Author Adam Grant notes that some people have a better memory for incomplete tasks than for complete tasks. He refers to this as the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’ to explain that once a task is finished, we stop thinking about it, but when it’s interrupted and left incomplete, it still stays active in our minds.
Psychologist Dr Christian Jarrett provides a further take on what to do with incomplete work, due to what he calls ‘attentional residue’. He believes that an incomplete morning task can linger in your mind like a mental itch, adversely affecting your performance later on in the day because it continues to draw on your mental resources even after we think we’ve switched off.
To use the Zeigarnik Effect he suggests that you find a good stopping point on a task – one that frees your mind from any enduring questions before moving onto the next task.
Grant, A. (2016) Originals: How non-conformists change the world. Penguin Random House, UK, 99.