In a previous life, when working as an Event Planner, my boss kept a notepad and pen beside her bed, which was only ever used when big events were looming.
As the date got nearer, the notepad would get more frequently used: she would wake up, thinking or worrying about something, and the only way to go back to sleep was to note it down so that she knew she could deal with it in the morning.
The thing is, most of the time, she couldn’t read a word of what she’d scrawled in her sleepy state, but that didn’t actually matter. Everything always got done, it wasn’t that she had her best ideas and epiphanies in the middle of night, so it wasn’t the list that mattered.
What mattered was the thing that had disturbed her was out of her head — she had transferred it to paper sufficiently so that, even though she knew it might be useless the next day, her mind could rest and she could sleep soundly.
The brain, you see, is trained to remember interrupted or unfinished tasks. It’s called the Zeigernik effect, named after Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigernik who observed that waiting staff in a café better remembered the orders they hadn’t yet served, to those they had. It’s part of our DNA, a natural survival mechanism to stop you from forgetting to take care of things like roll the stone in place in the cave entrance to keep predators out.
It means that if something isn’t dealt with to your satisfaction, your brain won’t let you let it go.
So, in this busy thing called modern-day life, with our ‘always on’ culture keeping us flitting between work stuff, home stuff, kids’ stuff, and all the other stuff, how do you override the Zeigernik effect? How do you clear your mind?
Write it down
My old boss had it half right — writing it down certainly cleared her head when it mattered when she needed to rest and recharge, but it wasn’t always the right solution as she would spend a good part of the next morning scratching her head trying to figure out what it was which had seemed so important at the time.
A better way is to write the list before you go to bed… or before you shut down your laptop or phone when you want to mark one part of your day as finished and move on to something else that requires your full attention.
Middle of the night or not, our handwriting isn’t always legible, and paper lists can get easily mislain so we recommend using an online to-do list like the one in Lifefyle. It’s part of an app so it’s in your pocket whenever you need it, you can satisfyingly tick things off when they are done just like your paper one, and better still, you don’t even have to remember to check it as you can set reminders so that Lifefyle alerts you when something needs your attention.
Get stuff done
Not meaning to sound patronising, but if you’ve got more stuff done, then there is less stuff to float around in your head in the first place. That Zeigernik effect is double-edged — it’s not just about interrupting your thoughts to remind of unfinished business, it’s also about allowing yourself to forget the things that are done and create the headspace to focus on things that are more important in the moment like listening to your child read, or make that phone call to your Aunt, or take a walk with a friend.
So once you’ve got that list written down, start doing the stuff that’s on it! The list is never as intimidating when you see it on screen as it is when it’s unstructured in your head, and there are generally a few things you can tick off relatively easily which gives you a genuine dopamine buzz and either momentum to keep going, or relaxed permission to stop for today and pick up the rest when Lifefyle nudges you.
Whether it’s things for work, or things about life (what we refer to as life admin), the same applies — stop procrastinating, break things down into small bite-size, manageable tasks and get the ball rolling.
Cut out what is not important or adding to your life
In the same way that Marie Kondo recommends holding an item and discarding it if it doesn’t bring you joy, we recommend — where possible — that you hold a thought about the things in your life which generate life admin and contribute to your mental load, and if they are not things which bring you joy or enrich your life in some way, seriously consider if you really need to keep doing them.
So when your thoughts are constantly interrupted by you reminding yourself to check the cancellation policy on the holiday let and activities you want to book for that summer break with family and friends, apart from recommending you write it down (or just take 2 minutes to do it if all the links and documents are stored neatly in a project called “Summer hol 2021” in Lifefyle!), that’s ok — at the end of the day it’s worth it… but if it’s remembering to bake some homemade gluten free, dairy free, nut free, sugar free vegan cookies for the village fete, does it really need to be that hard?
Maybe you could just get them from the supermarket, just this once. Some people will prefer shop-bought than homemade in this pandemic year anyway as it’s easier to vouch for hygiene standards!
We’re not suggesting you become a flake, just that you sincerely question whether you really have to do it all.
So. You’ve tapped your task list that was running on a constant treadmill in your head, into Lifefyle. You’ve ticked off some tasks and even decided that some of them just don’t need doing after all.
Now what to do with the rest?
Share the load. If you’ve established that the stuff in your head does need to get done, then at least consider if it has to be you that does it.
With Lifefyle Premium, you can invite your family members or housemates to share your to-do list and access the same admin documents. This gives everyone visibility of what needs to be done to keep life running smoothly, and the ability to assign tasks to themselves or for you to assign stuff to them, so not everything has to fall on one person’s shoulders.
If you’ve got children, think about what jobs they can do. Again, it doesn’t just have to be the adults that do the adulting — pocket money can be earned and free time can be created for family games, walks, or trips if everyone pulls their weight.
Making the tips and tricks above into habits, especially if supported via an app like Lifefyle which you can continue to use to track, complete and re-assign tasks, will help you on an ongoing basis.
We know though, that life happens in peaks and troughs. We know that whilst our supersonic AI app can help simplify, organise and automate some of your life admin, sometimes there is just a lot on your plate.
This is when you need to be conscious of what is happening and do some simple mindfulness — it isn’t a dark art, anything can be done mindfully, it just means that you do it in full consciousness, and only think about the activity you have chosen to do.
It does mean you decide to prioritise your mindful activity fully, be it walking, colouring, yoga, baking, reading, music, even just eating or breathing, overdoing something else, or letting your mind wander and think about something else.
And the best way to make sure you can draw on these techniques when you really need them? Practice. And the more you practice, with Lifefyle in your pocket to take the strain of your life admin, the less you might find you need them.
Give Lifefyle a try today, for free.