Saturday, June 6, 2020

Minimalism in the Workplace

If you feel swamped by hard copies of documents, 21,000 unread emails, or just too much clutter in your office, know that you're not alone. Taking a minimalist approach in your workspace can help you reclaim your time, sanity, and satisfaction with work.

It has been a while since I wrote anything for this blog. I decided in May to quit the job I had and take on a new, similar but more challenging role elsewhere. The change has been, without a doubt, the best career move I could ever have made. Having just cleared out one office to move into a new one 30 miles away, I felt it was a good time to tackle the topic of minimalism in the office and workplace. I have always been fairly good about keeping my office and desk tidy and free of clutter, even before I was a minimalist. In this post I want to share my methods with any readers who need a little help achieving a tidy desk space and "Inbox Zero".

For starters, I have always treated my offices and cubicles as the designated place for work projects. The office is a place to focus specifically on what you get paid to do, whether you love your job or not. With those thoughts in mind, I keep a tidy office by:
  • Limiting the amount of random paper clutter - I do make to-do lists with some frequency. Anything that isn't a helpdesk ticket generally goes on a to-do list for me. Once the to-do list is complete, I throw away the list, or shred it if it contained any sensitive task details.
  • Keeping just a couple of notebooks or binders - I take notes at both formal and informal meetings. Sometimes, I have the luxury of taking notes in a proper notebook. Most of the time, however, I have to make do with a scratch pad or stack of sticky notes. After meetings where I only had informal notes jotted down, I copy the contents by writing them into a single, larger notebook dedicated to meeting notes if I expect I'll need to reference them later. This usually helps me remember information, and keeps everything in one place if I need to digitize it or type it for process documentation purposes later.
  • Scheduling monthly or quarterly note purges - I've always found that taking physical notes with pen and paper helps me remember them better. However, after a few months of meetings, a notebook can get weighed down and full with information that didn't need to be remembered for so long, or is now outdated. I set aside time every few months to go through my notebooks and discard or shred the meeting notes that have become irrelevant.
  • Discarding useless or broken supplies immediately - When I started my new job, I inherited my predecessor's office. The pen cup was overflowing with utensils. A small drawer unit was full of USB storage drives, half of which were not labeled. I threw out any pens that were dried up, tossed any USB drives that were dead, and sorted the rest of them into those with installer media that I could use, blank drives, and drives with data for my boss to review. 
  • Not keeping a lot of personal mementos at work - While it is important for our senses of joy and happiness to decorate offices to reflect our personalities, I have always kept my desk tidy by limiting the number of intimately personal items I keep at work. I still decorate my office, but I choose to use wall space for pet photos and posters that bring me joy instead of adding sentimental--but clutter-causing--trinkets to my desk.
  • Set aside time each day to tackle emails - As IT support, I do not have the luxury of setting aside blocks of the day to check my emails; instead, I have to keep my email open to watch for incoming tickets. I have organized my inbox with just four folders, and categorize all of my read emails into that system. I take just a couple of minutes toward the end of each day to sort my inbox, so when I come in the next morning it is clear and clean of yesterday's tickets and memos. It only takes a few minutes to do, and it helps me maintain "Inbox Zero".
  • Organize documents, but use few folders - It is very easy to get lost in a trap of "Now where did I save that?" when it comes to being responsible for a profusion of electronic documents. I find that using few folders, but giving them broader categories helps the most. In my case, I had folders for my typed notes, my PowerShell scripts, document design projects, my SQL scripts, and my daily data analysis tasks. I did not have many folders beyond that, and I always made sure to name the scripts and documents themselves descriptively so there would be no question as to what purpose each of them had.
Keeping a tidy office has a multitude of benefits. In addition to being able to focus more intently on work, I have found that reducing clutter has also: made my office easier to clean or disinfect; saved time because my notes are always in one place; and made it much easier to clean out my office before leaving one job for another. Reducing the digital clutter with just a few folders has benefits, too: it's easier to find important emails; it's easier to find important documents when I need to reference or share them; and it's easier to keep organized over time, which saves time. If you feel overwhelmed by your office because of clutter, adopting a minimalist approach will more than likely help you take back your sanity. Minimalism helps achieve a tidy office, and a tidy office is a more productive office.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Discarding and Regrets

As someone who strives to make minimalism accessible to everyone regardless of financial standing, living arrangement, or socioeconomic class, I feel the genuine need to be honest about the impacts of minimalism.

I want to discuss regrets (and/or lack thereof) as they relate to the discarding process. In particular, I want to answer one question:

Have you had any regrets about discarding a particular item?

Yes and no, for one item. I have been getting back into a few hobbies lately because I have been stuck at home due to Minnesota's Stay At Home order. The item I have thought about the most since discarding and donating it is a book about one of my hobbies.

I want to discuss first why I said "yes" in addition to no. Yes, I regret discarding the book because it was aesthetically pleasing. It was fun to flip through for ideas. It had some interesting recipes and projects in it that I wanted to adopt and adapt for my craft. And what made me regret discarding it the most was that it had a recipe I could have shared with a likewise crafty friend. I felt bad when I searched high and low for the book for a few minutes before realizing I had discarded it one of the last times I went through my craft book library. I was sad that I couldn't share the recipe inside with my friend. But that last bit brings me to why I also don't regret discarding it.

I answered "no" as well as yes because since I had last read the book, I'd come up with my own recipe that I could share with my friend. I remembered why I discarded the book--as much as I liked to flip through it, not much was valuable to me other than the pictures. The recipes were not particularly original, and they weren't quite "from scratch" enough for me. I remembered how much I liked the book when I first got it, but as I became more advanced and adept with my craft, it became less and less useful to me. I remember putting it in a donate box hoping that it would bring joy to someone whose interests were similar to my own. When I shared my own original recipe with my friend, she thanked me for it, and I realized then that her gratitude was proof that I really did not need to regret giving the book away.

Regret is a natural feeling that I'm sure every minimalist, experienced and new, has felt at some point. It's okay to regret giving an item away or donating it. Items are just things; they're replaceable. If there's a lesson that I would say I learned, though, it's that sometimes I can be overzealous with my discards. If I had kept the particular book I'd donated, I'd probably have spent time reading it on and off this week for more ideas... but I know I also would have gotten a little bored with it because many of its recipes were similar to those in another book I decided to keep. It's the balance of yes and no that can be difficult to find. But talking through the regret of discarding an item is helpful for confirming the choice to discard as the right decision to have made.

Tips for dealing with the regret of discarding an item:

  • Ask yourself: Did the item fulfill its original intended purpose?
    If yes, it's fine that it was discarded because it was well-used.
    If no, it's also fine that it was discarded because it could not fulfill its purpose.
  • For donated items, think about how happy they could be making another person right now.
  • Remember that items like books, trinkets, and anything purchased in a store can be replaced if your regret is so strong that you want to have an item back.
  • Think about why you discarded an item. Ask yourself why it was not bringing you joy when you discarded it.
  • Never, ever beat yourself up over discarding an item, even a sentimental one. We're all human. Sometimes we make mistakes and the best we can do is learn from them.
  • Things we discard are just that--things. Sometimes it's stuff. Sometimes it's junk. And honestly, sometimes it's junk/stuff/things we wish we'd kept. (But it's ultimately okay in the end that we didn't.)
I hope my honesty about my own regret helps others puzzle through their own. Not every item is meant to be discarded... but sometimes when we let an item go and think about it for a while, we realize we might want it back. In my case, I realize that I am content with the other books I have on the subject. What I have done to explore my regret is shared it, sort-of meditated on the item, and remembered why I discarded it in the first place. I will not be beating myself up about the decision to discard it any time soon. It was just a thing, and an easily-replaceable one at that should I ever decide I want it back. If it had been a sentimental item? Well, the memory of it would always be with me, and I could preserve the memory further by writing a journal entry about it or drawing a picture of it. I think it's important to remember: not all is lost when items are gone.