How soap saves the day (and can save yours too)

Design. Draw. Do.
6 min readFeb 14, 2022

TLDR: Think about small upgrades to your environment that can significantly increase your croductivity (creativity + productivity).

You’ve definitely not noticed, but I changed the description of this email. My new ethos for Design Draw Do is to be ‘croductive’ i.e. creative + productive (smart, I know).

Ironically, I have a very hard time doing this. For the longest time, I wasn’t as ‘croductive’ as I wanted to be and I honestly couldn’t figure out why.

Before we jump into my story, let’s hear from some way smarter people than myself to get the theoretical lowdown.

Soap to the rescue

In the late 90s, a public health worker called Stephen Luby headed to Karachi, Pakistan — in the slums of a city home to 9 million, health was last on the priority list for the slum dwellers. However, the risk of disease could be reduced with the simple act of handwashing. But — as much as people knew this — they didn’t do it. Why?

Because, when all you have is a sliver remaining of a manky old bar of soap, who would even be tempted to wash their hands when they have bigger things to worry about?

But what Luby’s team found was interesting — if you package the soap with lovely scent and suds that you can lather and play with for minutes on end — who wouldn’t want to wash their hands?

This is exactly what happened.

When Luby’s team joined forces with P&G to supply Safeguard, the percentage of handwashers skyrocketed. Even years after their team had left, people still continued to handwash simply because Safeguard soap was so much more pleasing to use.

This is the exact principle that covers the Atomic Habits second law of behaviour change, ‘make it satisfying’.

The hardcore mop patrol

I recently completed Gladwell’s Tipping Point — all of his books consist of tons of interesting examples. Here’s one I particularly liked (also involving soap — this has a purpose, I promise).

In the 80s, NYC had a serious crime problem in their subways — it was dirty, violent and downright grim to be taking public transport. As you can imagine, usage drastically dwindled. The people who did end up using it were generally the people who contributed to the overall ickiness and heinous crimes.

What’s interesting though, is that by the 90s — it had all suddenly vanished. Violent crimes in New York plummeted dramatically (I’m not a numbers gal but trust me when I say they dropped).

Naturally, one would think it’s because of the excellent job of the police force, or some new and groovy 90s criminal-catching technology. But would you believe me if I said it was down to The Hardcore Mop Patrol?

Allow me to elaborate: to tackle the subway crime problem, The NYC subway management appointed a new head. This guy decided that the crime problem was actually a contextual problem.

Remember when I said that the subways were dirty? Well, the new management decided that every single subway car needed to be scrubbed from top to bottom (by a group I have lyrically named as The Hardcore Mop Patrol). Any traces of graffiti were removed — and if the vandals struck again, well so did the Patrol.

The dance between hardcore vandals and the equally hardcore moppers continued until the side of good won. Finally, the message hit home: crimes, violent or otherwise, were not welcome in a clean, functioning, well-kept subway.

Beating the battered till its dying breath

Basically, to bring it back to our current reality, it’s all about incrementally investing in our context — our surroundings shape us on a subconscious level beyond our imaginings (much like most things in our life).

Whether it was switching out the soap, or mopping up the graffiti, In both cases, subtle improvements in context and usability allowed inhabitants to improve their quality of life. Incremental investments can be life-changing.

So — where am I going with this?

On September 1st 2017, Amazon dispatched my brand-new laptop. A 16 inch ASUS K501UX — more favourably known as the beast that got me through architecture school.

4 years later and it’s still going…just about.

Though I had dedicated hours to roaming the internet and shops in a fruitless search for an upgrade, I kept telling myself I would use my trusty Asus to its last legs.

After all, there was nothing seriously wrong with it.

It didn’t matter so much if video files took five hours to upload, or if it froze every time I drew a line in Photoshop.

It didn’t even matter that the laptop weighed a thousand tons and depleted its battery life within two seconds.

Nope, it was a-okay that my user experience was completely and utterly sub-optimal — at least the thing was still functioning.

It wasn’t until a happy accident occurred that I realised this fatal mistake on my croductivity.

Switching out the old for new

Just like the Karachi slum-inhabitants of the 80s, I didn’t know what I was missing out on until I got it — and now, I don’t think I could go back.

For me, the not-so-dramatic-but-still-life-changing change came with a relatively unused MacBook Air, stowed away in a closet like a sheltered gem.

O.M.G. My life has never been the same.

Gone are the days when I dedicate an entire day to editing a 10-minute youtube video.

Gone are the hours of being a slave to a plug socket.

Gone are the impromptu wrist sprains as I try and move my old laptop

But most important of all: gone are the days of sub-optimal usability.

Now, I actually enjoy doing work. I eagerly wait for that precious hour after dinner when I can curl up with a steaming cup of tea to get a juicy hour of productivity in.

Just like trading in bog-standard bar soap for the superior Safeguard, moving aside my old Asus for newer technology significantly elevated my croductivity. The habit of doing work has now been made satisfying.

Simply put: upgrading my laptop improved my quality of life.

Incrementally invest in your environment

Of course, buying a mac isn’t exactly a ‘small’ upgrade. It’s quite a significant one. But the effects of being more croductive led me to incrementally invest in other areas of my life.

I rearranged the furniture in my room.

I dug out old artworks and added them to the wall.

I switched up my desk to keep it cleaner.

You don’t know which change will be the change, the one that will get you to change your life around, however small.

So let me pose a question to you: What’s around you that’s stopping you from being croductive?

If you’re still stuck, here’s one completely free, tried-and-tested tip:

I’ve moved my Instagram icon into a folder on the fifth page of my phone. The empty space is replaced with my book apps. Every time I feel the need to pick up my phone and check IG, my muscle memory automatically taps on the space where instagram USED to be — but is instead directed to the Kindle app.

Just the extra few seconds of having to swipe several pages in, or type in the app name has made my life even 2% more productive.

Today’s takeaway: It’s totally worth it to incrementally invest.

Invest SOME money, time, whatever resources you have to make your life incrementally better.

  • Invest a few hours on the weekend rearranging your room if it means you’ll work better.
  • Invest some money on upgrading your art supplies if it means you’ll enjoy creating better quality paintings.
  • Invest some energy in going for a walk if it means you’ll feel better in your own skin.

Think about what’s slowing down your croductivity, and find the smallest way to fix it.

If you liked this, you can subscribe to my email list for letters on croductivity every other Monday

--

--

Design. Draw. Do.

Hi! I’m Noor I make videos and write daily about art, productivity and creativity (the sketching, painting kind). https://youtube.com/c/DesignDrawDo