Subtle Ways to Help Others

My younger son told me a few weeks ago that even though I’m organized, it doesn’t mean that he has to be organized too. When I told him that it does mean he has to be organized, he rolled his eyes. Did I mention he’s a teenager?

That brief conversation with my son reminded me of my clients who make it their mission to change their spouse’s or an associate's organizing habits. Some succeed, but most end up frustrated. What they don’t realize is that they can change someone else’s habits to a degree. The secret is to avoid being obvious about it.

Start with these strategies.

  • Gently suggest ways to help someone get organized and share your tips in a non-threatening manner. If you call someone a slob, they’re going to be less interested in cleaning up than if you offer to help. For example, if you see scraps of paper everywhere on his or her desk, suggest they find a new planning system or even start using a spiral notebook to record information. Anything will work better than sticky notes.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Insults don’t work to change behavior, and instead could cause the other person to become even more disorganized. Rather than focus on someone's disorganization, give him or her compliments when they make even a small attempt to get organized.
  • Teach by example. If your spouse or associate needs to improve his or her organizing skills, don't expect that person to be organized if you're not. If you've changed from being disorganized to organized, be willing to share the secrets behind your transformation.
  • Be patient and realize that not everyone is organized to the same degree. Keep in mind that if someone changes one bad organizing habit, his or her productivity will increase slightly. Give the other person time to make changes, no matter how small they may be.

Consider the old joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to want to change. It’s possible for someone to change his or her organizing habits, so long as they want to change. It may take time, but a slight nudge, a bit of encouragement and a few strategies that you share with others, can make it happen.

About the Author(s)

Lisa Kanarek

Lisa is founder of Working Naked, a website that helps small business learn various aspects of working from home through “how-to” articles, videos and product reviews. She is the author of five books and has been a guest on Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, and Public Radio’s Marketplace.

Founder, Working Naked