Make friends with your to-do list

You probably know from experience that an unfulfilled task lies heavy on the brain. In science this is a known phenomenon, called the Zeigarnik effect. What to do about it? Plan, plan, plan. Thinking ahead in little steps really takes away your sorrows.

The human brain is a true pessimist when it comes to tasks. The ones you fullfilled quickly leave the brain and the ones that remain keep swarming around. Even when you’re focused on something else the subconscious constantly distracts you by sending reminders of your to-do list.

But here’s some good news: you don’t need to finish all your tasks to keep your mind at ease. It helps to simply plan them. If you do this well, your brain seems to consider them done.

Two researchers of the Florida State University tested this in various experiments. They put subjects to a task, with an non-related goal in mind. Subjects that were allowed to formulate specific plans for their goals first, could better focus on their task, without intrusive thoughts of the unrelated goal.

Planning thus helps to relax your task-focused brain. What works best is a specific plan, instead of general intentions to pursue a goal. The plan must be a script one can follow without paying too much attention. So instead of: ‘fix a new fence’ the plan must begin with: ”call Max’s number (0619982234) and ask him where he bought his fence.’

Photo: Flickr, Ready set Monday

Source: BBC

Masicampo, E., & Baumeister, R. (2011). Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101 (4), 667-683 DOI: 10.1037/a0024192

Gepubliceerd op United Academics