Why you really need to Marie Kondo your career to improve your work-life balance
Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about Marie Kondo – the new Netflix show, her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her youtube videos. We are in an age of excess, looking for meaning, and it appears that Marie Kondo has answers. But she focuses on decluttering and sparking job in your home – what if you could do the same in your job?
I first learned about Marie Kondo shortly after my second child, Michael was born. I read her book on my phone while nursing. I immediately loved it. I adapted it because I had 2 young kids, including a colicky baby that cried 4-6 hours a day and I wasn’t prepared to take every item of clothing an put them in a pile, which might take me weeks to clean up. But I started and slowly worked through large portions of our house before I went back to work and became too busy to continue.
Months later, I discovered that I was massively underpaid and eventually quit my job and started my own consulting company. As I was planning my next steps, I started to ask myself really hard and interesting questions.
What did I want my days to look like moving forward? How could I find more work-life balance?
If I could focus on one group of clients, which group would it be?
What did I want to do more of that I wasn’t doing before?
What did I want to do less of that I didn’t enjoy?
My husband and I joke that I now spend a lot of time moonlighting as a career counselor. I know so many women and mothers in their 20s and 30s who are trying to find happiness and fulfillment at work. While talking to a brilliant and insightful woman I used to work with, I asked her the same questions and she responded, “wow, you are essentially asking me to Marie Kondo my career”.
On my subway ride home, I thought about it and that’s what I’ve been going for – what sparks joy in my work and how can I do more of it. So far it’s going pretty well. That got me thinking, maybe we could all Marie Kondo our careers – now is the perfect time!
How could using the Marie Kondo method advance your career, ease your mental load, and improve your work-life balance?
As I thought through her method and the challenges we face at work to enjoy ourselves and find work-life balance, I came up with a 5 step method to Marie Kondo your career.
Step 1. As a working mom, What is your most productive time and what is currently scheduled for that time?
We all have certain times of the day that we are more or less productive. I’m a morning person. My prime time is early – like really early (6-10 am). I obviously keep working after 10 am, but by 2 pm I can no longer get challenging, productive work done quickly. Luckily, I know this and I schedule all of my meetings for the afternoons, that way I’m never sitting at my desk at 2 pm trying to think hard, write, or edit reports.
Not everyone is a morning person though, my cousin and close friend, who is a published author of romance novels, writes her best stuff in the mid-afternoon, exactly when I’m least productive. My husband is an evening person – he is most innovative after dinner. It doesn’t matter when you are most productive time, the key to success is figuring out when that is and then blocking that time in your calendar for your most challenging work.
2. Feeling overwhelmed? What non-essential meetings do you have in your calendar?
Over time, our calendars get filled up with junk, just like our houses. We add meetings and more meetings. We get invited to new projects and new committees, but we never take out the old stuff. This seems exactly like the kind of problem Marie Kondo would light up about. Can’t you see her, opening your calendar, like she opens a messy drawer and doing a little hop?
I think the way to approach the calendar is to imagine throwing all of the virtual calendar items on the middle of your desk, just like she makes people pile their clothes on their beds. Since calendar items aren’t concrete like clothes, I suggest taking out a pile of sticky notes - have 2 colours, blue and yellow.
Blue is for recurring meetings, these are meetings that happen weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.
Yellow is for one-off meetings. These are meetings that you have scheduled, but don’t repeat on a consistent basis.
Look backwards in your calendar for the past 3 months and make a sticky note for every meeting (although recurring meetings only need one note in blue).
On the sticky note you want to include the following:
Name or title of the meeting
Length – 30 min, 1 hour, 2 hours
Frequency (for blue sticky notes) – daily, weekly, monthly
Until this point I think we are following the Marie Kondo method pretty closely, but we are about to diverge, because there are going to be meetings that don’t bring you joy, but that you need to attend. So I see this step as a mix of the Marie Kondo method with a large dose of practicality. Group the sticky notes into 3 categories:
1 – Meetings that essential (for example, meetings with your boss, the monthly team meeting)
2 – Meetings that could be adjusted (these are meetings that need to happen, but could potentially be restructured to include less people, to happen less frequently, to be shorter in length)
3 – Meetings you could stop attending – there is limited value in you spending time at that meeting (so the meeting might continue, just without you)
As my team grew from 1 to 20 people over 5 years, I regularly needed to go back and do an exercise like this. Most meetings fall in category 2. Over time I made our team meetings monthly instead of bi-weekly, I shortened my 1:1 with each of my staff, we restructured working groups so that only relevant people needed to attend all meetings and people with a specific interest or expertise were invited to specific meetings and sent updates in between.
I know you might be thinking, “this sounds great in theory, but I don’t control these meetings”, and that’s often true. But you are not alone in feeling like the meetings in your calendar suck up your time and productivity. Imagine you went to your boss and said,
“I’m looking to be more productive and get more valuable work done. I took a look at my calendar and realized I’m spending 7 hours a week in essential meetings, 15 hours a week in meetings that are needed, but could probably take less time, and 3 hours a week in non-essential meetings, that I probably don’t even need to be at. That means that if I worked the 40 hours I’m ‘supposed’ to work, I only have 15 hours of real productive work. I would like to propose I stop attending the non-essential meetings and make the following suggested changes to the meetings that are needed but could be restructured [insert details]. If I do that, I will gain 10 hours of productive work in a week, increasing my productive hours a week from 15 to 25! What do you think of this plan?”
While they may not agree with every change, I am confident that you would leave the meeting having reclaimed several hours of your time each week.
3. Looking for a happy monday? What work tasks spark the most joy in you?
Once you do the calendar activity, you also want to think about your actual work (not just the meetings you sit in). Again, pull out your sticky notes and list each type of activity that you do on a separate sticky note. For example: writing reports/communication documents/website copy (or whatever writing you do), editing, research and reading, deep intellectual thinking, problem solving your problems, problem solving for other people, cold calls, networking, sales calls, sitting on committees, leading working groups, admin tasks... You get the idea. Group things into slightly broad categories. To give you a sense of how to group them, you should end up with about 20 items, if you have way more than that, you are probably going into too much detail. If you have less than 10, you might be grouping things too much.
Lay them out on your desk and pick them up one by one doing a classic Marie Kondo method – does this spark joy? This can be really hard for some people, especially if you haven’t done the Marie Kondo method to other aspects of your life, but hopefully at least 2-3 stand out to you as things you really enjoy. For me deep intellectual thinking sparks SO much join. As I even write that, my body tingles with excitement. I also love research/reading (if you’ve read any of this blog, I’m sure you’re not surprised), and I get joy from brainstorm meetings with external stakeholders/clients when thinking about what we could possibly work on developing or exploring.
Unlike the Marie Kondo method when cleaning your house, you will not be able to put the other things in the trash, but you can think about how to focus more of your time and energy on those things that bring you the most joy. With your new-found time after using the Marie Kondo method to clear part of your calendar, you can use it to do more of what you love at work. Plus, for most people, the things they love doing the most are also the ways in which they bring the greatest value. For me, that’s definitely the case, my greatest value is in my deep thinking and ability to read and synthesize massive amounts of research and distill it into actionable recommendations. If the things you love doing most are not the things that bring you the greatest value, then it’s an opportunity to step back and think about how you can have a job that does fulfill you that way.
4. Are there people are work that don’t spark joy?
There will always be people you bring you down – physically or emotionally. Sometimes these people are toxic and bring openly negative energy to conversations, but sometimes they may just see the world from a different perspective from you that doesn’t elevate and inspire you. Write down a list of all of the people you work with or interact with at work and think through whether they spark joy in you. Once you figure out the people that spark joy, make sure to maximize your time with those people. Then minimize the time you spend with people who don’t spark joy. Obviously you will not be able to avoid them altogether, but it’s amazing how much it can shift your day if the trip to the coffee shop is with someone that sparks joy in you rather than bringing your mood down.
5. Overcome overwhelm and decrease your mental load - Declutter your workspace
Let’s end with the obvious. Declutter your workspace. If you workspace feels organized, clean, free of things that bring you stressed and include a couple of things that bring you joy (e.g., pictures of your family), you will be calmer and more focused. If you work from home, there’s great ways you can incorporate this. In fact, generally being more organized will improve that sense of overwhelm - if you are looking for a little inspiration, check out what these 30 experts say about how to be more organized.
How can you KonMari your career to have better work life integration and be a more successful working mom?
The world is inspired to use the Marie Kondo method to declutter their homes, what if you used this approach to transform your work?
1. What is your most productive time and what is currently scheduled for that time?
2. What non-essential meetings do you have in your calendar?
3. What work tasks spark the most joy in you?
4. Are their people at work that don’t spark joy?
5. Declutter your workspace
Are you ready to Marie Kondo your career? Please share your experience in the comments section, I would love to hear how it goes and whether you have any additional tips for people.