Unless you’ve been living beneath a rock for the last few years, chances are you’ve heard a little something about Marie Kondo and the magic that is tidying up. In 2014, Kondo published the New York Times bestselling book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," which details her decluttering and organizing method. Organizational experts can become trained KonMari consultants by completing a minimum of 30 tidying hours and having one client complete their tidying festival. Following the success of her book, Kondo launched a series for Netflix called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in 2019.
Kondo has popularized the art of tidying by creating a system wherein people sort each category in their home and go through every single item one by one. After selecting each item, the tidier holds up the item and decides if the item “sparks joy.”
This framing puts things in a positive context — instead of seeing what you must throw out, you focus on what you love enough to keep. After separating the items that will be donated, sold or tossed out, you create a plan for how to best organize what will be kept. For clothes, this means that everything will be folded or hung up in a neat way. For books, they may be separated by subject and alphabetized. The important thing is to make sure that every item has a home, and that every object serves a purpose.
One of the most significant benefits about tidying up is that reducing clutter can allow you to focus on what’s important to you. So how can applying your KonMari method to your work life benefit you? Let’s take a look at the six basic rules of tidying according to the KonMari method to find out:
State your intention plainly. Maybe tidying up your life professionally is something you’ve always thought about doing or it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve never allowed yourself to truly commit to the practice. Before you can successfully complete this action, you have to solidly establish that you’re really doing this. Write down exactly what you want out of your job/career or make a self-contract — do whatever you need to do to firmly assert that you have a goal and will meet it.
Envision what you want your outcome of tidying up your professional life to be. Keep this in mind instead of wandering around aimlessly. What is the job you want, and how do you want to do it? Will you achieve that by showing up to meetings prepared? Will you achieve it by responding to customers in a timely fashion? What skills does your dream job require? How can you incorporate more of these tasks into your day? These are all essential questions to consider when tidying up your professional life because they allow you to better understand what it is you’re working toward.
What hasn't been serving you? Make a list of what you need to cut out that’s leaving you feeling stressed, or that’s cluttering your world either mentally or physically. This is where you realize whether or not you’re spreading yourself too thin. If you keep saying yes to every project that you’re offered, you’ll burn out quickly, so it’s important to take stock of what you need to let go of.
Doing a complete overhaul of your work life is bound to feel overwhelming. Make things simple for yourself: Organize your work life into separate spaces and check to see which times would work best for you. Administrative, interpersonal, data-implementation and creative sections should be looked at separately. This is essential for making sure you are able to move across disciplines and stay on track.
Take things one step at a time. While practicing zero inbox seems fantastic in theory, it can be all too easy to head off in many different directions instead of focusing on what’s most productive for you as an individual. Once you establish your order of importance, stick to it! If you have to meet a deadline that will impact the entire company, start there. If the next most important task is something that your boss needs, tackle that next. Don’t get caught up on smaller tasks that can distract you and make your project take longer than it needs to in order to be completed.
When it comes to work tasks, the phrase “sparks joy” may sound a touch dramatic. But understanding which tasks you truly enjoy can help you develop a better sense of where to focus your energy. Do you find more joy working on tasks that are creative, financial, organizational or interpersonal? Once you recognize what area you enjoy devoting your energy to the most, focus your energy there and try to take on more projects in that area or take classes to strengthen the skills required for the jobs you enjoy doing. Maybe even consider shifting to a role that would allow you to work make use of those skills more often.
By the end of applying the KonMari method to your work life, you’ll have a solid sense of where you want to divert your energy from and where you want to direct your energy toward. The steps you want to take after you’ve collected this information are up to you. Maybe you want to do an overhaul and transition to a new career or maybe you’ll realize that you’ll need to be more patient with yourself with its time to complete certain tasks. Whatever your findings, you’re sure to walk away with a greater understanding of how to allocate tasks to create the life you want most.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.