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20 Jun

How little notes can help us make the right choice

Datum: 2017-06-20 18:04

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.

Do 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:

  1. Think of one new habit you are cur­rent­ly strug­gling with establishing.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  5. 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!