The Broken Windows Theory

By Francisco Sáez • August 13, 2012

In 1982, an article was published in The Atlantic Monthly magazine, which introduced the so-called Broken Windows Theory.

broken windows image

Scientists found that what often made ​​the difference between a clean and beautiful building, and a devastated and abandoned one, was a simple broken window. When time passes and that window is not repaired, the building’s inhabitants are impressed with a sense of abandonment, so they care less and less about the appearance of the building. Dirt and graffiti appear. And the more impaired the building is, the less willing to fix it the owners are.

This theory was used by municipalities and police departments of some cities to improve the physical appearance and lower crime rates in some neighborhoods. How? Fixing any decay as soon as it was discovered. And by the way, all this worked quite successfully.

I think the main reason why many people fail when trying to get organized is because of the fundamental idea behind this theory. Entropy is a physical property used in the laws of thermodynamics, and also refers to the degree of disorder of a system. And all organizational systems have a strong tendency to entropy.

It is relatively easy to get organized. Just spend a few hours writing down all the tasks that you need to do but that are currently incomplete, and put them into a set of lists that allow you to manage them in a simple way. The hard part is staying organized. Of course, you need to have a method, but even with some method in place, your system always tend to get disordered and if you are not able to cope with this moments of breakdown, your system will soon become useless and you will abandon it altogether.

Maintaining order is especially important in a personal organization system. For it to work, do not live with broken windows. Review your system regularly, keep it current, and fix any imbalance as soon as you discover it.

If you liked this article, you may be interested in our ebook “The Pursuit of Mastery”, of it is part. You can purchase it in Kindle, iPad, Nook and PDF formats on the Hyperink website at the price of $4.95, or directly to your Kindle on

About the author

Francisco Sáez (@franciscojsaez) is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a web developer specializing in Ruby on Rails who is passionate about personal productivity and GTD as a means to a better life.

2 comments so far

Tracy Brisson
Commented over a year ago

This is a great post. If you are interested in Broken Windows theory, I highly recommend reading Turnaround by William Bratton, the former NYC Police Commissioner who turned around crime patterns using Broken Windows. It has been one of the most influential management/project success books I have ever read. He also has great personal stories!

Francisco Sáez
Commented over a year ago

@Tracy, thank you very much for your comments and recommendations. I've just added the book to my wish-list.

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