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15 Apr

Do you want to improve your working methods? – Change your environment

Datum: 2014-04-15 11:56

I have made the great­est changes and improve­ments in my struc­ture in con­junc­tion with chang­ing offices or even jobs. When every­thing is new any­way, chang­ing a habit does not feel like such a dras­tic change.

When I meet par­tic­i­pants at my cours­es who recent­ly start­ed at a new job, I usu­al­ly con­grat­u­late them. Few have a bet­ter oppor­tu­ni­ty to make changes in their rou­tines as they do.

But, we lead an ordi­nary life between these types of larg­er changes. And we want to improve our struc­ture then as well. Some­times a change comes easy, and some­times not. When you have repeat­ed­ly tried to become more struc­tured but failed again and again, it is time for more rad­i­cal mea­sures to be taken.

It is ingrained in the walls
Cog­ni­tion sci­en­tists say that we remem­ber things eas­i­er in the envi­ron­ment where we first learned them. For instance, stu­dents tend to get high­er results on exams when they are held in the same lec­ture hall where the stu­dents were taught. It turns out that small details in the envi­ron­ment and the phys­i­cal space work as mem­o­ry-trig­gers” even if we are not con­scious of this mechanism.

The researcher David Neal at the Depart­ment for Psy­chol­o­gy and Neu­ro­science at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty says that when we do things we do very often, as habits and rou­tines, we almost give the con­trol of what we do to the envi­ron­ment we are in. This espe­cial­ly goes for tasks we tend to do in the same place. We do as we do when at work, since it is how we do things at work”. When we get back from a meet­ing and have a bunch of papers in our hand, we place it to the left on the desk before we sit down since that is what we usu­al­ly do when we return from a meeting.

It seems smart to cre­ate rou­tines out of many things we do dai­ly since they then hap­pen almost auto­mat­i­cal­ly and we then have more ener­gy for work­ing con­cen­trat­ed on more demand­ing and impor­tant tasks.
The beau­ty of habits and rou­tines is that we can design them in such a way that they ben­e­fit us optimally.

Neal has dis­cov­ered that when we want to change the habits we repeat most, which are so high­ly influ­enced by our envi­ron­ment, it is the envi­ron­ment we should focus on chang­ing (and hence enabling our­selves to estab­lish the new habit easier).

The out­er alter­na­tion inspires the inner change
Hence, if you deter­mine that you want to work in a more struc­tured man­ner than you pre­vi­ous­ly have, for instance due to get­ting an idea for a change you want to make from read­ing Done!, make a change in the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment you usu­al­ly per­form the task in.

Do this

  1. Decide what work-relat­ed habit you cur­rent­ly have which you would like to some­how change.

  2. Make it clear to your­self how you would like to do what you do today dif­fer­ent­ly. You could draw it out as a process, for­mu­late it in terms of When I …, I would like to from now on do … instead”, or you could write it on a note as a reminder to yourself.

  3. Think of a way to change the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment and mak­ing it dif­fer­ent from how it usu­al­ly is. For example:
    • Get anoth­er type of pen to write with
    • Change the place­ment of the speak­ers on the desk
    • Cre­ate an emp­ty space around your screen
    • Rearrange your bookshelves
    • Turn your desk so that it faces the oth­er direction
    • Ask your col­leagues at the week­ly meet­ing who would want to switch office with you. I need to refine my way of work­ing and I will be able to do this eas­i­er if I change my work­ing envi­ron­ment.” The col­league who is will­ing to switch with you might also ben­e­fit from mov­ing and hence it is a win-win situation.
    • If you have a flex-office, choose to work in a dif­fer­ent work-space from what you ordi­nar­i­ly work in.
    • Change the com­put­er desk­top wall­pa­per and emp­ty it of icons you do not use
    • Remove the vis­i­tors-table and –chairs which you do not use any­way oth­er than to put piles of paper on them
    • Choose to dri­ve a dif­fer­ent route to work from now on
    • Put your phone in the trunk when you are dri­ving so that it is not eas­i­ly avail­able and hence tempt­ing you to text, check Face­book or your e‑mail
    • If your entire office is about to move to a dif­fer­ent loca­tion soon, take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to make changes in your habits

  4. From now on, do the task/​procedure/​process in the new way you have invented.

  5. If you fall back into your old habits, think of more things in your phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment which you can change and start over.

Eas­i­er to estab­lish and eas­i­er to maintain
If you make alter­ations in the phys­i­cal envi­ron­ment in con­junc­tion with chang­ing a work­ing method, it will be eas­i­er to estab­lish the new habits and then eas­i­er to main­tain them as well. The improve­ment in your struc­ture will not be as stren­u­ous as it oth­er­wise might be and it will be more dif­fi­cult to fall back into old tracks again.

What is your method?
What changes could you make in your phys­i­cal sur­round­ings which would make it eas­i­er for you to estab­lish new habits? Do tell us. Write a comment!