by Matt Alderton | January 25, 2018
For a lot of people, having a full plate means also having a full mind. If you've ever wondered why, it turns out that the human brain is actually hard-wired to obsess over everything it has to do, according to Harvard Business Review contributor Daisy Wademan Dowling.
"In the late 1920s, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik described what has since become known as the Zeigarnik Effect, which states that people remember, and fixate on, uncompleted or interrupted tasks significantly more than finished ones," Dowling says. "Uncompleted tasks torture us: They take up all our mental space and create enormous emotional noise and tension; when we don't have closure, we get anxious. And … with all the open items we have both at home and at work, that's a lot of anxiety."

Because it makes them feel organized and in control, a favorite solution to this anxiety for a lot of people is making a to-do list. Your favorite solution might not be the best solution, however. 

"Your task list is necessary, but regardless of how and in what form you keep it, it won't help relieve this stress. If anything, it fuels it," Dowling says.

Instead of a to-do list -- or in addition to it -- try making a "done" list, Dowling suggests.

"Keep a brief, informal list of completed (rather than undone) items, from both work and home," she concludes. "Write down this year's finished projects, problems solved, your wins -- whatever 'win' means for you. Beat our quarterly numbers. Found Sasha a science tutor. Brought in the pharma account. Made it to Diego's baseball game last week. Then look over this list and remind yourself of how much you've done -- how much you've produced and accomplished, in both spheres … Even a single minute spent doing this [can help you] feel significantly less frantic and overwhelmed."

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