Chen and Guzman became gradually chagrined. After five years of working on IDoneThis, they sold the company to a private equity firm. “We felt like we’d exhausted what we knew to do,” Guzman says. IDoneThis isn’t gone; you can still use it today. But its creators couldn’t shake the feeling that building the perfect system to effectively manage tasks was itself a task they couldn’t accomplish.
“We call it snowballing,” says Amir Salihefendić, who founded the app Todoist in 2007; it currently has 30 million users. “They keep postponing stuff. And then suddenly you have a hundred tasks that you need to do.” Weeks or months later, your Todoist app is a teetering ziggurat of tasks, too painful even to behold. Omer Perchik, the creator of another app—Any.do—calls this problem “the List of Shame.”
Whatever the cause, today this is known as the Zeigarnik effect, and psychologists who study task management say it’s part of why so many of us feel perpetually frazzled by the challenge of organizing work and life.