No one likes disruption. We are hardwired to seek balance, order, and equilibrium.
No matter what it is that you are doing, be it reading a paragraph written in your second language, trying to solve a challenging math problem, or sleeping a sound, dreamless sleep,
being interrupted entails a forceful halt midway and then having to re-enter your previous state, sometimes with great difficulty.
Popular belief has it that interruption fractures the flow of your thinking and reduces productivity, and so it is advisable that you have an uninterrupted session of intensive work before your next break.
However, a Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik, might tell you otherwise.
The connection between interruption and memory came to her attention when she was dining in a restaurant.
She noticed how the waitresses had an amazing grip of the detailed orders yet to be paid for, but scarce memory of the orders that were already completed.
Could it be that our brains treat unfinished tasks differently from finished ones?
Zeigarnik’s curiosity was instantaneously aroused.
She later conducted an experiment in which people were given a series of tasks such as solving puzzles or threading beads.
Some of them were interrupted halfway through it, and some of them were not.
By the end of it, those who underwent interruptions could better recall the details of those activities than those who didn’t.
It made no significant difference as to whether the former eventually finished the tasks after the interruptions or not.
In comparison to tasks that were already finished and ones that we haven’t even started, half-done projects are given the priority in the mental to-do list our brains sketch out for us.
One possible explanation is that with interrupted tasks, we hanker after their closure to reclaim a sense of balance.
Finishing them also means that we can finally clear up the mental backlog and give the space to more upcoming tasks.
Zeigarnik’s theory has lent itself well to various practical applications in advertisements, TV series, and even education.
In one example, multiple social media websites “impelled” their users into completing their profiles by use of a progress bar that remains half-empty until they have filled in all the necessary information.
No matter whether you are a procrastinator or a precrastinator, you will find Zeigarnik’s theory enlightening, which tells us that interruption and steady progress make up a false dichotomy.
For procrastinators, you might find that even merely taking the first baby step in a task will help move it along.
For precrastinators who are always rushing ahead and liable to feelings of frustration and anxiety when things get stuck, taking a break and initiating an impromptu interruption might be the key to making progress.