Are you a Procrastinator?
If so, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy.
It’s just “the Zeigarnik Effect” kicking in.
Understand it and you can beat procrastination.
My kid sister Mollie would be the first to say she was a procrastinator, and now I fear I’m becoming one too because I put off writing this challenging Bulletin for two months.
I started it the day Mollie and I had an amusing conversation about the work she had volunteered to do for her church. It involved ironing several large tablecloths and napkins after the church had given its pastor a retirement luncheon and send-off party.
“This is a big job,” she said, “and I’m not in the mood to spend a day ironing this week. But I did gather the work to be done. The next day I set up the ironing board. The day after that I got the iron out of the cabinet and started the job, but decided it was too much to do at one time. So I set it aside for another day.”
Seeing the humor in this, we laughed about how easy it is to put things off and that it isn’t because we’re lazy. “But I do have a lazy streak in me, like Daddy,” Mollie said. “I work really hard when I’m doing something I love to do, which is why I thought it might help me today if I played the piano for a while, or maybe watch a movie while I iron. But what if it’s a really exciting movie that needs my full attention to enjoy? Maybe I should just watch the movie first and then finish the ironing.”
That made me laugh, and I kept laughing because while we were talking, Mollie was texting me gifs related to our conversation. Ping! Bugs Bunny playing a grand piano. Ping! A woman frantically ironing, quickly followed by a monkey pushing an iron every which way. I finally said she’d never get anything done if she didn’t stop trying to make me laugh, but she wanted the last word, or gif, and sent me two more before we both got back to what we were calling work that day.
In the end, we agreed that, given a choice between two things we needed to do, it was only natural for us to choose the easiest or most pleasant job first—unlike our Mother, whose work philosophy was to do the hardest or dirtiest jobs first thing in the morning so she could enjoy the rest of her day. Clearly, she was not a procrastinator.
Solving the Procrastination Problem
This chat-with-texts prompted me to search for statistics on how many people are procrastinators. On SolvingProcrastination.com, I learned that 20 percent of adults are chronic procrastinators and 50 percent of college students procrastinate in a chronic manner.
Then I found the notes I’d made earlier about procrastination that I’d picked up on one of my TV shows. A character was talking about how he couldn’t stop humming a tune he’d heard that day, and another character on the show said this was an example of “the Zeigarnik effect.” Intrigued by a word I’d never heard before, I searched for it the next morning and turned up this interesting article on Learning-Mind.com titled “What Is the Zeigarnik Effect and How to Use It to Beat Procrastination.”
Psychologists say the Zeiganik effect is “the tendency to better remember unfinished tasks than completed ones.” This article illustrates how to put the Zeigarnik Effect into action by doing just one thing.
Another Way to Look at the Zeigarnik Effect
If you want to get rid of an earworm playing a catchy tune in your head all day or get a job done that you’ve been putting off for some time, there’s a simple cure to the Zeigarnik Effect if you’re willing to try it.
To learn more about how the human brain and memory work together as information is stored in our short-term memory, read “An Overview of the Zeigarnik Effect and Memory.” It explains how the Zeigarnik Effect can have implications in your day-to-day life and how to use this psychological phenomenon to your advantage. The advice to cure a case of procrastination is both simple and profound: “Just do one thing.”
Writing this Bulletin took me back to January 2021 when I was halfway through building my new website and overwhelmed by all the work this involved. I’d taken a two-week vacation thinking that would motivate me to start fresh after New Year’s, but it didn’t work. I’d left an important job unfinished, but my brain had been bombarded with so much information that I’d planted an “anchor thought” in my mind that kept reminding me I might have bitten off more than I could chew. I couldn’t motivate myself to get back to the work at hand until I stumbled across my earlier research on the Zeigarnik Effect article stating a fact I’d always believed: one thing always leads to another.
If you’re procrastinating, the first step never gets done because you keep putting it off. As explained in both articles I’ve linked you to, all you need to do to beat procrastination is take the first step by doing one thing. In my case, that meant logging into the WordPress site and picking up where I left off, which was to finish formatting an article that needed the new Site Origin page-builder program I hadn’t yet fully learned. To get going again, all I had to do was finish the learning process and complete one finished page to feel like I was back in control. That motivated me to finish loading and formatting the rest of the articles now in the site’s archives.
P. S. I joined the Learning-Mind mailing list and recommend it to you if you’re open to learning things related to your personality, self-improvement, science, and mysteries, and also get an amazing collection of thought-provoking quotes that will make you reconsider your life. Here’s one that had special meaning for me:
“No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen” – Alan Watts
Following the quote was a summary remark I also took to heart: “Although it’s natural to be stressed about that which we can’t change, we can’t let that stress become all-encompassing. If you cannot change a situation, do not allow it to consume you.”
First published as a Brabec Bulletin on August 7, 2023.
Time & Stress T/C