Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life

Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life

by Marie Kondō, Scott Sonenshein

Joy at Work is a book about organizing and tidying things up based on the KonMari method. It involves decluttering your belongings and keeping only those that spark joy. By applying the actions in this book, you’ll have a more organized environment which is essential for increased productivity and happiness at work.

Summary Notes

Consequences of Clutter and Benefits of Tidying Up

“The effects of clutter can be devastating. Still, there’s no need to worry. All these problems can be solved by tidying up.”

There are two main reasons why clutter makes us less happy at work. First, it stimulates the brain excessively. The more stuff we have around us, the more confused our brains become. This makes it more difficult for us to see, feel, and enjoy the most important things that bring us happiness.

When surrounded by clutter, our minds get so preoccupied with everything around us that we cannot concentrate on our work. Too much stimulation raises cortisol levels, a major stress hormone. It also makes us more vulnerable to depression, sleeplessness, and other mental health issues. In short, clutter negatively impacts both our job performance and well-being.

Second, having too much stuff, too much information, and too many responsibilities causes us to lose control and the ability to make decisions. When people believe they've lost control, they accumulate even more useless items while feeling guilty and pressured to change. Since they never address the issue, this creates a never-ending cycle of clutter.

To solve this, we need to tidy up. This helps us organize our workspace, making us more motivated and productive at work. In fact, it also positively affects our self-esteem and reputation.

When our workspace is neat and organized, others get a more favorable impression of us. The more organized our space is, the more likely it is that others will perceive us as ambitious, intelligent, calm, friendly, hardworking, and kind. This boosts our confidence and willpower, and as a result, we are motivated to work harder and achieve greater success.

Organizing our workspace starts with determining what items to keep and remove first. The items you need to keep must fall into any of these categories: those that make you happy (like your favorite pen), those you often use at work, and those that will bring you happiness in the future.

Now that you know what to keep and discard, the next step is to identify the best time for tidying up—which should be first thing in the morning. This way, you’ll approach cleaning enthusiastically, and because you'll be more energized, you'll enjoy this activity more!

Actions to take

Tidying Your Workspace

“To begin with, tidy only those spaces for which you have sole responsibility.”

One rule of tidying up is to start with your own space and tidy only the places you are responsible for, like your desk, cubicle, or personal office. If you have a home business, keep your work stuff in one place and personal stuff in another. Make sure also to separate the things related to your work and those that aren’t.

When tidying up, it’s best to start with the simple things and then work your way up to the most complex ones. This will help us become more adept at determining what to keep and discard, as well as where to place everything. One example is to start with the books, then move on to papers, komono (miscellaneous items such as product samples, office supplies, electronics, and so on), and finally, sentimental items.

To avoid being overwhelmed when tidying, we should organize one category at a time. For example, we shouldn't mix the "sentimental things" category with the "komono things" category until we're done decluttering the latter category. This makes it easy to compare items and determine which ones to retain and which to remove.

Actions to take

Tidying Digital Work

“The usefulness of your folders will improve as you consistently place similar files in the same place and keep only what you need.”

Here’s how you can tidy up everything related to your digital work:

  • Documents and folders: Categorizing your documents into primary folders is the most efficient method to keep them organized. This way, it will be easier to find what you need with the help of the folder’s search feature.
    You can sort your documents into three main folder types: current projects (which contains the documents related to your current work), records (which contains regulations and procedures you often review), and saved works (which contains documents from past projects that you may use in the future).
    When you only have three major folders instead of a large number, you can be more organized, efficient, and productive because you don't have to waste time locating files.
  • Desktop: To declutter it, remove any files and outdated photos you no longer need. Instead, store only pending paperwork, such as reports or presentations. You may also create a “Spark Joy” folder where you can store items that make you feel joyful, proud, etc. It’s also best if you have a cheerful wallpaper for your desktop.
  • E-mail: Spending too much time on e-mail reduces productivity and raises stress. There are three ways we typically approach email. The first one is clearing the inboxes every day, making it difficult for us to go back to work after reading each email. The second approach is periodically cleaning up inboxes, which could lead to the deletion of important emails. The last one is to let your inbox be filled up with emails and just depend on the email application’s search feature. While these approaches are common to people, they don’t help remove the clutter. Remember that managing your e-mail doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. The best approach is to sort emails into a few logical folders and save only the messages you will use in the future.

Actions to take

Tidying Time

“The key to boosting joy at work is to spend more time on activities that bring joy and less time on activities that don’t.”

Spending more time doing things you like and less time doing things you don't will make you feel happier at work. To achieve this, we need to address the causes of activity clutter.

Activity clutter results from doing things that consume our time and energy but don’t contribute to our true purposes and goals. Controlling this clutter may reduce our workdays while also providing enjoyment. There are three traps that might result in activity clutter:

  • The multitasking trap: Multitasking has been proven to cause a 40% drop in productivity and results in lower success rates. This is due to the human mind's limited ability to focus on multiple things simultaneously. Multitasking makes it difficult for the mind to switch focus because it involves bouncing from one activity to another too quickly. As a result, we become more prone to making mistakes.
  • The overlearning trap: Many people tend to overwork and over-study even if the activities they’re engaging in aren't aligned with their goals and purpose. They do this mainly because of their desire for recognition and reward. However, doing the things that don’t matter to us only results in wasted time and effort. To avoid this trap, we need to let go of our desire for rewards and and instead clarify what we truly want and who we are. This will help us avoid pursuing the wrong goals we’ll soon regret.
  • The urgency trap: People who fall into this trap are those who keep on finishing tasks based on urgency, not importance. This could make them feeling unsatisfied and unhappy at work. When we prioritize the urgent over the important, we miss out on the huge benefits it provides. It also will likely result in negative consequences. Important tasks are connected to personal development, such as reading and education, upgrading a product, and building relationships with coworkers.

To avoid falling into these three traps, we must first be aware of how we spend our time and then switch to things that bring us joy. Luckily, we can leverage the power of categorization to achieve this.

Actions to take

Tidying Decisions

“Before making a decision, ask what type of outcome will spark joy for you.”

We all make decisions every day, regardless of our professions. If we don't know how to distinguish between important and unimportant decisions, we can waste a lot of time that we could be using productively. There are three types of decisions: low–, medium–, and high-stake decisions.

Low-stakes decisions are often taken without much thought or consideration. For example, thinking about the best route to our workplace or which pen to use, etc.

Medium-stakes decisions are made far more often and with much more consideration than high-stakes decisions. These are the choices we make at work but often overlook or fail to remember. Most of the time, decisions with medium stakes are about getting your current work done or improving it. If you work in marketing, for example, you might have to decide what kind of market research to do, when to change the price of a product, what new forms of advertising to try, and how to measure how well they work.

High-stake decisions, on the other hand, are those that need careful consideration. We don't have to make choices of this kind very often, but when we do, they naturally consume many of our mental and emotional resources.

For those in marketing, high-stake choices might include selecting the line of goods and services to offer or rebranding. For business owners, tough choices might include deciding when to grow and hire staff, whether to raise money, or whether to sell the company.

Choosing which choices deserve our time and attention is the easiest way to start with decision organization. Besides, we must also let go of insignificant decisions, arrange medium-important decisions, and save our energy for the most crucial ones.

Actions to take

Tidying Your Network

“Make your network a source of joy. Build one full of people whom you enjoy spending time with and helping, who care about your development and success, and with whom you’re comfortable revealing your setbacks and seeking their counsel.”

If you have a broad network, people you know are more likely to help you in some way, whether it's an unadvertised job opening or the solution to your problem. However, there is a significant gap between having a network full of useful connections and a network full of valuable contacts eager to help you.

One of the most important points in building a joyful network is knowing what kind of connections you enjoy. The rule is simple: We should look at each contact and keep only those that spark joy.

Actions to take

Tidying Meetings

Studies show that more than 15% of a person’s job satisfaction is based on their satisfaction with the meetings they attend to.

To have a successful meeting, we must have a clear vision and purpose and engaged participation from the attendees. Moreover, individuals should also have a high level of respect and willingness to listen to one another. To achieve this, we need to do the following:

  • Be prepared and pay attention to your attitude and posture: We must consider the impression we create and how others view us. We want to seem confident, warm, and prepared in a meeting; thus, we should pay attention to our posture and facial expressions.
  • Speak and listen carefully: Every meeting includes speaking and listening. If we want to organize high-quality meetings, we must improve our listening and speaking skills. Listening to what colleagues say is essential to provide interesting and informative speeches.
  • Replace criticism with support: We strive for our meetings to be organized and efficient. Disorganization is caused by blaming, isolating, or self-promoting others during the meeting. Therefore, we should establish a rule prohibiting criticism, blame, and unpleasant comments at meetings. Instead of dismissing coworkers' opinions automatically, it's important to treat them with dignity, show them trust, and respect their ideas and suggestions.
  • Put digital devices away: To have a successful meeting, we need a quiet place where everyone can focus on the current topic. Digital devices, such as telephones, interfere with this. Using a phone while in a meeting is also disrespectful and shows that the meeting is insignificant and unworthy of your time. It fills the space with a lot of noise, including notifications and screen tapping. When one person does this, others will soon follow, and the meeting will not be given the respect it needs.

Actions to take

Tidying Teams

“Given the nature of most jobs, it’s hard to experience joy at work if the teams you’re on aren’t joyful.”

People do their best work when they are content and feel valued in a team. That’s why it’s important to organize your teams based on your ideal qualities, including your desired energy, communication, interpersonal dynamics, and purpose. Once your ideal team is defined, the next stage is to analyze your current teams to determine which ones are doing well and which need help and improvement. This can help you decide whether to strengthen or eliminate your weaker teams.

The next crucial thing is developing trust and honesty. Your colleagues and workers should feel respected and important. So you should form a relationship with them by getting to know them outside of work. It's also important to show them that you sometimes make mistakes and avoid blaming them when they do.

When you encounter internal conflicts with the team, accept full responsibility for it and work on improving yourself. This is a far better approach than spreading rumors or speaking ill of your colleagues.

Finally, when it comes to working with your team members, ensure that you only give the tasks that bring them joy. This way, they will be much more motivated and productive at work.

Actions to take

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