The trouble with clients is that they expect me to solve their problems.
Many times when I enter into a new client situation, I wonder how on earth I’m going to help. As I walk and talk with the client and discover layer upon layer of disorder and clutter, I realize that the scope of the job may be beyond her financial means and expectations. Frequently, she can’t even articulate what she wants to accomplish but simply hopes I’ll wave my magic wand and somehow make everything better. I start to feel panicky. My anxiety isn’t that I don’t know how to do the job, but that I may not have time to help in a meaningful way. I struggle to think of something I can do that will get her started in the right direction even if I’m unable to see the job to completion.
“My anxiety isn’t that I don’t know how to do the job, but that I may not have time to help in a meaningful way.”
Recently, I’ve borrowed a concept from Charlies Duhigg’s excellent, lucidly written book, The Power of Habit. His premise is if we understand how habits work we can change them. If we can develop new habits – new patterns of behavior – we will develop new neurological pathways that will in effect re-wire our brains. Powerful stuff.
I was particularly struck by a concept he calls the “keystone habit.” A keystone habit is a behavior that can change other behaviors to effect a series of changes in seemingly unrelated areas.
For my clients to succeed, they must tackle a wide variety of ingrained behaviors. I want to help them find the best way to override old patterns with new productive ones. I’m looking for that keystone habit that will create a cascade of change in my client’s life.
“I want to help them find the best way to override old patterns with new productive ones.”
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 gain confidence in their own ability to become more organized. I’ve done my job.