Cluttered Personal and Professional Lives
It’s easy for a small business to become overwhelmed with blocking-and-tackling tactics and unable to focus on strategic initiatives. The to-do list is almost endless and can become paralyzing. A recent survey finds the average worker spends less than half their time on their primary job function. The rest of the time is spent on meetings, administrative work, answering calls, and other tasks.
This creates immense pressure on small business leaders who are under pressure to perform, and time is one of the biggest challenges. A study conducted by Sage found that almost half work 40 to 60 hours per week, with 16 percent working more than 60.
The impact of having a “cluttered” professional life also impacts the personal lives of small business leaders. A recent survey by Simply Business reveals:
- Half cancel social plans once a week
- One-quarter take less than 10 days of annual leave
- 25 percent have fallen ill due to stress and overwork
Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizational consultant, maintains that our lives are filled with too much noise and clutter. In a short and succinct book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, she asserts that individuals can transform their lives by eliminating the clutter in their lives. The approach she advocates is relatively simple. First, identify everything you own and ask if it sparks joy and, if it doesn’t get rid of it. Second, once you’ve pared the list down to your most joy-giving belongings, make sure those items are visible, accessible, and easy to grab and put back.
Decluttering Your Business
Businesses can become cluttered quickly and easily. Just as it is difficult for an individual with a cluttered personal life to prioritize, remained focused, and stay productive, so is the case for cluttered businesses. The following are some of the ways businesses can declutter so that they can focus on what really matters:
- Tackling Categories. When we do attempt to organize our homes or businesses, we tackle the undertaking room by room—garage, then kitchen, then a bedroom, and so forth. Kondo argues that we should tidy by category—all books at once, all your tools at the same time, etc. This helps keep the undertaking from being overwhelming and from creeping from one room to the next. She also recommends that you start with a category where there is the least amount of emotion such as clothing. In the case of businesses, starting with something that is not specific to your product, service, customers would be advisable (e.g., accounting). You may also want to break down those down into smaller categories; for example, rather than taking everything related to service, you may want to look at voice calls only.
- Respect Your Stuff. Some of the things that we do as businesses are pushed into a corner or squashed into a pile like clothing in a closet. Just as Kondo argues that people need to respect the “feelings” of their stuff, businesses need to heed the feelings of all their different functions—accounting, marketing, sales, merchandising, and so forth—and take great pride in executing each to its fullest potential. Sometimes, this might mean that you need to outsource it to an expect third party instead of trying to manage it yourself.
- Avoid Nostalgia. Simply because we keep things as individuals because of the emotional connections we feel with them, this doesn’t always justify hanging onto those things. And businesses do the same. We keep doing things the same way as we always have done or we stay the course with a product or service offering, technology, or process when a change in direction is necessitated.
- Joy of Letting Go. Deciding to get go of certain things provides individuals—and businesses—with a purging that lightens their load and helps them focus on what is truly important. This happened to TIRO Communications a couple years ago. Originally, the first product offering of the company was a B2C publication focused on backroad history in the U.S. And while we developed some great content, the entry point for the publication and the ability to sell advertising proved too steep. Instead, we pivoted the company to align with our business experience and background around content, customer, advocacy, and demand-gen marketing. Leaving behind the nostalgia of the magazine cleared a completely new path for the company.
- Make Things Visible. Kondo uses a vertical folding technique for clothing that makes it easy to spot and hard to mess up. The same should be true of technologies and business workflows and processes. They need to be easy to find. Indeed, in rare instances, are complex solutions something small businesses should consider. Additionally, you need to be able to demonstrate a tangible value due to the technology or process—and you should make that visible to the entire organization. If there is no ROI, then Kondo would claim that you have no joy in the technology or process and should discard it.
- Discover What Matters. Excising the things that are peripheral or don’t matter to your business enables you to focus on what really matters. It makes you appreciate what you do, enables you to identify gaps that you need to fill, and brings much clarity in terms of vision and mission.
Where to Start?
Perhaps the best place to start in decluttering your business is to start with your own workspace and computer. Throw away all the things on your desk such as scraps of paper, sticky notes, and other things that you no longer need. In the case of those things you do want to keep, make sure you have a filing cabinet and you organize them so they can be found and used. In the case of your computer, get rid of the files that you don’t use and create folders and subfolders for email attachments, photographs, PDF files, and other documents.