That’s not to say you should completely ignore your to-dos—in fact, the Zeigarnik effect can actually help you finish those tasks, especially if you struggle with procrastination.
Here’s a tip: If you have a big project on your to-do list, start a small portion of that task, no matter how trivial it might seem. Then after you get the gears turning, take a break—perhaps even remove yourself from the workspace. According to the Zeigarnik effect, your brain will send you mental pings urging you to finish that task throughout the day. As a result, you may feel a spark (or two, or three…) of inspiration to work on the project until it’s fully completed—that’s the Zeigarnik effect doing its job.
And after you’re done, Boardman says don’t forget to acknowledge the accomplishment. “We’re terrible at giving ourselves any credit, because we don’t even remember [the task],” she says. “We have to be a little more deliberate about what we have done.” The acknowledgement can be as simple as striking the item off a to-do list—after all, that gratification has brain-healthy benefits.