by Susan McCarthy
Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
I struggled a bit with what to call this article because it isn’t the usual “do 10 minutes of organizing a day” or “tasks to do in 10 minutes that will leave your home looking more organized” kind of article.
This is about selecting one, small, specific task that you wish were a habit. One that would create a tiny piece of organization in your home. And this isn’t about just identifying the task and making a note to try and remember to do it every day. I’ve been there and done that and, yeah, not too successful when I have a dozen squirrel-thoughts mad-dashing through my head.
The process described here is about taking a few minutes to create a routine. Really. And if you can do this with one habit, then you can create other practices too, again, in a few minutes.
Like a lot of people, I tend to view getting organized as a project, something that requires 30-minutes to two-hours to work through. When it’s done, it’s done. Of course, until I need to re-organize an area. But, really, a big part of staying organized involves silly small actions that when not done pile up and add to the general sense of disorganization.
What types of silly, small actions am I talking about? For me, they include:
But what if these micro-actions got done automatically without having to think, “oh, yeah, do that”? None of them take more than 30-seconds to complete (and that’s an overestimation), so it’s not a matter of them being time-consuming tasks that I put off until later.
Becoming Organized Is About More than Decluttering
Becoming organized is about your daily behaviors. I tend to think of them as everyday practices because each time you engage in an organized practice you’re practicing being organized. Organizing isn’t a "do it and done " project. You can organize your closet, but it’s only going to stay organized if you maintain it by hanging up your clothing and grouping similar items together so you can find what you’re looking to wear.
But a lot of the tasks that create an organized home and make you an organized person are the little things. None on its own is significant, but when a slew of small tasks is left undone, they can leave you feeling drained.
Making New Habits Is a Skill
I’ve been reading Dr. BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits book (affiliate link) where he breaks down his research into behavior design, aka, making new habits. His research suggests that small changes lead to bigger changes because a properly designed tiny actions is simple to do and leaves you feeling successful.
Some of the annoying elements of forming new behaviors is that if they take too long to form the process of changing for the better becomes frustrating. And then there’s the cheery element of simply forgetting to do the habit. (If it’s a small action, it can be easy to overlook.)
The method described below sounds kind of odd because you practice, or as Dr. Fogg describes it “you rehearse behavior sequences.” Within ten-ish minutes, you can lock in a new action. Yes, I’ve tried it and it’s kind of eerie when find myself doing the habit without thinking about it.
(When I first read the technique, I decided that I’d try it on transforming myself from a fast eater to a slower eater. Within the time it took me to eat a sandwich and some carrot sticks, I’d significantly changed my decades-long bad habit of inhaling my meals.)
Design the Action You Want to Do
First off, choose a single habit that if you did would leave you feeling more organized. Select a small action – “hang up my coat when I walk in the door” is better than “empty the dishwasher each morning.” Work your way up to the dishwasher emptying routine by creating success with small tiny habits.
If you can never remember where you leave your keys, choosing a place to put your keys each time you walk in the door is another good action because you won’t be stressed every time you try to leave the house and you can’t find your keys.
When you know the action that you want to perform, hang coat on hook, put keys in red bowl, put empty mug in the dishwasher, you then want to identify the specific action that comes the second before you do that action.
If the habit you try to form doesn’t work out, you may need to identify a more accurate prompt. For example, “when I get home” isn’t really the action you’d take right before hanging up your coat. It would be more accurate to plan, “After I take off my coat, I will hang it on the hook.”
Practice Your New Behavior
Okay, here’s the weird part. You’re going to practice this habit and celebrate each time you do it. This practice would look like this – step through door, set down anything you’re holding, take off your coat, and hang it on the hook. Then, and this is the important part – celebrate that you’ve just done your desired action.
So, think “good job!” or “woo hoo!”, clap your hands together once, high-five the wall, etc. (you get the idea). Don’t worry, you won’t have to do this celebratory action forever after…just seven to ten times to lock in the habit.
Immediately after you have your celebratory thought or action, take your coat off the hook, put it on, and step out the door. Repeat the entire sequence, rehearsing the sequence that you want to make automatic. And remember that celebratory thought or action after each successful round.
Practice the entire sequence seven to ten times. I know, it’s a bit awkward to think about repeating this action over and over in the space of ten-ish minutes, but you’re automating the action.
The next time you leave your house to go to work or run errands, chances are that when you return home, your brain will notice this familiar prompt and you’ll hang up your coat. (And once you form the routine, you don’t have to keep up the celebratory action.)
Wire in New Routines
Once you’ve redesigned one action, you can work on others during different days, after you see that each new routine is firmly established.
While the process seems a bit silly, you can anchor in a behavior that will help you become more organized when you practice it seven to ten times, in approximately ten minutes.
Be clear on your prompt, “After I ________, I will _________ (specific action).” Then, add in your tiny celebration.
Remember, doing something once or every so often doesn’t help you maintain order in your home. All these small changes add up to the transformation you seek for your home and life.
Sign up for emails from A Less Cluttered Life and learn how to develop the everyday practices that help you simplify and create a better life.
Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.