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How ADHDers can leverage the Zeigarnik Effect for Enhanced Productivity

Jun 21, 2023

Picture this: you're in the midst of a task when suddenly, your brain drifts off and fixates on something else entirely. Familiarity with this kind of situation might be no stranger to those with ADHD. But did you know that there's a psychological phenomenon called the Zeigarnik effect that could actually work in your favor?

The Zeigarnik effect is named after Bluma Zeigarnik, a Soviet psychologist who discovered that people tend to remember uncompleted tasks better than completed ones. With some clever strategies and understanding of how ADHD brains function, we can harness the power of the Zeigarnik effect for improved focus and productivity.

In this blog post, we'll explore how dopamine and norepinephrine play crucial roles in attention levels, discuss planning strategies to mitigate distraction, learn about using timers during activities as memory boosters, identify triggers to shift attention appropriately and more – all tailored specifically for those with ADHD.

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Table of Contents

Harnessing the Zeigarnik Effect for ADHD

Let's dive right in.

The Zeigarnik effect can be a game-changer when it comes to managing your ADHD and boosting productivity.

To understand the role of dopamine and norepinephrine in attention levels, let's delve deeper.

Dopamine & Norepinephrine:

ADHD sufferers often experience an imbalance of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters essential for sustaining focus and motivation; however, the Zeigarnik effect can be utilized to boost concentration levels and task completion rates.

Fret not. By working with your unique brain chemistry, you can harness the power of the Zeigarnik effect to improve concentration and task completion rates.

Befriending Your ADHD Brain:

Rather than fighting against your natural thought patterns, embrace them.

This means acknowledging that unfinished tasks will occupy mental space until completed or planned out effectively - so let's use this knowledge to our advantage.

Taking Breaks During Activities

Research shows that students who interrupt their study sessions with unrelated activities will remember material better than those who finish without taking breaks. Setting break timers during activities combined with positive distractions such as exercise or meditation can help relieve stress associated with feeling overwhelmed. The unfinished nature of the task keeps it active in our minds, increasing the likelihood of retaining the information. A lot of people worry that taking breaks will negatively impact their focus but it can actually help.

However, it's worth noting that the Zeigarnik effect primarily applies to tasks that are perceived as meaningful or important to us. If a task lacks significance or relevance, the effect may be less pronounced. Additionally, the effect is not always beneficial in all learning scenarios, as some tasks may require sustained focus and uninterrupted attention.

Identifying Triggers & Shifting Attention Appropriately

While the Zeigarnik effect primarily focuses on the tendency to remember unfinished tasks, it can also be relevant in the context of managing stress and attention. When individuals with ADHD experience stress, it can lead to heightened levels of anxiety and a fight-or-flight response. This can negatively impact their ability to focus and concentrate on demanding tasks.

In such situations, recognizing the triggers that induce stress and overwhelm is important. By identifying these triggers, individuals can become aware of the circumstances or situations that contribute to their stress levels. This awareness allows them to make conscious decisions about managing their attention and adapting their tasks accordingly.

The suggestion to switch tasks when feeling stressed aligns with the idea of managing stress and attention in ADHD. By giving oneself permission to shift attention towards less-demanding tasks, individuals can potentially alleviate stress and regain a sense of focus and control. This approach acknowledges the impact of stress on attention and suggests adjusting task priorities to optimize productivity and well-being.

Accountability Partners & Prioritizing Goals

Having an accountability partner can help in staying focused and preventing prolonged straying off task. An accountability partner is someone who holds us responsible for completing our tasks or goals and provides support and encouragement along the way. By sharing our tasks and goals with an accountability partner, we create a sense of external accountability.

When we have an accountability partner, the Zeigarnik effect can come into play. The awareness that our accountability partner is expecting us to complete certain tasks can create a similar sense of cognitive tension or unfinished business. This can motivate us to stay on track and avoid straying off task for extended periods.

Knowing that we have someone to report our progress to can help us maintain focus and prevent excessive distractions or procrastination. The unfinished tasks and the external accountability created by the accountability partner work together to keep us engaged and motivated to complete our responsibilities.

Key Takeaway: Harnessing the Zeigarnik Effect can help those with ADHD improve their concentration and task completion rates by embracing unfinished tasks. Planning strategies such as detailed plans, scheduling planning sessions, implementing timers during activities, identifying triggers and shifting attention appropriately, and setting deadlines can also mitigate distractions and improve focus. Working closely with an accountability partner on prioritizing goals based on importance while celebrating successes along the way can further boost motivation to achieve desired outcomes both personally and professionally alike.

Planning Strategies to Mitigate Distraction

Let's explore how to strategize and manage distractions.

When it comes to harnessing the Zeigarnik effect for ADHD, creating a plan is your secret weapon.

You might be wondering why.

The answer lies in freeing up cognitive resources and lessening distractions from unfinished tasks.

Detailed Plans vs. To-do Lists

When it comes to task management and productivity, there is a significant distinction between a simple to-do list and a detailed plan. While both methods can help organize tasks, a detailed plan offers a more strategic and structured approach to task completion, optimizing productivity and memory recall through the Zeigarnik effect.

A to-do list serves as a basic tool for jotting down tasks that need to be completed. It provides a general overview of what needs to be done. For example, you might have an entry like "Write blog post" on your to-do list.

On the other hand, a detailed plan delves deeper into each task, breaking it down into specific steps and allocating timeframes for each step. Let's consider the task of writing a blog post titled "10 Effective Study Strategies for Students" to illustrate the difference:

A to-do list entry might simply state "Write blog post." While this captures the essence of the task, it lacks the structure and specificity needed to tackle it effectively.

In contrast, a detailed plan for writing the blog post would entail:

Research topic (1 hour): Conduct comprehensive online research on effective study strategies, gather relevant articles, studies, and resources, and take detailed notes on key points and interesting findings.

Create an outline (30 minutes): Identify the main sections and subtopics for the blog post, organize the content in a logical flow, and draft a brief introduction and conclusion to frame the discussion.

Write the introduction (30 minutes): Craft an engaging opening to captivate readers' attention, clearly state the purpose of the blog post, and provide a concise overview of the 10 study strategies to be discussed.

Write the body paragraphs (2 hours): Dedicate a separate section to each study strategy, explain them in detail using insights, examples, and practical tips, and utilize subheadings for clarity and easy navigation.

Write the conclusion (30 minutes): Summarize the main points discussed in the blog post, reiterate the importance of effective study strategies, and encourage readers to implement them in their own studies.

Edit and proofread (1 hour): Review the entire blog post for clarity, coherence, grammar, spelling errors, and correct any typos to ensure high-quality content.

By breaking down the writing process into smaller, actionable steps with allocated timeframes, a detailed plan provides a clear structure and roadmap for task completion. It enhances focus, memory recall, and productivity through the Zeigarnik effect, as each completed step brings a sense of closure, relieving the cognitive tension associated with unfinished tasks. This structured approach promotes effective time management and helps prevent tasks from lingering unfinished for extended periods.

Importance of Scheduling Planning Sessions

Schedule regular short planning sessions throughout your week - trust me on this one. Daily 5-minute check-ins or weekly half-hour reviews can help you stay on track.

  • Action Item #1: Create a detailed plan for every major task you need to accomplish during the day or week.
  • Action Item #2: Schedule brief planning sessions regularly - daily or weekly - depending on what works best for you.

By incorporating these planning strategies, you'll be well on your way to mitigating distractions and making the most of the Zeigarnik effect for ADHD brains. Remember, this psychological phenomenon can have both positive and adverse effects on attention levels, depending on how you use it. So, it's essential to work with your brain chemistry instead of against it.

Interruptions as Memory Boosters

The key is to use these interruptions strategically. One popular time management method that utilizes this approach is the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique involves breaking work into 25-minute intervals (called "Pomodoros") followed by short breaks. This approach helps maintain motivation and concentration while preventing burnout from extended periods of intense focus.

Positive Distractions for Improved Focus

Select your distractions wisely. Incorporate activities like exercise or meditation during break times to help relieve stress associated with feeling overwhelmed and boost overall productivity levels in the process.

So, set those timers and embrace the power of interruptions to harness the Zeigarnik effect for improved focus in your ADHD journey. Remember: Work smarter, not harder.

Balancing Task Demands

Sometimes, it's okay (and even beneficial) to switch gears from high-demand tasks to something less demanding during moments of heightened stress. For example, if an impending deadline has sent you into panic mode, try taking a short break by focusing on a more manageable task. This could include organizing your workspace, responding to emails, or planning out meals for the week. Remember the key is to find a balance between acknowledging your triggers and adjusting your focus accordingly, without allowing distractions to take over completely.

So go ahead - embrace the Zeigarnik effect by working with your ADHD brain instead of against it. You've got this.

Setting Deadlines for Improved Focus

Let's face it, deadlines can be our best friends or worst enemies. However, when it comes to ADHD brains, they're essential in helping us stay focused and eliminate competing priorities. Research shows that setting deadlines increases motivation and productivity for those with ADHD. So how do we make the most of this?

Importance of Visible Deadlines

Create a visual reminder of your deadlines. This could be as simple as writing them on a whiteboard or using an online calendar app. The key is to have them prominently displayed so you'll always know what needs to get done next.

Utilizing Reminders Effectively

Besides having visible deadlines, set frequent reminders throughout the day. You can use your phone's alarm clock or try out Focus Bear to help.

  1. Schedule multiple reminders: Set one at the beginning of each task, another halfway through, and finally one near the deadline. This helps keep you accountable.
  2. Add context: Include specific details about each task in your reminders. By noting the details of each task, you can ensure that your reminders are both timely and accurate.
  3. Be flexible: Adjust your reminders as needed. If a task is proving more time-consuming than anticipated, make sure to modify the deadline.

By harnessing the power of deadlines and utilizing these strategies, you'll be well on your way to improved focus and productivity with ADHD. The Zeigarnik effect, a psychological phenomenon, explains how our brain chemistry works. It states that our brain drifts towards incomplete tasks, which can have both positive and adverse effects on our attention levels. Experimental psychology has shown that the Zeigarnik effect can be used to our advantage by setting deadlines and utilizing reminders.

Now go forth and conquer those tasks like a boss.

Key Takeaway: Setting deadlines is crucial for people with ADHD to stay focused and eliminate competing priorities. Creating visible reminders of deadlines, utilizing frequent reminders throughout the day, scheduling multiple reminders, adding context, and being flexible are some strategies that can help improve focus and productivity. Harnessing the power of deadlines by using the Zeigarnik effect can be advantageous in completing tasks like a boss.

Maintaining a Healthy Diet to Support Cognitive Function

Alright, let's talk food.

Did you realise that what you consume could have a major effect on your ADHD manifestations and mental capacity?

Research shows that consuming nutrient-rich foods can improve focus and overall brain health.

So, let's dive into some dietary tips for harnessing the benefits of the Zeigarnik effect.

Nutrient-rich Foods for Brain Health

To support your ADHD brain, consider incorporating these superfoods:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Found in fish like salmon or sardines, as well as nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds or chia seeds.
  • Vitamin B6: Present in lean meats like chicken or turkey breast, whole grains, bananas, spinach, and avocados.
  • Zinc: Abundant in oysters (if you're feeling fancy), beef, pumpkin seeds, and cashews.
  • Magnesium: Available in dark leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard; also found in almonds and quinoa.

The Impact of Diet on Focus and Productivity

Avoiding sugar spikes is crucial when dealing with ADHD - so steer clear of sugary snacks.

Eating regular meals throughout the day helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, which translates to better focus at work.

If hunger strikes between meals, opt for healthy snacks like fruit, yogurt, or a handful of nuts.

Keep hydration in mind - it's key for peak mental performance and can even help with ADHD.

Hydrate to help your brain stay sharp and improve ADHD indicators.

Ready to level up your focus game? Check out the Focus Bear App today.

Bon appetit, and happy focusing.

Can People with ADHD Lead Normal Lives?

Yes, people with ADHD can lead normal lives. With proper diagnosis, treatment, and support systems in place, individuals with ADHD can manage their symptoms effectively and achieve success in various aspects of life. This may include medication, therapy, ADHD coaching, and implementing strategies to improve focus and organization.

Why Do People with ADHD Perceive Time Differently?

People with ADHD often experience time blindness, which is a difficulty in understanding the passage of time or estimating how long tasks will take. This occurs due to differences in brain function related to dopamine regulation and executive functioning skills such as planning, organizing, and prioritizing.

What Is the ADHD Mismatch Theory?

The ADHD mismatch theory suggests that certain traits associated with ADHD were once advantageous for survival but are now considered problematic due to changes in societal expectations. For example, impulsivity might have been beneficial when quick decisions were needed but can be detrimental within modern structured environments.

Do People with ADHD Perceive Time Faster?

No, rather than perceiving time faster or slower consistently compared to neurotypical individuals, those affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may struggle more so comprehending durations accurately, particularly concerning future events, a phenomenon referred to as "time blindness."


In conclusion, understanding the Zeigarnik Effect and its impact on individuals with ADHD can help us implement strategies to improve focus and productivity. Planning sessions, using timers during activities, identifying triggers and shifting attention appropriately, setting deadlines, and maintaining a healthy diet are all important tools in harnessing the power of the Zeigarnik Effect for our benefit.

By consistently utilizing these techniques and finding an accountability partner to help prioritize goals, individuals with ADHD can overcome their challenges and achieve success. At Focus Bear, we offer a comprehensive platform that incorporates many of these strategies into one easy-to-use tool. Sign up today to start maximizing your potential!

Jun 21, 2023

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