Switching Off After Work: Stop thinking about unfinished tasks

Switching Off After Work: Stop thinking about unfinished tasks

Posted by Jan Lawrence


The memory naturally retains unfinished tasks

The memory tends to cling to incomplete tasks more than completed ones.  This naturally encourages us to keep in mind that which we still need to do.

The so-called Zeigarnik Effect is a phenomenon discovered by a Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik.  In 1927 she was sitting in a restaurant in Vienna and noticed that the waiters seemed to remember the orders that were in the middle of being served, but when the orders were complete they could not remember them, as if they had let them go from their mind.  Zeigarnik tested this theory on her students in the lab and discovered that they were twice as likely to remember the interrupted tasks than the completed ones.

This theory has been put to good use in keeping people motivated in their work by getting them to leave something incomplete so that their mind continues to work on it and they are motivated to get straight back on to it when they return to work the following day.  However if your main goal is to improve your ability to switch off after work, it makes sense that leaving completed tasks, or at least finding a way to make your brain think they are complete, will help you to achieve this.

Switching off after work tip

Try to finish what you are working on before you leave work.  If this is unrealistic for you and the project is too big, note down the outstanding actions before you leave for the day in order to give yourself a sense of completion.  Another option is to break the project into smaller chunks and try to emulate that sense of completion when you complete a chunk.  This will reduce the chance of ruminating over the next stages and your brain’s natural tendency to try and find a solution in your out of work time.


This is one of a series of articles on how to switch off after work. You can access them all from this post Stress Management Tips : How to Switch Off After Work.