I’m big on doing “the little things right” – pulling the shower curtain closed so it can dry properly, closing lids of containers after I use them, turning off the lights when I’m not in a room… and more!  My mind is often organized as one giant checklist that I like to periodically refer to.  That’s the way I am.  I am forever thinking about the little details.  But not everyone is wired that way.  Many people simple don’t connect leaving a room with turning off the lights.  It’s just something that doesn’t enter their minds as they go about their daily life and that makes it hard to change.  As someone who likes the “little things” done, sometimes the best way to encourage people to change is to create a new normal.

When I started at my current job, the sugar jar was always left open.  I am not sure why.  To me, an open communal jar of sugar evokes images of all sorts of nasty things falling into the jar, getting mixed in with my sugar, and ahhhhhh… But I’m anal like that!  There are good reasons to keep the sugar jar closed though: (1) the sink is right beside it, and you wouldn’t want water from dirty dishes getting washed to splash into the sugar (2) there’s often baking set out in the kitchen, so there are usually crumbs on the counter which could attract bugs – an open jar of sugar is prime bug food!  So how to change the situation?

At other work places I’ve been to, people will often leave notes.  “Clean up after yourselves!”  “Remove food from fridge after one week!”

But it’s been shown that notes and signs decrease in impact after each viewing.  Plus, it’s kind of passive aggressive…

Instead, I decided to close the sugar jar each time I was in the kitchen, even if I was not using the sugar.  By closing the sugar jar whenever I saw it, I ensured that when other people came to use the sugar jar, they would find it closed.  So if they wanted to use it, they had to open it.  After a week or two, I noticed that the sugar jar started being closed when I passed by the kitchen.  After three months, I never found the sugar jar left opened.

What happened?

I don’t have a scientific explanation.  I would speculate that by setting a new standard for what was “normal” – in this case, the state of the sugar jar as closed rather than open – people became more reluctant to leave it in an abnormal state.  By forcing them to open the jar, it also drew attention to the closed state of jar when they found it.  Afterward, perhaps they felt guilty or perhaps they were just instinctively reacting to the environment.  Either way, it works!

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