Intentionally incomplete

When you’re working on a project that can take days or even weeks—writing a research paper, studying for final exams, building a website, etc.—you might experience the onset of burnout overnight. You end your day, even one where you made a lot of project progress, but the next day, any momentum you had is gone. Whatever you try, you just can’t get back in the zone or muster the gumption to get going again. And you resolve to try again tomorrow when you hope to feel more motivated.

In his new book about the science of perfect timing, Dan Pink shares this great tip: End the day in the middle of a task. Stop writing in the middle of a sentence. Stop studying right in the middle of an equation or a paragraph. Stop programming right in the middle of a line of code. Call it a day without a clean ending point.

This might sound absurd or even torturous to people who find a lot of mental relief in finishing at a logical endpoint for the day. But that’s exactly why stopping in the middle can make it easier to get started again the next day. Pink points to the Zeigarnik effect, which is our tendency to remember unfinished tasks better than finished ones. When you come back to that unfinished sentence or equation or line of code the next day, your mind remembers what you were doing and feeling at the time. The sense of momentum comes right back. And that can fuel your motivation day-to-day. Pink even points out that Ernest Hemingway, who published 15 books, loved this technique and often ended his writing sessions in the middle of a sentence.

Turns out one of the best ways to get going the next day is to leave something intentionally incomplete today.