Way back in 2014, Marie Kondo published the now infamous book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In it, she asserts with searing confidence that if you clean up and get organized her way, you’ll never face clutter again. Her secret sauce? Only keep the things that “spark joy.” Fast forward two years and “Does this spark joy?” is a common question (and joke) among friends who talk about purging their closets and getting everything in order.
It made me wonder, what if you applied the KonMari method to your career? At the core (and minus the folding and gentle arrangement of cotton t-shirts), it requires three actions: visualize, consider, decide. Without question, tweaking her system for your job involves modifications for application in the workplace. I can’t imagine your boss would love seeing you taking a literal whiff of that last sales report or physically embracing your latest pitch deck.
That said, the essence of the KonMari method is about being intentional. Applying that intentionality to your professional life is not only possible, it could actually be life-changing.
Start by visualizing the perfect iteration of your job. If you could keep all the parts that you like and toss all the ones you don’t, what would that look like? (If this mental exercise just had you tossing everything, it’s definitely time for something new.) Think about the structure of your day, the responsibilities you have, and the actual work that you do. Get a sense of the ideal scenario of your current job and how that would look.
Once you have that vision, you can jot down notes and take some time to shape what you’ve composed. The more detailed your visualization of your professional ideal is, the easier it will be for you to take the next steps to make it happen.
Consider Whether it “Sparks Joy”
There are a lot of different aspects that go into your position. Remember that crazy long list of bullets in the job description when you applied? Those different components are what we want to zero in on here and ask: Does this part of my role spark joy? Does this assignment make me happy? Do I like the projects on my plate? As you reflect on the joyous aspect (or lack thereof) of your work, don’t stop at the surface.
For example, let’s say that you often give presentations. As you’re thinking about what makes you happy, you come across marked-up versions of a recent presentation deck. Your first reaction is, “Ugh! I hate drafting these!” Instead of stopping there, consider the full dimension of that deck: How do you feel when you are delivering the final, polished presentation? What about the feedback and recognition you get after it’s over?
If you feel alive, focused, expert, or any other semblance of satisfied, consider that part of the job as joy-sparking. If thinking about the draft has you feeling unmotivated, consider if there’s an opportunity for someone else on your team to take the first stab at it. On the other hand, maybe once you’ve recognized how much joy you get out of the presentation’s delivery, you’ll be able to approach the beginning stages as fulfilling and not just drudgery.
Look through your inbox and on your calendar for more items to evaluate. What about that upcoming meeting with potential clients? Is there any way for you to structure it so that it’s something both parties will genuinely enjoy? How are you feeling about the team outing you felt obligated to put on your calendar? What about it is stressing you out? Maybe you’re overscheduled or in need of some me-time. Push yourself to consider what parts of your day really bring you joy and how you can maximize those areas.
After evaluating the components that do and don’t spark joy, make a decision about what you’re keeping and what you’re discarding. Of course, you’re unlikely to have the same freedom to discard aspects of your job as you are that old sweater, but think of how you might accessorize or adapt that old item of clothing if you couldn’t just toss it. For example, the KonMari method advocates for reducing the amount of words you have staring at you on the shelves. So even if you can’t toss all those marketing brochures that make you want to cringe, you can at least put them in a cool file box that brings you more joy (or at least hides the pain).
Or, to make it about less tangible items, if you truly hate a certain status meeting every week, talk to your manager about alternatives. (In fact, to make it truly effective, suggest several alternatives and explain why they’re better.) Maybe he will be open to discussing, or maybe he won’t—but you can’t know until you ask.
You probably have more control over your happiness at work than you think. Remember there are 31 flavors for a reason; different things inspire different people. So if you determine there’s a component of your job that you just can’t stand, instead of just sucking it up—or refusing to do it at all (not recommended)—consider what other options may exist. Your colleague may be grateful for the opportunity to take a project off your hands. Your boss may also be eager to enforce a “no non-urgent email after 7 PM” rule.
If you can’t ditch or change something about your role, you can still try to find some redeeming quality of even the most miserable task. You might come to appreciate certain parts of your job you previously dismissed as boring or useless.
Taking a step back to ponder what makes you happy (and what doesn’t) is an exercise worth doing. Organiziation is a term that can be applied to your professional life—and not just your personal artifacts. Take stock of your career and tidy it up as best you can. As many a KonMari fan has attested, it could just change your life.