The other day my 3 year old boy, Camden, spent about 20 minutes putting together a floor sized puzzle of a bright green  snarling, tyrannosaurus rex. This in itself was amazing because he is similar to many other 3 year old boys and has the attention span of T minus 3,..2,..1,.. blastoff to the next experience. He is normally flitting from activity to activity attempting to leave a small trail of destruction and newly uninteresting toys in his wake. Today was unique for a different reason though; After he finished putting it together he showed off his puzzle  and then…. HE CLEANED IT UP (Loud dramatic movie sound effects follow).

Ok now this probably doesn’t seem that amazing to most people reading this, but let me give you some backstory: We had been working with him since before he could put anything away on his own, trying to make sure that he picks up the  things he gets out or plays with. This is the very first time he did it by himself with no prompting from us. He just finished playing and cleaned it up and put the puzzle box back on the shelf by himself. You may still be asking what the big deal is. This probably means you have perfect kids that have been cleaning their rooms, knitting small hats with unnecessary gloves for your pets, and learning how to conjugate verbs in another language since they were 18 months old, but for myself and my wife, this was a big win.

As the novelty wore off I realized just how much there was buried in this very small life event. All of the preparation and discipline to build this routine and habit are the same as what goes into building great habits and routines in both your career and your personal growth. Whether it be networking, developing great meeting habits, personal organization, or any number of other behaviors that can help your career or self development, here are some ways to make them into routine.

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  • Use an accountability partner

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If you have ever spent any amount of time working out at a gym you have probably heard about the personal trainer that is available there. You have probably also heard a number of people who will tell you that working out with a personal trainer is more effective than working out alone. Is it their mass amount of knowledge and doctorate in “personal trainer science” that makes all the difference? Probably not. It is many times the accountability and different behaviors that you will exhibit if someone else is involved. (although for the benefit of any personal trainers that may have just stopped reading this blog one sentence ago, I will admit that having someone who knows what they are doing does help too!)

Maybe you are a new manager working on building relationships with a new team, or maybe you are someone who is trying to expose yourself to new companies by participating in networking events, either way, get someone else who you trust involved in the process. Ask them to hold you accountable on a regular basis (usually weekly is a great way to go for most habits) this can be as simple as having a recurring 10 minute phone meeting with that person to check in and update them on your progress for the week. This has to be someone that is willing to kick your behind (out of concern for you) if you don’t live up to your end of the bargain.

In Camden’s case, he had a built in accountability partner whether he liked it or not, to make sure he was exhibiting the right behaviors. The concept and the end result are the same though. He eventually started to clean up after himself after continuously working to integrate it into regular behavior. As with many other things, it is often the simple principles that are most effective.

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  • Make it a part of your day: Put it on the calendar

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This one sounds obvious right? Many people still don’t do it. With Camden, we would have weekly and nightly chores to make sure we did not miss opportunities to build his routine of cleaning up. We wrote up what was happening when and put it on the fridge and put pictures for each chore so it made sense to him. That way it was a part of his and our lives and we couldn’t ignore it.

 If you want to integrate something into your routine put it on the calendar. I did this with pieces of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” system to integrate good habits into my world and create headspace for innovation and creativity. Another time this came in handy was transitioning careers and companies. Thinking about what you will do ahead of time allows for maximum focus when the time comes to actually do it. I use outlook for my work calendars and gmail for my personal calendars. On both of these I will often put an agenda or notes or a cheat sheet in the body area, that way when the time comes to do whatever it is, I do not have to spend any time rethinking about the activity. Instead I can review the calendar item and move right to action.

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  • Surround yourself with encouragement

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When we first started having Camden clean up his toys or anything else for that matter, here is how it went: He would put one tiny toy away and we would be jumping up and down clapping and shouting “Great job!” and “You are a rock star room cleaner” and then… we would end up putting every other toy in the room away. That is how it begins, then slowly over time he started really contributing to the success of his room cleaning endeavors, right up until the apex where apparently he just thought it was a part of the process.

You can do this too without having to get your parents on speaker phone for commentary on your rockstar status as an inbox “cleaner outer”. Instead choose to share your wins with others who will provide encouragement when you are doing the right things. I used to go for a run during lunch with another guy who was a fairly positive person and he would often provide encouraging words when things that I was working on were going right. This was extremely helpful to reinforce any behaviors I was working on at the time.

You can also do this by providing encouragement for others, you will find that when you establish this as part of the relationship it will often come back to you. Camden, for the longest time would burst into applause when I would put my socks and shirts away in my closet. See!… Encouragement often reciprocates.

The real moral of this story is that no matter where you look you can find ways that fit into your own life to continue to develop yourself. This is an important part of your continuing career no matter what your role and more importantly, with a little help in the right places it can be so simple that a 3 year old can do it