Thursday, March 30, 2006

Give Yourself a Break

Maybe what we all need to do is take a deep breath and ease up a little. This morning I rode my bicycle into work along the Schuylkill, under the cherry blossoms. What a beautiful way to start the day.

Then I got a beautiful email from Mario Sikora, an executive coach, which I am going to print. I think he is right. And as always, and I so mean this, our Inquirer readers are truly the kindest and most generous and supportive people one could ever meet.

Dear Ms. Von Bergen,
I was reading your article in today's Inquirer about your efforts to get your office under control and thought I'd add my two cents.

The organization/time management consultants would never tell you this, but you are fighting a losing battle.

I am an executive coach and on occasion my clients ask me how they can get a handle on organization and time management. They have usually taken a Franklin-Covey program or something similar and despite the best of intentions they fall into their old patterns within days. I generally tell them to stop worrying about it and focus on things that are worth their time and energy.

Let me explain why: Being in the people-changing business for a decade now I've learned that people don't really change; not much, anyway. It takes tremendous effort to change habitual patterns because they are literally programmed into the wiring of our brain through a combination of genetic predisposition and decades of practice. Trying to change behavior means that we have to create and strengthen new synaptic connections while we allow the old ones to atrophy.

Under stress (or a deadline) our brain will follow the path of least resistance, causing us to fall into the old patterns. Thus, change of the sort you are attempting is a daunting task and I always tell my clients to do a cost-benefit analysis before undertaking any efforts to change. That is, what is the benefit from making the change and what price do you have to pay in time, energy and other resources to make it? If the benefit does not outweigh the costs, not only will you be unsuccessful, it is kind of silly to try.

So the question for you -- what do you lose by being messy and what will you gain from changing? What will it cost you to change and is it worth the cost?

If my clients end up committing to the effort of making the change, I recommend that they take baby steps. In fact, the attempt to change should be so small that they feel almost guilty for only trying that one thing. This has the effect of inspiring them to do more, rather than feeling overwhelmed and abandoning their efforts.

For example, when I recently decided to try to lose a little weight, I committed to simply switching to diet soda from regular soda. Now, instead of feeling deprived and abandoning my diet like I have in the past, I find myself doing more than I committed to. In time, I'll add another baby step. It may be slow going, but change is slow going. In your case, if you truly feel like you'd benefit from being more organized, pick one behavior to modify, the behavior that will provide the biggest payoff with the least effort.

Seems like a useful phone list will be the place to start for you so you can get rid of the excess paper. Focus on that for a month or two and forget about the rest for now. When you achieve some success, add another baby step.

Professional organizers are generally organized by nature and they tend to expect too much from the rest of us. Expectations that are too high lead to failure. Ease up on yourself and you might actually make some gains.

Warm Regards,
Mario Sikora


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm have taken 3 steps backward, and woke up at 5 AM to realize I better get it together before Susan come next week.

I caught myself writing on pieces of paper yesterday...yikes.

Will update you over the weekend! Jamie

3:25 AM  
Anonymous Jessica Duquette said...

What a fantastic posting! I wish blogger had trackbacks, because I just copied and pasted this posting into my blog:

This is important for anyone who feels discouraged in their attempts to make changes in their life.

thanks for doing what you're doing, Jane.

12:09 AM  

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