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a notebook can get weighed down and full with information that didn't need to be remembered for so long, or is now outdated.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.

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