When it comes to getting things done, you’ve probably heard again and again that successful productivity is all about getting to the finish.

Not so fast. Turns out, if you just focus on getting started, your brain will do the rest. According to research done by psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, unfinished tasks stay on people’s minds until they are finished—meaning once you get something going, you have much more drive to finish it so your brain will stop reeling on it.

Think of this strategy like a cliffhanger movie—when things are left hanging, your brain wants to know what comes next. You keep thinking about the story that left you hanging, working through different ideas for what could happen next, wondering how it will all wrap up. Your brain does the same thing when you leave work unfinished, and it will keep tinkering on the task until it’s completed.

So, this all means that the real trick to getting things done is to get your foot in the door and stop avoiding difficult or annoying tasks. Get started with something, even if it means simply opening up a Word document and writing a few bullet points or scheduling a 20-minute brainstorming session with a teammate. This works especially well for long-term projects or complicated assignments that seem daunting to finish.

Of course, this method isn’t good for everything. Anything that will take you 30 minutes or less should probably be tackled up front, rather than in fragmented sessions. You also want to be careful not to overuse this tactic, as leaving too many projects unfinished can cause your brain to overload on trying to remember everything.

But if there’s something major you need to do, just start. Don’t worry about whether you’ll have enough time in that moment to finish it, but at least get going and keep notes about where you left off. The act of being interrupted or having time away from that task will just make your brain want to complete it more.


Photo of person climbing cliff courtesy of Shutterstock.