Want to feel happier at work? Try a Marie Kondo inspired spring clean to spark joy.

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3 questions to help you prepare for the season of growth and renewal.

The clocks have changed, days are getting longer, it can only mean one thing – spring is finally in the air!

Every few months I take a moment to welcome the new season, to mark the start of the next phase in the year. To me, spring is a time of hope, growth and a fresh start. This year we’re not only emerging from the long chilly nights and short, grey days of winter, we’re finally escaping the pandemic! 

At home, spring means swapping winter coats for lighter jackets, daylight for my evening dog walks, and signs of life everywhere I look. Traditionally, it’s a time for cleaning, airing the house and decluttering after semi-hibernating over winter. 

At work, I’ve decided I’ll be doing a spring clean this year. I’m taking a leaf from Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organising”. I’ll be choosing to do more of the things that spark joy, and discarding more of the things that don’t.

Marie advocates six rules of tidying:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up
  2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle
  3. Finish discarding first
  4. Tidy by category, not location
  5. Follow the right order
  6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy

I’ve never been the greatest at following rules so instead of doing all six I’m picking the three I’m most in need of right now!

2) Imagine your ideal lifestyle

There’s been a lot of talk online and in the press about the “new normal”, and the return to the office mandate some old school organisations are trying to force on their people. The one-size-fits-all approach to work has never felt more out of step with what people want now, so I’ve decided to apply a more proactive Goldilocks approach. Instead of waiting for someone to tell me what the new rules of work are, then deciding if they suit me, I’m going to tailor my work life in a way that’s just right for me. Not too much, not too little, but just right. 

For me, that means thinking AND, not OR.

  • I can do ground-breaking work that really matters AND I can have a whole lot of fun while I do it.  
  • I can test my performance limits AND have a balanced life. 
  • I can be my real self at work AND be a successful professional. 

My ideal lifestyle doesn’t neatly fit the 9-5 box, I’m more of a night owl than an early bird so I’ve always struggled with early commutes and standard office hours. I thrive on times of intense work, of getting into the flow of something right at the top end of my abilities, and then enjoying a slower pace while I recoup. I want to be able to take a longer lunch break, or pop out for coffee mid-afternoon just because it’s sunny, or work until 2am because I’m buzzing with a new idea. 

What’s nuts is that no-one has told me I can’t do these things, I’ve just been following the old, traditional patterns without really questioning them. 

As a knowledge worker, I’m in a very fortunate position, I (mostly) control my own diary. Sure, I have to be flexible to fit around client and colleague commitments but I can certainly take steps towards a balance that suits me. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt through working virtually from Italy during the pandemic it’s that office norms can evolve! So, this spring I’m going to have a little diary refresh to build in more of the elements that make up my ideal lifestyle. 

3) Finish discarding first

It wasn’t long ago that being busy was a badge of honour, as if the more hours you worked the better you were at your job, or the more important you were. Everything else was forced to fit around the edges and burnout was par for the course. 

“Busy-ness” is high up on my discard list. I’ve done busy many, many times, and when I look back my busiest times are not the ones where I’ve made a big impact on something I care about. They’ve been times when I’ve been surviving the daily whirlwind, fighting fires and ticking boxes to try to get through my endless jobs list. A toxic mix of unpleasant and ineffective which keeps me squarely in my average performance zone. 

Busy ≠ impact.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that for me, busy is the arch-enemy of impact. If I want to do anything ground-breaking, newsworthy or truly impactful, I have to kick the busy habit first. I’ve learnt to spot the warning signs and in contrast to my last point have learned to say I can commit to doing “this OR that”, or “this THEN that” but not “sure, I can do this AND that”. As a people pleaser it’s so tempting to take on more than I should but I’m learning to wean myself off that particular sugar high to focus on quality and impact; over quantity and the empty calories of the busy buzz. 

value driven business

6) Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

I’ve heard “I hate my job”, a lot of times over the years. I’ve always found there are way more people who know what they want to get away from, but only a handful who know what they want to move towards. Moving away from pain is useful, but moving with purpose to something better is far more likely to spark joy. 

When I have a good day at work or a bad day, I’ve made it a habit to ask myself why. Which moments sparked joy? Which moments sparked anger, or frustration? Then I look to build more of the good moments into my working week, and fewer of the bad ones. It’s not a very scientific approach but over the last couple of years, I’ve become much better at articulating what I love doing at work, and when I find it, keeping hold of it.  

For me, joy comes from connecting with like-minded people, driven by shared values and a sense of purpose. So I choose to work with organisations that promote values and ideals that I care about. In my experience, shared values and common purpose lead to higher levels of goodwill and psychological safety. It becomes easier to work through obstacles together as the people involved can trust that each other’s intentions are good. 

Jim Rohn said that you “become the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. So, choose who you work with carefully!

Joy also comes from spending my time on work that actually matters. Such a cheese-fest cliché, but it’s important to me to feel that I’m contributing to something important, and to know that I’m helping people. So I choose roles with a healthy ratio of high impact and high value work to admin and politics. I want to spend my time tackling interesting, complex challenges, not jumping through governance hoops, or creating huge slide packs no-one will ever read for meetings no-one wants to attend. 

In recognising the moments, and the people, that spark joy for me and building more of them into my working week, I’ve found a renewed sense of energy for my career in change and transformation, and with that has come greater clarity, and more breakthrough moments. I’ve stopped trying to fight broken systems from within, stopped the miserable cycle of working harder for diminishing returns, and started working smarter. I’m having more fun and getting better results. 

It’s easy for bad habits, tasks you don’t enjoy and admin fluff to accumulate, cluttering up your diary and your mind. Making time for a seasonal cleanse can help you cut the things you don’t want to make space for more of the things that you do. 

Apologies to Marie Kondo for skipping the other 3 rules of tidying, perhaps I’ll come back to them in the summer. 

Up for a spring clean? Try these three questions to get started.

  • What sparks joy for you? For your team?

Create a list, a mood board, whatever works. Just build a good understanding of which things feed you, help you to grow, and work towards your purpose. 

  • What needs pruning? (Or, if you only had half the time what would you prioritise?)

Tasks, governance and meetings have a habit of growing over time, what can you prune? What can you cut to make more time and energy available for the things that spark joy?

  • Have you set a ratio for important and urgent work to make sure you’re working on the things that really matter? Are you tracking it each week? 

It’s all too easy to get pulled into the daily whirlwind and leave important tasks to a tomorrow that never comes. By simply setting and tracking a ratio (e.g. 60% urgent to 40% important) you can keep an eye on where your focus is going and course correct as needed. 

Need help to get started?

Our change experts can help you envision the possibilities, how you can make your workplace sparkles joy and help with prioritisation.

Have a look at what we do here.

Please get in touch to find out more about how we can help your organisation thrive this spring.

Lizzy Arnold
Written by Lizzy Arnold
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