Student lives today are characterized by much pressure, hectic schedules and never-ending to-do lists. Having to learn how to manage school and life can be stressful. At the same time crossing tasks off to-do lists brings profound pleasure. What lies beneath this satisfaction is more than just one less thing to do. A body-felt sense of completion and the relief completion brings is deeply rooted in human psychology and has far-reaching effects on well-being.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the science behind task completion and its benefits. We’ll also share why task completion is core to our Grid work-life balance method that students find super helpful.
Dopamine: The Brain’s Reward System at Play
One of the central characteristics of task completion is how good it feels to get something done. Finishing tasks triggers the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, often referred to as the “feel-good” chemical. It’s the brain’s natural reward signal. When we complete tasks, whether they’re as mundane as tidying up the house or as ambitious as finishing a class assignment or a thesis, our brains respond with a surge of dopamine creating a feel-good state. Can you remember the last time you experienced it?
Motivation and Personal Growth
Task completion is a powerful source of motivation. The sense of achievement fuels our desire to tackle new challenges and set new and higher goals. Have you ever found yourself stuck? How did this impact your thoughts, feelings and motivation to keep going? What did you focus on and how did that impact your motivation?
Motivation is a vital component of overall well-being. Without it, we can feel a bit lost and low in mood. As we complete what we’ve set out to do or need to get done, we build self-efficacy—the belief in our ability to accomplish goals. And, our confidence and motivation steadily grow.
Sense of Achievement as Natural Confidence Boost
Accomplishing tasks, regardless of their complexity, offers a profound sense of achievement. Each task completed serves as a validation of our competence and capabilities. It’s a reminder that we are, indeed, capable of achieving results and getting closer to realizing our goals. Completion then enhances our self-esteem and confidence.
Bandura’s Self-Agency Theory proposes that self-efficacy is linked with achievement. Those with high efficacy are more likely to set challenging goals and persist in the face of difficulties. When one believes one can achieve specific tasks, one also has greater motivation to give things a go. Think of the last time you achieved a goal that mattered to you. How did it make you feel about yourself?
Stress Reduction: Easing Mental and Physical Tension
Unfinished tasks create a cloud of stress and anxiety, as they constantly linger in the background, reminding us of their presence. The Zeigarnik Effect, coined after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, offers a fascinating insight into the human mind. It suggests that our brains tend to remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks more vividly than completed ones. This creates a sense of mental tension that spills into muscle tension and tiredness.
When we complete a task, we create space in our minds and lightness in our bodies. The result? A feeling of relief and clarity. How stressed do you feel when you have a lot on your plate versus the times when you have gotten on top of things and got everything under control?
A Clear Mental Canvas: Creativity and Reflection
Unfinished tasks clutter our mental space, limiting our capacity for creativity, problem-solving, and self-reflection. Task completion clears this space, making room for more profound thinking as well as vital time for self-care. These in turn enrich our overall well-being, help us function well and reinforce confidence that we can manage well. Setting smaller goals is a proven way to bring about the feeling of achievement, and improve self-efficacy.
In summary, completing tasks helps us become clear thinkers, confident adults and optimistic creative shapers of our lives. Now that we know the benefits of task completion, how can we get more things completed in practice? Below are practical ways to help you master completion based on our Grid work-life balance method.
Grid-inspired and Proven Strategies for Task Completion
- Get clear on tasks to complete to keep self-efficacy high and prevent overwhelm.
- Set realistic daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals to sustain your motivation and sense of achievement and ensure you don’t set yourself up to fail by trying to achieve more than is humanly possible. You may want to consider things like your priorities, core values, contextual factors as well as effective strategies or learning from the past.
- Divide and Conquer: Larger tasks are daunting. By breaking them into smaller, manageable steps, i.e. tasks we make it easy to get started, and complete in realistic time bursts will give you more opportunities for that sense of achievement and dopamine hit.
- Focus on tasks that positively change your body state such as exercise. You’d be surprised at how they will move you forward by changing how you feel and helping your mind find solutions. This way you can build instant momentum and look after your whole self.
- Cultivate balance between tasks that support your personal growth, refuel your energy and help you ace assignments and work projects. Put another way ensure you give time to support your mind, heart, body and spirit.
- Use lists but cluster them by theme. To-do lists are not just brilliant organizational tools; they are visual representations of your progress and accomplishments. But one giant list is a daunting prospect. Instead, create four lists around what your life, school, work and you need within a specific time frame to have a personal menu map that keeps you clear, focused and accomplished.
- Mark and celebrate achievements: Don’t underestimate the value of acknowledging and celebrating each task you complete. Reward yourself for your efforts; you’ve earned it. In our Grid method, we recommend using highlighters to mark tasks you completed as well as adding celebration or reward specific tasks to your self-care list.
- Address self-care by giving this area a dedicated to-do list: Being able to stay calm and focused is key. Grid technique helps this by making self-care a priority and giving it space. Whether you hit the gym, do some mindful breathing, or call your bestie., make room to care for you. It will make you more effective overall, help you manage your mood and improve your creativity.
The science of task completion reveals that achieving tasks goes beyond mere productivity, it’s a profound psychological journey that influences our well-being in tangible ways. The effects are also cumulative. By incorporating the practical strategies above, you can actively boost your confidence, self-efficacy, happiness and fulfillment.
Task completion is not just about doing more. It is about making your life more organized and easy to manage. This means you get to feel on top of things more often. Getting things done by tapping into the power and psychology of completion is a practical way of nurturing your well-being and confidence, preparing you for the next step whilst helping you enjoy the present moment.
What task will make you do a little happy dance once completed? Go for it and if this blog helped you let us know.
Watch Marie’s Story with Grid
- Explore a wealth of student Grid case studies on our student Grid pages.
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Anahita Kalsy, Outreach and Communications Officer
Further reading sources
- Austin, J. T., & Vancouver, J. B. (1996). Goal Constructs in Psychology: Structure, Process, and Content. Psychological Bulletin, 120(3), 338–375. 7.
- Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W. H. Freeman/Times Books/Henry Holt & Co. 8.
- Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56(3), 218–226.
- Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705–717
- Schultz, W. (2007). Dopamine, learning, and reward-seeking behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1104, 36–47.
- Zeigarnik, B. (1927). On finished and unfinished tasks. Psychological Research, 9(1), 1–85.
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