I recently read Charlies Duhigg’s excellent, lucidly written book, The Power of Habit . His premise is that if we understand how habits work we can change them. If we develop new habits – new patterns of behavior – we develop new neurological patterns and in effect re-wire our brains. Powerful stuff.
I was particularly struck by a concept he calls the “keystone habit.” A keystone habit is one behavior that can effect a series of changes in seemingly unrelated areas of your life. Duhigg cites examples of keystone habits creating new behaviors for both individuals and corporations.
This got me thinking about organizing. I’m in the business of changing habits.
My clients are sometimes daunted by the challenge of tackling a wide variety of ingrained behaviors. I struggle to find the best way to help them override old patterns of behavior with new productive ones.
I’m looking for that keystone habit that will create a cascade of change in my client’s life.
I’m becoming convinced that effective mail management is a keystone habit for many of my clients. On a first visit I usually ask, “How do you handle your mail?” Most don’t have an answer other than, “I bring it in and put it there,” pointing to a tottering pile of flyers, magazines, promotions and bills.
Once I’ve helped them develop routines for handling paper and electronic mail, their paper clutter is reduced, bills are paid on time, emails are answered, and their anxiety level is lowered. As they understand the importance of set procedures they become more adept at creating routines for handling other areas of clutter in their lives, and are able to free their time for what’s important.