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Procrastinate with purpose by following the Zeigarnik effect

(EDITORIAL) Procrastination is almost inevitable, but what if that procrastination could increase your productivity?




cool procrastination

Let us speak together of the Zeigarnik Effect. But only after I’ve made a cup of tea. See, that’s the nature of the Zeigarnik Effect.

In addition to having a rad name – seriously, I feel like I’m revealing mysterious secrets from the Eastern Bloc, which I technically am – the Zeigarnik Effect tracks a quirk of human cognition that can, once properly hacked, increase productivity by making procrastination work for you.

background noise

Bluma Zeigarnik’s original study, which has had its results repeatedly replicated, states that an interrupted task, or a task the subject knows is not yet complete, stays in the back of the mind while they do other things.

The original subjects were waiters.

Bluma Zeigarnik found that service professionals remembered details of a given order when that order was still open, even if they were busy working on something else, but once it had been completed, the details vanished.

Brain allocation

What might seem like a procedural consequence of waiting tables – not like you have to remember the doneness of the cheeseburger you gave somebody who left the restaurant an hour ago – has since been demonstrated in tasks from jigsaw puzzles and flatpack furniture to WoW and SimCity.

It’s not a job thing. It’s a brain thing.

When you leave something undone, and you know it’s undone, there’s still a little mental RAM whirring away, working at it.

That’s awesome.

Ease into the rage

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say some of you do not spring out of bed Monday morning singing like a Disney protagonist and throw yourself into every task set before you with motivational poster vigor. I mean, I didn’t, and I like my job.

Hence my cup of tea. I literally wrote those two sentences, then went and made a cup of tea.

Field test. It works.

That’s the Zeigarnik hack – do what needs doing for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes, then stop. Aquire your legal stimulant of choice, or talk to coworkers, or do anything else your workplace allows that isn’t the particular task you’re aching to procrastinate on.

The Zeigarnik Effect won’t do the work for you, but when you set yourself to that job again, you’ll have more ideas and more energy than you did when you started.

Your brain doesn’t like incomplete tasks any more than your boss does.

When a task seems past you or you just don’t wanna, set a time period – 15 minutes is good, but experiment – and let your mental firmware work on it for a bit while the rest of you does something else.

Take your time

Zeigarnik is procrastination with purpose, a way to get something done without overtaxing either your time limit or your will to live.

Give it a shot. I did, and I got a solid article and a hot cup of Darjeeling out of the equation. Top that for a Monday morning.


Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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How calendars can stop your procrastination, boost productivity

(PRODUCTIVITY) As the old method of pen-to-paper planning comes back in style, see how its use can help with time management.



writing pen paper productivity

My favorite part of writing for this publication, by far, is the fact that it always has me keeping my eyes and ears open for inspiration. The simplest comment from a friend can snowball into an idea that becomes beneficial to others.

Such was the case this past weekend when my best friend, Haley, stopped by to help me unpack my new house. Haley is a graduate student, pursuing a master’s in interpersonal communication, and is a much smarter version of myself.

We got to talking about what was on tap for Haley’s final semester and she told me about a workshop she’s creating for the graduate school on the topic of how using planners/calendars helps with time management. The girl has an affinity for pen-to-paper planners, and has created an organizational structure for her daily life through their use.

Naturally, I thought, “hey, sometimes I attempt to give people advice on time management and planning, let’s bounce some ideas off of each other.” Haley then gave me a rundown of the bullet points she’s planning on covering for her interactive workshop.

1) Take everything as it comes. As a new task pops up, put it down on your calendar (whether paper or electronic) so that you don’t forget to do it later.

2) With these tasks, schedule deadlines for yourself. It can be tough to be self-motivate and have tasks completed by your own assignment. However, putting them down in writing will help you stick to them.

Only work on something if you’re being productive. If you stop being productive, you should take a step back and work on something else for a while,” says Haley. “This is why my personal deadlines help because it makes me work harder but I still have my own time.”

3) Schedule out your week starting with events that you cannot change. Start by writing down your work schedule, then appointments, meetings, etc. Then schedule in tasks that have more flexibility in time.

4) After doing this, take all of these tasks and prioritize what must be completed first and assess how much time each task will take. Be sure to give yourself an appropriate amount of time for each task.

5) For bigger projects, considering breaking them down a bit. “For bigger projects I break it down into steps, normally using a concept map to understand the core aspects of my task and what needs to be accomplished within each of those to make it more digestible,” says Haley. “Once I have the pieces, I place the pieces into my weekly schedule of events I cannot change.”

All of the pieces of this puzzle come together to create a calendar that will help you juggle every aspect of your life and boost your productivity. By implementing these ideas in my own planning, it has definitely helped me to become more of a self-starter.

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A hugely dangerous challenge of the Internet of Things

(EDITORIAL) The Internet of Things is here, with all manner of soft AI voices and shiny Bluetooth bits. But how long can we count on it staying?



LG Alexa internet of things

So, robot apocalypse. The Internet of Things machines have their cold metal fingers all up in our data, our houses, our sand dunes and/or porn.

And for what? What do they offer in exchange for this unprecedented invasion of our day to day lives?

Seamless, user-friendly automation to help with a thousand daily tasks, demonstrably improving our quality of life.

That’s… that’s actually a pretty good offer! Nice work, robots.

It comes with catches, and we’ve covered those, but Day One bumps and blunders are part of owning tech. They generally get engineered out.

What I want to talk about is Day 100, or 1000. Because the important word in “Internet of Things” isn’t “Internet.” We have the Internet. We can confidently expect the Internet to continue being a big deal.

But “things” is an important word. Things are distinct from tech. With tech, buying the thing and futzing with the thing are part of the fun, especially for practicing nerds like your narrator. Tech is new, and the excitement of a new game or a new phone can take the edge off, say, a server crash or a quick trip to tech support and back.

What about things? No early adopter aura in history will get a customer to ignore a fridge full of rotten food. Fridges need to work, period. So does your thermostat and your car. All those things are charter candidates for the full IoT overhaul, and they’re all capital T Things, not tech. They aren’t shiny toys people can live without for a week or four. They’re expected parts of daily life, things that need to work on Day 1, 100, and 1000.

Are companies preparing for that? Are the startups rising out of the blue-light-white-plastic Stuff Renaissance prepared to rebrand as global service providers, doing the hard, unglamorous, absolutely necessary work of digital maintenance?

Bigger question: are they prepared to guarantee security while they do so? Because anything with digitized bits needs patches and updates to function, and if it can download patches and updates, it can download things that are not patches and updates. No one wants to chase a botnet out of their microwave. Are the companies invested in always-on Things standing up and saying they’ll take responsibility for indefinitely securing and maintaining the infrastructure they intend to profit from?

Short answer, no. They’re not. Operations departments tend to be vanishingly small, painfully understaffed, spectacularly underpaid. Let’s be real,: we don’t prioritize stuff like that. We’re talking the digital equivalent of the guy who chases the raccoons out of your HVAC, and that sounds entirely too much like work.

Maintenance is not sexy.

But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s generally just the beginning of a thing. It gets the wheel rolling, and that’s not to be undersold.

But the IoT wheel is most definitely rolling. The issue is keeping it in motion, making it a wifi-level universal usage standard, not a 3DTV fad.

That won’t get done in a meeting. That gets done through long term adoption, and long term adoption will be about attracting, training, and retaining people willing to do the hard work of maintenance and customer support.

The Internet of Things wants to be a major step forward in the infrastructure of daily life. I am incredibly in favor of that. But daily life works because it’s the full time job of a whole lot of people to make sure it does so. So to Internet of Things companies, I say – pay them, treat them well, make your organization the best place in the industry for them, or be left behind by the people who do.

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Incorporating less stress into your work day

(WORKPLACE) Telling someone to chill when stressed at work is useless advice, so let’s discuss meaningful, tangible ways anyone can stress less at work.



stress mental health

You can’t avoid all the stress of a job, whether you own your own business or work for someone. It’s important to deal with chronic stress. Long-term, stress will affect your immune system, causing you to get sick more often. It’s linked to heart disease, heart attacks, low fertility and many other health problems. It can make asthma and acid reflux much worse. You have to manage your stress.

How can you incorporate less stress into your work? I have dealt with anxiety all my life. Here are a few of my most effective solutions:

1. Set boundaries

No is a complete sentence. I know my priorities and have to make myself say no to even simple requests. I’ve learned that the less I explain, the more likely I’m going to stick to those boundaries. I can’t stop people from asking me to do something, but I can make sure that I’m getting my work in on time.

2. Don’t wait until the last minute

I’m a horrible example to follow, because I can procrastinate with the best of them. But I’ve found that when I work ahead of deadlines, I am far less stressed. I set imaginary deadlines for myself. If I miss it, I still have time to work. If I don’t, I sleep better because the project is done.

3. Get up away from your desk at least every 60 minutes

Just getting a fresh cup of coffee reminds me to stretch and move. Five minutes away from my screen can help me stay focused on the next project I need to finish. I also try to look away from the computer screen every 10/15 minutes. This reduces eye strain.

4. Leave your work on your desk

Okay, I’ll admit I read emails after hours, but very seldom do I act on them. I’m finding that I need to shut down at 5 or 6 in the afternoon and forget about work. We’re so connected these days that it can be difficult to separate. But you have to. Your family will thank you. Your sanity will thank you.

I’m sure there are more things you can do to relieve your stress. Get a massage. Exercise. Eat healthy. All those things your doctor tells you to do. But before you can practice self-care, you have to prioritize your time and deal with work stress.

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