I’ve spoken before about how the dreaded Zeigarnik Effect can make to do lists extremely inefficient and stop you from getting things done. The Zeigarnik Effect is basically the little voice in our heads that pushes us to finish the unfinished. The problem is that it can get in the way of our other activities by simply reminding us of all the things we aren’t getting done. So does that mean we are doomed to suffer at the hands of our own subconscious? Of course not, here’s how you can flip the switch and use this weird psychological effect to your advantage. First, a little history…
While Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik was researching her doctorate in Berlin in the 1930′s, she frequented many restaurants and would notice that waiters often remembered the orders that hadn’t been completed yet and forgot the ones that had. This led her to believe that our brains process these memories differently and store unfinished task in a totally separate part of our psyches. She began testing this theory by having subjects complete puzzles and one group would be allowed to go about it as they wishes while the other group would be interrupted at different intervals. When asked later to recount the details of the puzzles, the group that had been interrupted was twice as likely to remember the specifics. She reasoned that due to the lack of closure, our brains put these memories in a special place.
So how does this help us?
This makes me think of the famous Tabata Interval which is so prevalent in Crossfit. A Japanese doctor named Izumi Tabata found that 4 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training was equally or even more effective that much longer sessions of cardio training. The classic Tabata Interval consists of 8 rounds of 20 seconds at maximal effort followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of 4 minutes of work. These intervals are extremely hard and extremely efficient at raising your VO2 Max and general cardio recovery. It would be great if we could apply this to our brains as well. I think we can.
The “Neuro-Tabata” or Pomodoro Technique
There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:
- decide on the task to be done
- set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes
- work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x
- take a short break (5 minutes)
- every four “pomodoros” take a longer break (15–20 minutes)
Pretty simple and very Less Doing friendly if you ask me. Progress begets progress so with each successive Pomodoro, you’re increasing sense of accomplishment will motivate you to accomplish even more and by taking breaks you are effectively turning the Zeigarnick effect on its head and making it a friend instead of a foe.