When I got my first apartment after I finished graduate school, I learned an important lesson about the power of habits.
Several times during the first few weeks, I left my apartment and started my 3-block walk to the subway, only to stop in fear that I had not locked my door. I would return to the apartment and discover that I had indeed locked the door — I just couldn’t remember doing it.
Eventually, I trusted that if I left the house with my keys in my hand, I was going to automatically lock the door, so I should stop worrying about it.
There are certain actions that we do throughout the day that require very little brainpower and happen on auto-pilot. (Brushing your teeth, for example.) That’s a good thing, since we need our brains for a lot of other more complicated activity.
So how can we use this phenomenon to help us get — and stay — organized? Identify a behavior that you want to change, work on making it a habit, and then you can coast along on auto-pilot.
Here’s an example. Suppose you always misplace your keys and end up being late every day because you are looking for them. Set up a place near your entryway and make that your key place. It could be a drawer, or a bowl on a shelf, or a hook in the closet. Put up a sign on the back of your door that says “Put your keys away!” You’ll see that every day, and you will start putting your keys in their designated place. In a couple of weeks, you’ll start doing it without having to look at the sign. Once it becomes a habit, take down the sign, and start working on a new habit.
I recommend that you work on only one new habit at a time. The more complex the behavior change, the long it will take for it to become a habit. But don’t give up!
Try it and let me know how it goes.