After reading Marie Kondo’s bestseller books and binge-watching her hit Netflix show, I began to realize how much clutter affects my workspace and productivity. I’ve found that all the piles of documents, papers, and supplies create discord and derail my focus, distract me from my goals, and diminish feelings of accomplishment for my successes. I felt compelled to make a change to become more productive. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to translate the basic tenets of decluttering techniques to rid our physical and electronic workspaces, as well as headspace, of needless clutter.
Here’s how you can apply Kondo’s KonMari method of decluttering to create an environment conducive to optimizing productivity, sharpening focus, and discovering joy in your daily work.
Begin by envisioning your ideal workspace and how you function in that space in as much detail as possible. We’ll assume that you’d like to be happy and want your office to be a sanctuary that inspires and encourages productivity. With this goal in mind, you will start the process of deciding what to keep and discarding what you no longer need by category—first books, then papers and miscellaneous items, and finally sentimental items. We’ll also delve into your digital files and emails, and even your headspace.
For the physical items, commit to discarding first, then tidying all in one go. To truly immerse yourself in the experience, set aside a weekend day or blocks of time outside of your normal work hours. Kondo recommends completing the task in the morning hours when no one else is around. Your complete focus will be needed to get through the decision-heavy discarding phase.
Mind the KonMari method
With the KonMari method, we’re asked to hold each item we own, asking ourselves if it “sparks joy.” While the definition of “spark joy” may differ from one person to the next, the idea is to feel a thrill, a genuine need or feeling of happiness, or of being at peace or content with that item in your life.
Kondo would like us to be mindful of and consider the value that each of our possessions brings to our lives. As we translate this concept to your work life, you may need to consider other factors, such as whether the item is essential to perform your job, makes you more efficient and productive, sparks creativity, or is required by your company for reference.
With each item in your office, pick it up, hold it, and ask yourself if it is essential and necessary for your work performance, or if it brings happiness and belongs in your ideal workspace. You will decide to keep or discard every item in your workspace in this manner.
Letting go of the guilt
Once you fully complete discarding, you will move on to the organizing and storage phase. In some cases, you may feel torn about throwing something out that is perfectly functional or brand new. If it truly serves a useful purpose in your work productivity, then keep it. If it does not, Kondo encourages us to thank it for serving us and then respectfully discard it.
You may discard items by donating, recycling, shredding, or moving an item to its rightful filing place outside of your workspace.
With the subset of items that you keep, storage should be by category and each item should be stored vertically or upright to the extent possible. File papers in as few categories as possible. Group similar items and make use of small boxes to store miscellaneous items in drawers.
You should be able to see every item in a drawer, on your desktop, or on a shelf at a glance. Items that are stacked and don’t see the light of day will be forgotten and serve no purpose to your productivity.
Purge your space of clutter and distractions
Choose to keep the things that make you a peak performer and discard the rest from your workspace. The goal is to discard what you don’t need to do your job effectively and eliminate unnecessary distractions. Let’s consider each category in more detail.
Ask yourself whether you need each book to do your job and if it feels uplifting to you when you hold it. If it’s a book or reference document that you’ve never read, the chances of you finding time to read it are slim. Thank it for serving its purpose in your life and discard it.
If you determine later that you need to read it, then borrow a copy or buy it again and read it right away. Chances are there’s a digital copy available to you and you can always print out the few pages you need to read in hard copy.
Once a document or book has been read, it has served its purpose unless there is language in it that continues to help you with your job on a frequent basis.
The KonMari rule is to discard all paper. In the workplace, there will be exceptions such as original signed contracts, tax documentation, important project files, and other required records. Retain only the papers that are essential and/or required for your position and keep a journal or business notepad handy to jot notes and ideas.
Consider recycling seminar and course materials once the class is completed unless you continue to use the content as a reference for your daily work. Instead, you can generate vCards for meaningful contacts, email yourself a to-do list of action items or titles of books to purchase and type out useful instructions or tips. These actions will document and put the information you gained to use immediately.
Your pending or working documents should be temporarily held in a magazine holder or other simple filing system to keep the papers vertical and avoid stacking. Once papers are stacked or stuffed in a cabinet or drawer they’re often forgotten and rendered useless.
When it comes to miscellaneous items in the office, keep the bare minimum. You don’t need 10 pens even if they were free conference swag. Keep the essentials that help make your life easier and more productive. Cull the junk from your drawers and cabinets all in one go and organize the necessities in a pleasing manner.
The sentimental items in your workspace may range from obsolete to a hoard of dusty collectibles. A collection of troll dolls may bring you joy, but will they make you more productive, a better problem solver, or admired professionally? Ask yourself if a collection of anything is necessary to do your job well and if it should have a place in your ideal workspace. Also, consider the impact of your possessions on others in shared workspaces.
Emails and digital workspace
Most emails serve their purpose immediately and can be discarded once you respond. If something is required as a business record, keep it, but feel free to discard general emails as soon as you’ve replied or the issue is resolved.
Keep a kudos folder for words of praise and encouragement. Unsubscribe from distracting newsletters and email lists that you don’t read. If you are seeking information on a specific topic, you will be able to find it when you need it.
Streamline your saved emails to include only what is necessary to archive and do your current work. Disable annoying pop-ups from social media apps and email. You can also create rules so that emails from a subset of people go directly into an action folder.
Take some time to cull your project files as well. Simplify your digital project folders and the files within them as you have your physical workspace. Just because your digital workspace seems infinite, it does not need to be cluttered. A clutter-free desktop and filing system will save you time, ultimately making your job easier.
Be mindful of your mindset
Mental self-care and clarity are necessities for enduring productivity and finding enjoyment in your daily work. Here are some ways to purge your mind of mental clutter and needless distractions while discovering and setting into daily practice what opens and relaxes your mind.
Stage your day for success
In the same way that an actor or athlete prepares for a show or game time, figure out what makes a great morning for you and stage your life to accommodate it. Give yourself permission to go to bed earlier so you get enough rest.
Need some pre-work time to meditate or take a brisk walk? How do you fuel yourself in the morning, so hunger doesn’t become a distraction? Would giving yourself ten extra minutes to commute to work ease traffic-related stress? Prep for your morning the night before to the extent you can and allocate enough time in your morning to accommodate your needs.
Set your intentions
Kondo suggests greeting your home when you walk in. This gesture may not be for everyone but think of starting your workday as you would set an intention to kick off a yoga class or an objective for a meeting. Walk into your workspace with a positive mantra or intention. “Let’s get some work done today” is a good one. Start and end your workdays with positivity.
Use inspiration for motivation
Do you have a work objective for the month or year? Do you have a quote that centers you in your job? If so, pin it somewhere where you’ll see it daily, or use it as a screensaver. Post your inspiration, whether it’s personal or professional.
Make room for high-value tasks
Take stock of your commitments and obligations at work. Can you decline any workgroups, meetings, or committees that would allow you to re-channel your energy and commit the time you need for your work? Are there specific tasks that can be delegated to someone who would benefit more from the work or exposure?
There may be an excellent opportunity for you that becomes apparent when you have more time to work on the things you enjoy. Be mindful of your use of time and brainpower—don’t spend it frivolously on activities that take your focus from your to-do list and goals.
Mental well-being matters as much as productivity in the workplace. Find what centers you and clears your head during the daily grind. It could be a 10-minute walk, a light-hearted conversation with a coworker, a short meditation, a breathing exercise, or cradling a warm drink.
Take the time you need to refuel and consider that moment of enjoyment as a necessity to your productivity instead of a luxury. By realizing what makes you happy and putting it into daily practice, you will start enjoying your workday more.
Add some fun
If your office is looking a little drab after purging the clutter, add some personality back in. As much as a serene, clutter-free space lends inspiration, a little character will make it feel like your space. Kondo suggests keeping a small plant and adding a “playful touch” to your office. A framed photo or a piece of art may be more your style. If you miss your collectibles, pick your top three and keep them nearby while you work.
During this process, you may feel burned out, but be grateful for your decision-making ability. As business owners and managers, making decisions every day is what we do best.
Go ahead and use this talent by turning it inward to create the workspace you need to thrive. Once you clear the physical and mental clutter from your work environment, you’ll be amazed by the clarity and focus you gain.