There are a number of creations from the 1980s that we would prefer to keep locked in the antiquity closet (shoulder pads and side ponytails come to mind). But our heart still sings for a simple video game brought to the U.S. in 1984: Tetris. Something about stacking those mini-blocks into cubed corners keeps us hypnotized for hours.
The simplicity of Tetris is actually based on a more complex phenomenon from human psychology. Scientists have found that the game can help in numerous ways, everything from keeping you on a diet to helping with cognitive capacity (which in turn impacts learning and development). But we were curious about Tetris’ scientific suggestions when it comes to breaking through procrastination plateaus.
The answer lies in something called the Zeigarnik Effect. In the 1930s, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik observed that waiters remembered customers’ orders until the moment they delivered their food and drinks. Conversely, they forgot the orders once delivery was complete. This observation and the studies that followed concluded that humans have an unconscious need to finish what we start. Our brain basically hangs onto the information until it’s completed.
Tetris plays off the Zeigarnik Effect by creating an inherently unending pursuit. Its addictive nature has to do with the simple fact that there is a constant delivery of new blocks, increasing in speed, feeding our unresolved need to stack them. Whether or not we are aware of it, the re-feeding of blocks keeps us attuned and engaged, what one psychologist called, a “World of perpetual uncompleted tasks”. In the most simple terms, tasks stay in our minds until complete.
From a productivity standpoint, this is great news. We are much more likely to move towards work resolution just by getting started rather than contemplating when and how we will begin. This shows that getting started is not just half the battle, it is the battle. Our mental demand for conclusion will do the work to move us towards resolution.
Consider for a moment walking into your office on a Monday morning and opening up your to-do list for the day. You read through your list, feeling a little less confident than when you walked in a few minutes before. So much to do! Where to begin?
Instead of becoming stalled in a formidable list of tasks, taking on just one at a time will more likely help you complete your tasks. What’s more, just getting started with one small task (e.g. respond to an email, return a call to a colleague, etc.) can help you work through the broader list as a whole.
If you are stuck in procrastination hell and feel like you cannot get out, open Tetris to retrain your neurons towards enhanced performance. Just watch the clock so you don’t squander the entire day trying to beat your highest score.