We just completed a major renovation to our office space, and I’m happy to say my new office is clean and it will stay that way. No longer are there papers covering the conference table or files spread out on the floor. I still have personal mementoes on my desk and credenza, but not so many that my office resembles an eBay salvage operation. I have artwork on display but there’s plenty of space on the walls — you don’t have to wonder what color the wall paint is any more. And I don’t have to spend an hour or two getting ready for client meetings. The space is presentable at any minute.
This is a major achievement for me. In fact, it’s a reversal of 30 years of work habit and a life pattern nearly twice as long. My workspace used to be a scattered, cluttered mess. But when we upgraded our offices, I decided — in the spirit of change and energized by my new surroundings — to break my old habits quickly and permanently. And I realized I could do it by following a simple process.
First, I got motivated: I saw the new space with its furniture, artwork, and accessories neatly placed and organized. I was proud of my new area and wanted to keep it that way. Second, I made a specific pledge to myself: I will keep this office neat and will straighten up at the end of every day. I have just the right number of items on display and I won’t add another (plaque, paperweight, etc.) unless I remove something else. These clear goals have really helped. Third, I told everyone else about my goals. By their knowing, it makes it harder for me to return to old habits. I’ve also asked them to hold me accountable: If my office begins to look like it used to, I want people to challenge me on my commitment. I’ve talked so much about my new neatness that I don’t want to have to swallow my words (let alone my pride) if things get disheveled again.
Participants in our training programs often say, almost in exasperation, “You’re telling me I have to change.” But if we never changed our workplace habits, behaviors, or approaches, we might never progress – never find the next inspiration, innovation, or breakthrough. Learning how to make that change last is the hard part, but this process – finding motivation, setting out specific action steps, communicating the goals to others, and being held accountable — will help sustain behavior change just as it will help me keep my office clean. And that new wall paint sure does look nice.