that task. These quasi-needs, or „tension systems‟, come into being because of a person‟s decision to begin a task.

Another more common, every-day example is one that is experienced by most students: when taking a timed multiple choice test, the questions which are never answered, or those that the student is not sure about, are the ones most often remembered after the test has been finished. According to Lewin and Zeigarnik, this represents a lack of closure, which is the driving force behind the tendency for individuals to remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed ones.

How does this relate to productivity?

1. How finish task faster?

To be able to concentrate fully on current work we have to close all previous tasks. This is basically what Kanban with definition of “Work In Progress” limit is proposing. To be most effective we need to concentrate on one task and avoid multitasking.

2. How to remember stuff better?

The Zeigarnik effect suggests that students who suspend their study, during which they do unrelated activities (such as studying unrelated subjects or playing games), will remember material better than students who complete study sessions without a break.

Sources and more reading:


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