En español | Organizing guru Marie Kondo taught us how to spark joy at home with relentless clutter-clearing in her global mega best seller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Now she wants to do the same in our workplaces.
Kondo's got a new guide, Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life (April 7), coauthored by Scott Sonenshein, an organizational psychologist and business professor at Rice University in Houston. Thank goodness the authors don't suggest responding only to joy-sparking emails. Instead, they suggest finding joy by streamlining your work space and habits.
Sonenshein, who's been adjusting to teaching his MBA students online since the coronavirus outbreak began, says those working from home now can apply the principles in the book to their current work spaces and find more pleasure in their jobs — now and in the long term.
Designate a space
Setting boundaries is especially important in times like this, because we don't have the normal markers, like when we put on our work clothes, get in our car and head to the office. And it really starts with that physical space. So — if you don't have a separate home office — clear off a desk or part of a table and say this is going to be my dedicated workspace. Clear up any nonessential personal clutter.
If you're in a space like a kitchen that you're going to have to share, you can put all of your work belongings in a box at the end of the day. Move the box away, and it becomes a kitchen table again.
Add an object that brings joy
I always like to include one item that just kind of makes me feel especially joyful. I might even just move a picture from the living room to my workspace so I can have it right there in front of me.
Add a daily activity that brings joy
Some of my days are personally challenging for me. So this practice of adding a daily joy came from the idea that no matter what happens, there's always going to be something that I look forward to during the day. Everyone's daily joy is going to be different — I like to read a physical newspaper and I like to go for a walk — but I do strongly recommend that people are very intentional about every day doing something that brings joy.
Focus on silver linings
It's important to get in the habit of expressing gratitude for what you do have during these trying times, because there definitely are silver linings — like the number of hours that people are saving in commutes. And just to be able to focus without the distraction of work colleagues coming in and interrupting could really help you get into what psychologists call the “state of flow,” where you're so immersed in your work that you kind of zone out what's going on around you. It's a very joyful experience, and it's hard to get into if every 15 minutes someone stops by your desk and asks you a question.
Minimize email distractions
Turn off email notifications; the research says that when you have a distraction like that it could take as much as 26 minutes to return to where your brain left off. Then a few times a day you can check your email. Do it in batches, in an efficient way, and that tends to allow you to focus and make the most out of your non-email time.
You can tell the people you work with they can contact you with a phone call or text message when something is urgent. But “urgent” should have a pretty high standard, like, We need to hear from you within the hour.
Learn what's necessary for your job
There's probably a lot of stuff that we do on a day-to-day basis at work that probably isn't worth doing for a variety of reasons. For instance, I think what we're seeing right now with people working from home is that a lot of recurring meetings, which are so easy to schedule because of digital technology, are simply being replaced by a five-minute email.
If we can take those learnings when we come out of this crisis and go back to the office, and not return to some of these practices — like when we just have meetings because every week we've always had them, even if we have nothing to talk about — and focus on what's really essential to getting things done, we can work more joyfully.
Find joy in your daily tasks
There's an exercise in the book that involves writing down each of your job's tasks on an index card, then evaluating them in terms of how they relate to your ideal work life. I think a lot of people who go through this exercise are going to learn that there are changes that they want to make to their jobs, and some, in the later stages of their work lives, are going to say, I fell short of what I really wanted to get out of my career. But it's not too late to make a change.
Most people are going to spend just short of 100,000 hours in their careers working. That's a lot of time to be doing something that doesn't bring you joy.