The success of Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Uppoints to the overwhelm most people feel as a result of a life cluttered with possessions and commitments. But while there are many resources that help us simplify our homes and our personal lives, the conversation rarely goes beyond tossing out those old pairs of socks or the papers you’ve been holding onto since college.
The weight many people feel from all their excess possessions is similar to the overwhelm most people feel at work, too. Without quite realizing how it got this bad, our days are bursting at the seams with emails, meetings, reports, and interruptions, leaving us tired at the end of the day and wondering what we actually accomplished.
Just like you can simplify your home, you can overcome the clutter of your workday by applying the “KonMari” method:
- Understand your purpose. When you evaluate your belongings, Marie Kondo encourages readers to know their purpose and envision what they want their future life to look like. At work, you should clearly understand your role in your organization, why it matters, and what you need to do to fulfill that role. Keeping that in mind will help you focus only on the desired outcomes of your workday and what is necessary to achieve them.
- Tackle categories. Just like when you’re trying to declutter your home, when you group together everything you do at work in categories, you can evaluate and assess how necessary they are. Make a list of all your tasks, reports, and meetings, and you may see patterns that aren’t obvious when they are spread out over weeks or months. “Does it spark joy?” may feel like a bit of an unrealistic question at work, but “Is it essential to me accomplishing my role at work?” is a valid place to start. Are you flooded with unnecessary group emails? Are you duplicating information in reports to different people? By assessing your work in categories, you can identify the excess work you do each day that isn’t moving you forward.
- Decide what to keep. It can be overwhelming to open a drawer of shirts and think: which of these should I get rid of? It’s equally difficult with the elements that make up your workday. Thinking about shedding the negative becomes a negative exercise. Think instead about retaining the positive. Which things on your plate are critical to your job?
- Get rid of what you don’t need. Easier said than done, I know. But I think Marie Kondo is onto something when she suggests you thank your items for their service. Most of the things in our workday were originally put there for a purpose — someone had a sincere, positive intent when they invited us to a particular meeting, or when we decided to send a particular report. So be grateful for the purpose those things served, acknowledge that they no longer serve that purpose, and then let them go. (Don’t forget to communicate clearly with the rest of your team, of course!)
- Put things back in a way that makes sense, where they are easily reachable, without too many in one place. If you are able to schedule all your meetings on the same day, or at least schedule them in chunks, it will keep them contained instead of scattered throughout your day, causing you to lose focus. Build blocks of time for in your schedule for any major tasks you truly need to accomplish your work. When was the last time you had 2–3 hours to work hard on something without interruptions? Schedule an email block or two in your day, so you aren’t constantly looking at your inbox and shifting your focus on the fly. A word of caution: continue to leave margin in your day so you can be available for collaboration or communication you weren’t anticipating (as long as it’s useful!). Don’t block your schedule so full that you resent other people’s legitimate needs.
Are you thinking this is easier said than done? Maybe your boss evaluates performance based on how busy his or her employees appear, regardless of if they’re actually accomplishing anything. The key is to start small, and see how your mindset shift might transform the culture of your workplace.Prove to your managers that you can accomplish more each day if you don’t respond to every email immediately. Suggest ways to streamline reporting or suggest a “standing meeting” (simply a meeting without chairs) to discourage mindless chatter. When you suggest a change, include a trial period after which your boss can give you honest feedback. By being open about your desire to cut back on busywork and be intentional about how you spend your time at work, you are honoring the most important resource of your team: their time. In turn, you’ll gain new freedom to inject creativity and passion back into your work.
Give the KonMari method a try in your workplace, and see how “life changing” tidying up your workday can be!