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Have you heard of the Zeigarnik Effect?

I read an article recently about the Zeigarnik Effect. The article I read was aimed at writers and not graphic designers but I found a lot of it relates to what we do as designers.

Here's a quick background on the Zeigarnik Effect in case you've never heard of it before.

Back in the 1920's Psychologist Kurt Lewin noticed that a waiter at a local restaurant remembered all the orders from each table until the bill was paid. Once the bill was paid, he couldn't remember the orders anymore.

Bluma Zeigarnik, a student of Lewin, studied this phenomenon. Her research explored the idea that a task that has been started but not completed creates a task-specific tension in our mind and allows us to focus more clearly on it.

In other words, when you start a task, your mind is set in motion and a tension builds until that task is completed.

This explains why we feel good when we finish some tasks. Finishing things like crossword puzzles, a good book, an exercise routine or a design project brings us a sense of joy and satisfaction.

Get started on that design

You may have never heard of the Zeigarnik Effect, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that when it comes to designing, starting the design is often half the battle.

If you want to design something, the most important thing you can do is start designing it. Even if your ideas are not concrete and you don't know what direction you want to take. By simply putting things down on paper or on a computer you get your mind thinking about it in different ways. This is when the Zeigarnik Effect kicks in, by creating a kind of tension that your mind wants to satisfy so it devotes more power to it, boosting your ideas and creativity. Simply get the ball rolling by jotting down anything and everything you can to start the design process.

Tension accumulates

Sometimes, when we have a lot of design projects to work on we start to feel overloaded. The Zeigarnik Effect states that that overloaded feeling comes from too many unfinished tasks that your mind wants to finish and forget about.

Your brain doesn't really distinguish between the amount of time a task takes. Whether it's emailing a client, finding a stock image, updating a name on a business card, or designing an entire website.

Your brain doesn't know one task requires more time than another, it just knows you have a bunch of things that are not done.

In episode 66 of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I discussed how to Tackle Your To-Do List With Tasks and Projects. In it, I explained how every project can be broken down into either smaller projects or individual tasks. By completing those individual tasks you are able to check off more items from your To-Do list and feel better about yourself. At the time of that episode I hadn't heard of the Zeigarnik Effect, but in hindsight, it's exactly what I was talking about.

Completing a task eliminates the tension associated with it and frees up your mind for other things.

Eliminate tension

If you find yourself with too many things to do, one solution is to simply eliminate some. Get better at ditching, delegating and doing the little things quickly so you have the mental space for the important projects. Tackle the quick items first. Delete unimportant things from your To-Do list. Hire someone such as a Virtual Assistant to take on some of the work for you.

And remember the Zeigarnik Effect. Once a task is completed, or no longer on your To-Do list, your mind is free to forget about it and concentrate its creative juices on the remaining tasks at hand.

Did you know about the Zeigarnik Effect?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Sunil

This is Sunil from India, I have started a design consultancy as a soal-pruner currently. I have boldly dropped my regular job as a senior graphic designer after 12+ years of experience with handling top notch brands on a large scale, from design to execution.

Here’s my question.

Even after serving as a senior Graphics designer and having 12+ years of experience, there is some kind of fear in me that is stopping me to move ahead. Kindly help me in removing/getting out of this barrier of fear to move ahead and also when meeting the clients?

To find out what I told Sunil you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Paparazzi!

Simply put, Paparazzi! is a simple application (Mac only) that allows you to take screenshots of an entire webpage, even the parts not visible in your browser window. Simply enter a URL in Paparazzi! and save the page as a PDF, JPG, PNG or TIFF file. It's as simple as that.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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