Zeigarnik Effect

Zeigarnik Effect: Leveraging Incomplete Tasks to Enhance User Engagement

The Zeigarnik Effect, a psychological phenomenon named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the tendency of people to remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed ones. In UX design, this effect can be strategically used to enhance user engagement and motivation by creating a sense of unfinished business that encourages users to return and complete tasks.

What is the Zeigarnik Effect?

The Zeigarnik Effect suggests that people have a better recollection of tasks that are incomplete or interrupted than those that are completed. This occurs because unfinished tasks create a state of cognitive tension that remains until the task is completed. This tension drives individuals to remember the task and seek completion, making it a powerful tool for user engagement.

Importance of the Zeigarnik Effect in UX Design

  1. Increased User Engagement: By leveraging the Zeigarnik Effect, designers can encourage users to return to the platform to complete unfinished tasks, thereby increasing user engagement.
  2. Enhanced Motivation: Incomplete tasks create a sense of curiosity and urgency, motivating users to take action and finish what they started.
  3. Improved Retention: Users are more likely to return to a product or service if they have pending tasks, leading to better user retention rates.
  4. Higher Completion Rates: Utilizing the Zeigarnik Effect can lead to higher completion rates for forms, surveys, onboarding processes, and other multi-step interactions.
  5. Better Learning and Recall: In educational applications, the effect can be used to design learning modules that keep students engaged by reminding them of unfinished lessons or activities.

Key Strategies for Applying the Zeigarnik Effect

  1. Progress Indicators: Use progress bars and step indicators to show users how far they have come and how much is left to complete. This visual representation of progress leverages the Zeigarnik Effect by highlighting unfinished tasks.
  2. Save and Resume Functionality: Allow users to save their progress and resume later. This ensures that users can return to complete their tasks without starting from scratch, keeping them engaged.
  3. Notifications and Reminders: Send notifications or email reminders about unfinished tasks or steps. These gentle nudges leverage the cognitive tension created by the Zeigarnik Effect to bring users back to complete their tasks.
  4. Gamification: Implement gamification elements such as badges, points, and levels that users can achieve by completing tasks. Highlighting incomplete achievements can motivate users to continue engaging with the platform.
  5. Incomplete Profiles: Encourage users to complete their profiles by showing a percentage of completion or a checklist of remaining steps. Incomplete profiles create a sense of unfinished business that users are likely to resolve.
  6. Educational Modules: In e-learning platforms, break content into modules and display progress. Remind users of unfinished lessons to encourage continued learning.

Best Practices for Using the Zeigarnik Effect

  1. Balance and Moderation: While it’s important to leverage the Zeigarnik Effect, avoid overwhelming users with too many unfinished tasks. Balance the number of reminders and the frequency of notifications.
  2. Clear Call to Action: Provide clear and straightforward calls to action that guide users towards completing their tasks. Ambiguity can lead to frustration and disengagement.
  3. User-Friendly Design: Ensure that the process of completing tasks is intuitive and user-friendly. If the steps are too complicated or cumbersome, users may abandon the task altogether.
  4. Personalization: Tailor reminders and notifications based on user behavior and preferences. Personalized messages are more effective in bringing users back to complete their tasks.
  5. Feedback and Rewards: Provide positive feedback and rewards upon task completion. This reinforces the behavior and encourages users to engage with future tasks.

Tools for Implementing the Zeigarnik Effect

  1. Analytics Tools: Platforms like Google Analytics and Mixpanel help track user progress and identify points where users abandon tasks. This data can inform strategies for re-engaging users.
  2. Notification Systems: Tools like OneSignal and Firebase Cloud Messaging enable the creation of personalized notifications and reminders to bring users back to incomplete tasks.
  3. Gamification Platforms: Services like Bunchball and Badgeville provide gamification elements that can be integrated into your product to encourage task completion.
  4. Email Marketing Tools: Mailchimp and SendGrid allow for the automation of personalized email reminders to users about their unfinished tasks.
  5. User Feedback Tools: Tools like SurveyMonkey and Typeform can be used to gather user feedback on why tasks were left incomplete, helping refine the user experience.

Real-World Examples

  1. E-commerce Cart Abandonment: Amazon and other e-commerce platforms use reminders about items left in the shopping cart to encourage users to complete their purchases, leveraging the Zeigarnik Effect to reduce cart abandonment rates.
  2. Social Media Platforms: LinkedIn prompts users to complete their profiles by showing a progress bar and highlighting unfinished sections, motivating users to provide more information.
  3. Online Learning: Duolingo uses progress indicators and reminders to encourage users to complete language lessons, helping maintain engagement and learning continuity.
  4. Project Management Tools: Trello and Asana use task lists and progress tracking to remind users of incomplete tasks, encouraging them to complete their projects.
  5. Fitness Apps: MyFitnessPal and similar apps remind users to log their meals, workouts, and other activities, using the Zeigarnik Effect to promote consistent usage and habit formation.


The Zeigarnik Effect is a powerful psychological principle that can significantly enhance user engagement and motivation in UX design. By strategically creating and highlighting incomplete tasks, designers can leverage this effect to encourage users to return, complete their tasks, and stay engaged with the platform. Implementing best practices and using the right tools ensures that the Zeigarnik Effect is applied effectively, leading to improved user retention, satisfaction, and overall success.

Ondrej Zoricak
Ondrej Zoricak