When writing my first book and getting behind on my initial deadlines, I realized that I had writer’s block because I couldn’t think clearly. I was never as productive when working from home, so I would often escape to my local coffee shop to write. Every once in a while, I would try to save the $4.75 for my coffee and force myself to work from home, but then would get frustrated that four hours would pass and I got nothing done. I used to think it was because I would multi-task at home, but at the coffee shop, I could only work on the things that I physically brought with me. However, after reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before and looking up the Princeton study that she references (Princeton University Neuroscience Institute’s The Journal of Neuroscience, 2011), I’m convinced of the same conclusion: “visual clutter reduces your ability to focus and process information.” If you are feeling overwhelmed with your business, frustrated that you aren’t making the income that you need, and can’t seem to stay on top of all your receipts for the CPA to do your taxes, perhaps you have what’s called the broken window problem.
I learned about the broken window theory in Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better Than Before. She shares that a social scientist introduced the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention in the 1980s, stating that “when a community tolerates disorder and petty crime, such as breaking of windows, graffiti, turnstile jumping, or drinking in public, people are more likely to commit more serious crimes.” I’m not sure if this is true, but Rubin explains that she finds it’s true on a personal level. She says that each person has different definitions of broken windows, and for her, “messy surroundings are a broken window that makes [her] feel less productive and creative, not more.” Other common examples of what might be considered broken windows include an unmade bed, a messy car, piles of laundry or trash, dirty dishes left overnight in the sink, not showering all day, etc. When I read this, I had a huge “A-ha!” moment.
What do you define as broken windows?
1. An unmade bed (I need it to be done first thing before leaving the bedroom) and
2. A messy desk with paper on it, including unfinished notes, to do lists, and receipts that haven’t been filed.
3. A laptop with hundreds of individual files on the desktop screen, not sorted and not in folders.
My husband’s include:
1. Dishes left in the sink or beside the sink at ANY point of the day.
2. Anything left in the car overnight, regardless if it’s good to have as back-up for kids, such as box of tissues, extra pair of clothes, and Band-Aids.
Opportunity costs of not fixing what’s broken in your business:
Here’s an example of thinking through the financial impacts of not fixing your “broken windows” in your business. Let’s say you can make $150 an hour working on your business and typically put in a 50-hour work week. However, due to your messy office, you aren’t working 50 productive hours, and it’s more like 30 hours. Here are the financial impacts:
- Potential Revenue: $150 per hour x 50 hours = $7,500 per week
- Actual Revenue: $150 per hour x 30 hours = $4,500 per week
- Opportunity Cost: $150 per hour x (50 – 30 hours) = $3,000 per week
You are losing out on $3,000 in income per week, which is approximately $12,000 each month!?! Knowing this now, it makes sense to prioritize fixing your broken windows, even if it will cost you money upfront. Consider it an investment in time and money to become more productive.
Now that you know about broken windows, what can you do about them?
Steps to Fixing Your Broken Windows:
1. Identify your broken windows. If you’re married or have a partner, you should ask them to provide a list of their broken windows, too.
2. Schedule time to “fix” your broken windows.
3. If you don’t have the time or skills to “fix” what’s broken, outsource and hire someone to help.
Here are examples for the following types of common “broken windows” where you can get help:
#1 – Piles of business receipts and files
- Sign-up for a subscription to Shoeboxed, where you can mail your receipts and files to be scanned and stored to the cloud.
- If you have a cloud subscription to Microsoft Office 365, you can download the Office Lens app onto your phone. Then as you get business receipts, snap a picture of your receipt through Office Lens, and have the file get immediately stored in your OneDrive cloud folder.
#2 – Messy desk and office
- Hire a professional organizer. If you’re in the local Raleigh area, I highly recommend Sane Jane. She’s a one-stop shop service – she will review your space during a consultation, provide suggestions of what she would recommend buying to help you organize your space, can do the shopping for you, and then will come and implement the solution. I loved it. She also had a bit of KonMari method in her work style, and would refuse to let me keep things if I couldn’t say emphatically why I needed to keep it.
#3 – Piles of laundry
- Time Management – Only start a load when you know you’ll have time to fold the clothes immediately out of the dryer. Otherwise, if you take all the clothes out and leave them in the basket to fold later, you may find that 4 – 5 days later, the kids are having to pick and find clean socks and underwear from the clean, but not yet folded clothes, from the laundry basket.
- Outsource to the laundry mat – if you hate to do laundry, you can always have someone else do it for you! When I used to live in San Francisco, it was a better use of my time to drop off my laundry at the laundry mat to have them wash, dry, and fold at $0.10 per pound. I was unwilling to give up 3 hours on a weekend to sit there in the laundry mat, so just paid a little extra to have it done for me.
- If you don’t live in a city or have access to a laundry mat that provides this service, you can always hire someone on Care.com to help you. When I was under the pressures of my book deadlines, I posted a job looking for someone who could help me prep, cook 1 – 2 dishes a week, and fold laundry for four hours a week. When she came once a week, I had four to five baskets of clean clothes and linens for her to fold. She enjoyed it (made her feel calm), and I loved not folding. Win-win!
If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and not productive, take a few minutes to define your broken windows. Don’t jump to leasing an office space and commit to a monthly financial obligation, if all you need is to declutter your home office to enable you to focus better. Calculate your opportunity costs and lost earnings and put a plan into place to fix what’s broken in your business, to achieve the financial results you want this year.
I’d love to hear from you. What are your broken windows and how have you fixed them?