The Productive Solopreneur Series | How To Stop Thinking About Work


A term that every entrepreneur, solopreneur, and wantrepreneur (yep that’s a term) should know about is The Zeigarnik Effect.

But I’m going to guess that you’re not familiar with this term. Actually, I suspect that you’ve probably never heard of it. 

Am I right?

And that’s a shame because…

Understanding this concept is what can help you to gain a better separation between work and relaxation, while also being more focused and more productive.

That is a win/win in my books.

So, what is the Zeigarnik effect?

Essentially, the Zeigarnik effect is an effect that explains why we sometimes find it hard to let something go. 

As the story goes, Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik was enjoying dinner at a restaurant with her friends. She was amazed to find that the waiter serving their table for the evening was able to remember all of their names, as well as all of their orders without needing to write anything down! Throughout the night he had taken numerous orders, not one recording a single thing on a notepad, but returning every time with the correct order, and placing it immediately in front of the right person.

But what was most intriguing to Zeigarnik, was that when she returned to the restaurant shortly after they finished their meal, to retrieve her forgotten purse, the same waiter didn’t even recognize her! How could he remember so much detail about her and her party, only to then forget everything again?

So, she went about describing what we now know as the Zeigarnik effect.

Essentially, when the brain is actively working on something, it keeps all of the information and ideas relating to that subject at hand. Not only that, but it also becomes much more tuned-in to that frequency: you are more likely to spot things relating to the subject you’re considering, and you’re more likely to overhear people talking about that subject.

This is sometimes referred to as an “open loop.” 

Once you consider that task completed though, the loop closes!

So what does all this have to with you as a solopreneur?

As a solopreneur, you are going to be juggling a LOT of diverse tasks at once. Chances are, that some of these tasks will stay “open” when you switch off the computer and leave your office to be with your family.

But have you “switched off” in your mind?

If there are ideas and thoughts relating to work still lingering in your mind, then you may find that the answer is no. 

It can be very difficult to focus on downtime with family, or whatever else you choose to do because your brain is still churning over and working on those open tasks you were left at the end of the day.

This is why many of us find it so hard to switch off from work when our day is over, and it’s the reason that many of us end up stressed and burned out as a result.

The solution? 

Find a way to symbolically “put a pin” in whatever it is that you were doing. 

That could mean writing things down so that they’re off your mind, or it could mean finding a way to “complete” the project.

I won’t start a new task towards the end of the day that is going to be left feeling incomplete at the end of the day.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t work on something that takes more than a day to complete. 

It just means that I always find a comfortable resolution point for tasks at the end of the day, and if a task looks like it’s going to take more time than I have left in the day to reach that point, it is one that I’ll move across to the following day, giving myself more time to complete it.

We all have small tasks that vie for our attention during the day. Tasks like responding to emails or returning phone calls.

But these small tasks can end up stealing our mental bandwidth if we leave them in an open state.

To combat this I work on a “1-minute rule” (thank you, Gretchen Rubin). Any task that will take less than one minute, should be done as soon as you realise it needs to be done.

If you have problems switching off at the end of the workday, why don’t you give ‘closing the loop’ a try? Try to find a point in the task that you can switch off from it until the next day without it taking up your mental bandwidth when you’re in your downtime.

Do you have other strategies you use to stop thinking about work?

Let me know in the comments.

And see you next week for the next blog in our Productive Solopreneur series.


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