“My dad was a 2 Star General. I learnt some great life-long attitudes and habits from him” said Penny Wing, participant in one of the CEO groups I worked with in London in July.
“Every morning I would wake up to him knocking on my door saying: ‘Time to get up. Another day in which to excel’.
“One of his other favourite maxims was: ‘Make the bed as soon as you get out of it.’
“His rationale – no matter how your day goes you have accomplished one thing. Even if you have a bad day you return to a well-made bed.”
Two simple techniques to go from Messy Martha/Matthew to Organised Odette/Oliver
As Penny shared her Dad’s wisdom on that hot London day I had a flashback to a younger Robyn. You might be surprised that in my earlier adult years I was a very sloppy housekeeper. It was my lovely mother-in-law who triggered my transformation.
Molly’s house-keeping methods were far superior to mine. She never criticised my untidiness but I began to notice how much calmer I felt when I walked into her house, even if my six little kids were running in behind (or ahead of) me. Her home was always tidy, well-maintained and attractive. Bit by bit, using her as an aspirational model, my methods improved. One of those practices was to make the bed befo
re I left the bedroom.
As well as setting the tone for the whole day, if you put clothes away and leave the bathroom tidy as well, at least one section of the home isn’t shrieking ‘don’t let anyone come in here – it’s a mess!’ It seems obvious once you get into the habit of it, but many people live with messy bedrooms and frequently unmade beds. (The
same principle applies in every other room of the house – bottom line: put away as you go.)
If you’re struggling, may I recommend you also look for an encouraging role model?
A business application
These simple domestic habits also have relevance in business. What we’re really talking about is the value of:
- The Habit of Momentum
- The Habit of Completion
How do we build or capitalise on momentum?
In a car, think of how much faster you go through a set of lights if your wheels are still turning when the light turns green than if you’re stationery when it changes.
It’s easier to keep going on any activity when you’re doing other similar tasks. Phone calls, email, filing or other paperwork – it’s faster and more efficient to batch or chunk similar activities than to chop and change constantly.
And what about completion?
Putting things away as you finish with them or at the next natural break is a simple and very visible example of the habit of
completion. However, this really powerful success habit is a struggle for many people. Just look at the offices and workplaces of your colleagues.
Especially when something is demanding attention, you’ve got someone waiting, or you’re about to dash out the door to an appointment, the temptation is to think ‘I’ll get back to that later’, and move on to the new activity. The old task is completed or taken as far as it needs to go. The pressure is off. The new activity is more interesting, or more urgent. The natural thing is to want to move forward – it’s counter-intuitive to stop and put things away.
I spent years learning to finish things. Until I did learn it, I spent my life lurching from task to task, with nothing ever quite completed. (Some of the reasons were outside my control but I definitely could have done better). Occasionally I’d step back objectively and notice that a task was about 90-95% done, but the feeling of satisfaction for a job well done often seemed elusive and out-of-reach. Finally I noticed it was because items were often not put away at the end of an activity, or a small part was left undone. I lived in a tension of nothing’s-quite-finished. As most of us have experienced, a sense of incompletion compounds stress and a sense of ‘too much to do’. The common result is overwhelm.
Even after I’d become a time management specialist I still had times where the old habits would sneak up on me and I’d find myself in another pickle. Then one day I had a breakthrough. I’d been working on a big task which involved many files. They were strewn all over the large office table. The task was completed and I needed to head out to an appointment. As I looked at the desk I thought, ‘Oh dear, it will take ages to put this all away. I’ll do it when I get back.’
At the back of my mind a little voice said, ‘Robyn, do it now. It won’t take long.’
So, at first reluctantly, I started. The momentum quickly built. There was time urgency anyway, but to my surprise it took only a couple of minutes to throw the files together and place the boxes back in the store cupboard. Decisions were quick and easy to make for I’d just finished working with the papers and everything was top-of-mind.
A few hours later I returned from my appointment. As I walked in the door, my head full of the new work required, my eyes fell on the clean tidy table. A memory of the earlier battlefield flashed across my mental screen, followed instantly by a wonderful surge of relief. In that moment I realised that, had the clean-up been delayed, it would have taken at least 15 minutes to sort it on my return. And I probably would have said, as so many do, ‘I’ll get round to it when I have time’. Consequence? The mess would have been an invisible but very real mental burden, slowing down the creativity required for the next task.
Now, as soon as I finish a task the paperwork or item is immediately put away if its destination is within arms’ reach. If it’s going further away in the office or to another room I make a pile on the floor and pick it up at the next natural break. It takes only moments to return things when you’ve just been working on them. Filing of both papers and equipment becomes an invisible non-task and your office (or home) always looks tidy.
Last tip: Enjoy the journey. Sometimes you’ll slip up but the benefits become their own reward. Before you know it you’ll have the completion habit mastered.
Advance Notice of Events for Auckland and Wellington:
Wellington: I’m doing two events in conjunction with my Wellington associates, Write Ltd. Book direct with them.
October 9th Getting a Grip on the Paper War http://training.write.co.nz/courses/48-getting-a-grip-on-the-paper-war This module gets rave reviews. People can’t wait to get back to work to start the clean-up!
October 10th – Productivity Powerhouse http://training.write.co.nz/courses/24-productivity-powerhouse My half of this excellent 1-day programme covers in-depth planning and prioritising.
Auckland: Grab your diary and put a hold on the morning of November 18th.
I’m joining with Ann Andrews and John Shackleton, two fabulous high-level and high energy speakers to bring you
Power Up – the 3 x P’s of future proofing your business
More details in a few weeks.