by Kathie England

Back to Better Than Before

“It’s Hard to Make Things Easier – Convenience” is where I left off in blogging about the book Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin. The theme of this book is all about creating habits (in case you’ve forgotten since it’s been a number of weeks since I last wrote about this topic).
Rubin says that the “amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation.” It totally makes sense that we are more likely to do something if it’s convenient and less likely if it’s not. Rubin calls this perspective the Strategy of Convenience.
She shares a number of interesting examples about the impact of convenience. Here are just a few:

  • People take less food when using tongs rather than spoons to serve themselves in a buffet line.
  • When an ice cream cooler’s lid was left open, 30 percent of diners bought ice cream compared to only 14 percent when the diners had to open the lid.
  • 70 percent of people who belong to gyms rarely go, but they cite the convenience of not having to pay per visit, though it would be cheaper, as their reason for gym membership.
  • A subway station in Sweden found that 66 percent more people took the stairs when the stairs were transformed into a piano keyboard that actually played notes as people walked on it.

One strategy Rubin adopted was prompted by learning that office workers spend 28 percent of their time on email. She felt she probably spent even more. Her strategy was to cut out salutations and closings. When a reader criticized Rubin’s new style, she was taken aback, but she decided that making work as convenient as possible better reflected her values so she didn’t go back to the more time-consuming style. (She did write back to the troubled reader explaining her reasoning and she did not use either a salutation or closing to explain.)
One example from my work as a professional organizer is that people are more likely to use their files when the files have neatly printed labels. (That’s why the P-touch label maker by Brother has been my most popular organizing tool.) I first read about this effect in Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern. Though published in 1998, this book provides a great foundation for anyone who wants to get organized.
Rubin found that she was much more likely to use her file folders when they were new and crisp rather than tired and dirty.
Putting a recycle basket next to the area where you open your mail is another logical step in making it easier to maintain the habit of preventing clutter from piling up wherever you open the mail.
Rubin’s final recommendation in this chapter is: “Make it easy to do right, and hard to do wrong.”
Where could you apply this strategy?