Having the ambition to improve our work methods is one thing — actually making a change and sticking to it in our every day life is something entirely different. It can definitely be a challenge to establish a new habit and we are often glad to receive tips or tricks to make it easier.
If you are still not acting according to that new and improved way you wanted to adopt, it does not have to indicate that you are not motivated enough to ”do the right thing”, but can simply mean that you are directing your attention and focus in the wrong direction and on the wrong thing. At least according to a study conducted by Gaurav Suri and James J Gross at Stanford University in 2015.
More new and nutritive
The research conducted showed a strong correlation between what we happen to see and what we choose to do. Suri and Gross found that more apples were sold in the company cafeteria when they put a sign saying ”Apples” on the basket with apples, that more people took the stairs instead of the escalators when the sign ”Stairs or escalator?” had been pasted to the wall by the stairs (and even so when there was a sign saying only ”Escalator?”), and that more people chose to switch an unpleasant image to a neutral one when the button they had to press to make the switch had a red, flashing frame around it (read the study if you are interested in how the experiments were done).
Visible means viable
The researchers concluded that our choices are dictated by what we are made aware of, even if we are not specifically encouraged to choose one option over another. This means that we can help ourselves get into the new habit by simply making ourselves aware of the alternative we have at hand.
It also means that we can help ourselves to not choose the ”old” (or what we would rather not spend time on, for that matter) by placing the things we do not want to waste time on out of sight — the ”rabbit-hole-apps” I mentioned in an earlier edition of Done! would be a good example of this.
If you want to use the conclusions Suri and Gross arrived at to make it easier for yourself to choose the ”new” way of working, then do this:
- Think of one new habit you are currently struggling with establishing.
- Where could you put a sign (designed to your liking) that will make you aware of that you have a choice, and what could you write on it? Is it a word? A simple question? A symbol only you know what it means? I have a tendency to start doing other things when I arrive at the office than taking out and processing all the papers and receipts I gathered while traveling, which I at the time just stuffed in my bag. That is why I have now pasted a little note with the words ”Any papers?” in my bag which I always see when taking out my computer. That should do the trick.
- Now take a look around you where you physically sit and work. Are you seeing things that remind you to do what you later will have wanted to have done, rather than distracting things you later might regret having spent time on? You ARE allowed to spend time on ”useless” things, but wouldn’t you rather do those things when you actively choose to, rather than when your mind wanders and you just happen to?
- Now look at your computer screen as well. Do you only see items that make you want to focus on the task at hand? Or are you seeing things that have to do with something you will do later (when you have time) or that you are tempted to do now instead of the important task you actually need to finish? You could for instance:
- Empty the computer desktop so that it no longer contains icons reminding you of tasks you are not currently working on.
- Maximize windows so that you only see the window you are working in.
- Use the Mac-app HazeOver to dim the windows you do not wish to focus on at the moment, and you won’t be distracted by whatever is in the background even though you might choose not to work in full-screen mode. I have unfortunately not found an equivalent for Windows. Have you?
- Close or minimize any windows in the background that contain moving pictures, such as banners, chat feeds, et c.
- What is the first step you could take to create whatever it is that will remind you of what you want to be reminded of? Either do this now or create a to-do-task that entails doing whatever it was you came to think of.
Some friendly hints and nudges
If you consciously make yourself aware of what you already know you will want to have chosen later on, you will find it much easier to choose the new method, alternative or establish the new habit. A small sign here, a friendly hint from yourself there — the little nudges in the right direction will help you make your life and work smoother and easier a lot faster and with less effort than you otherwise might have exerted.
What’s your trick?
How do you make yourself aware of things you otherwise might unconsciously have ignored or chosen not to do, in a friendly and simple way? Perhaps you have a fun and inspiring way you want to share with me? If you have — share!