productivity techniques, time management, project management,

Zeigarnik Effect: Boosting Productivity Through Interruptions

Stas Kulesh
Stas Kulesh Follow
May 29, 2024 · 6 mins read
Zeigarnik Effect: Boosting Productivity Through Interruptions
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Imagine you’re in the middle of a significant work project, deeply focused and making excellent progress. Suddenly, you receive a notification—a text message from a friend. Your concentration shatters, and as you reply, you realize you’ve lost your momentum. This scenario is all too common in today’s hyper-connected world. However, what if this interruption could actually enhance your productivity? Introducing the Zeigarnik Effect, a psychological phenomenon that suggests interruptions might hold the key to managing uncompleted tasks more effectively.

Understanding the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect, named after Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, posits that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. Zeigarnik discovered this effect in the 1920s through a series of experiments. She observed that waiters could remember orders only as long as they were in the process of being served. Once the orders were completed, the details vanished from their memory.

This phenomenon suggests that our brains are wired to keep uncompleted tasks active in our memory, nudging us to finish them. It’s a cognitive itch that remains until the task is done, creating a sense of mental tension. This tension can be harnessed to improve productivity and task management.

The Modern-Day Relevance

In today’s digital age, distractions are inevitable. Research shows that the average worker is interrupted every 11 minutes, with it taking about 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. This constant cycle of disruption can be detrimental to productivity. However, the Zeigarnik Effect offers a silver lining—these interruptions, when managed correctly, can actually help keep tasks top of mind, ensuring they get completed.

Practical Applications of the Zeigarnik Effect

  1. Breaking Down Tasks: By breaking large projects into smaller, manageable tasks, you can use the Zeigarnik Effect to your advantage. Each small task, once started, remains active in your memory, pushing you to complete it. This approach not only makes large projects less daunting but also ensures steady progress.
  2. Strategic Interruptions: Deliberately interrupting yourself can be a powerful productivity tool. For instance, if you’re working on a challenging project, take a short break at a natural stopping point. This interruption will create a mental reminder to return and finish the task, leveraging the Zeigarnik Effect to maintain your focus and drive.
  3. Task Lists and Reminders: Keeping a to-do list can serve as a constant reminder of uncompleted tasks. Each unchecked item on your list acts as a trigger, utilizing the Zeigarnik Effect to keep your brain engaged with pending tasks. This method helps in prioritizing and ensuring that important tasks are not forgotten.
  4. Mindful Planning: Plan your day with intentional gaps and breaks. Instead of viewing interruptions as productivity killers, see them as opportunities to refresh and refocus. Schedule brief pauses between tasks to harness the Zeigarnik Effect, allowing your brain to process and retain information about what needs to be done next.

Statistics and Studies Supporting the Zeigarnik Effect

Several studies have explored the impact of interruptions and the Zeigarnik Effect on productivity. A study by Microsoft found that workers take an average of 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks after an interruption, but they work faster and make fewer errors when they do return. This supports the idea that the Zeigarnik Effect can enhance focus and efficiency after a break.

Moreover, a study by the University of California, Irvine, discovered that frequent interruptions can lead to stress and frustration, yet, when managed well, they can also lead to higher creativity and problem-solving abilities . The mental tension created by uncompleted tasks can stimulate cognitive processes, making you more creative in finding solutions.

Real-Life Examples

  1. Writers and Creatives: Many writers and artists intentionally leave a piece of work unfinished at the end of the day. This strategy ensures they have a starting point for the next session, keeping their creative juices flowing. The Zeigarnik Effect keeps the project active in their minds, making it easier to resume work and maintain creative momentum.
  2. Software Developers: In the tech industry, developers often use sprints—short, focused periods of work on a specific task. By breaking projects into smaller chunks and having regular review sessions, developers can use the Zeigarnik Effect to keep track of what’s been done and what still needs attention, enhancing productivity and reducing errors.
  3. Students: Students can benefit from the Zeigarnik Effect by using the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working for a set period (usually 25 minutes) followed by a short break. This method creates intentional interruptions that keep study sessions effective and help retain information.

Maximizing Productivity with the Zeigarnik Effect

To harness the power of the Zeigarnik Effect, consider the following strategies:

Intentional Pausing

When working on a task, don’t aim to finish it in one go. Instead, take intentional breaks, especially at natural stopping points. This approach keeps the task active in your memory, driving you to return and complete it.

Utilize Technology Wisely

Use apps and tools designed to manage tasks and time effectively. Tools like Trello, Asana, or even simple to-do lists can keep track of uncompleted tasks, ensuring they stay at the forefront of your mind.

Mindset Shift

Change your perspective on interruptions. Instead of viewing them as obstacles, see them as opportunities to engage the Zeigarnik Effect. This shift can reduce stress and improve your overall productivity.

Regular Review Sessions

Set aside time at the end of each day to review what’s been done and what’s pending. This practice helps reinforce the Zeigarnik Effect, ensuring uncompleted tasks are clearly defined and prioritized for the next day.


In a world filled with constant distractions, the Zeigarnik Effect offers a unique perspective on productivity. By understanding and leveraging this psychological phenomenon, you can transform interruptions from productivity pitfalls into powerful tools for maintaining focus and completing tasks. Whether you’re a writer, a software developer, or a student, the Zeigarnik Effect can help you manage your workload more effectively, ensuring that uncompleted tasks don’t just linger but drive you towards accomplishment.

To further enhance your productivity, consider integrating Time bot for Slack into your workflow. Time bot helps you manage your time effectively by tracking your tasks and reminding you of the time you spent doing them. It leverages the principles of the Zeigarnik Effect, keeping your tasks active in your memory and ensuring you stay on track. With Time bot, interruptions become manageable, and your productivity can reach new heights. Embrace the power of the Zeigarnik Effect and let us help you turn those interruptions into opportunities for success.

Try out Time for Slack with our demo and subscribe to your 7-day free trial:

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Stas Kulesh
Stas Kulesh
Written by Stas Kulesh
Time founder. I blog, play fretless guitar, watch Peep Show and run a digital design/dev shop in Auckland, New Zealand. Parenting too.