It’s a great time of year. Beautiful weather, flowers blooming, and 110 bags of mulch to be spread tell you it’s spring. Now is when we traditionally clean our homes and yards. It’s also a great time to clean up your work and professional life.
Face it – we’re creatures of habit and averse to change. Over time though those habits and that aversion can lead to cluttered and less-than-fully productive work lives. I encourage you to take this week to do some spring cleaning on your career and your professional life.
To save you the effort of thinking about how to do so, I’ll offer a few thoughts on things I’ve found helpful in doing my own cleaning. Grab your mop, your cleaning supplies, and your yard tools. It’s time to get to work. Hey! Where are you going? Get back here… you’ll be happier and more efficient after this cleaning. I promise.
Clean Your Desk
It’s hard to be productive with a cluttered work area. Let’s start with your desk. Here are the things I like to do to get started:
– Do your filing. Yes, I’m a dinosaur (despite evidence to the contrary with my wicked awesome HTML code jockey blogggin’ skilz). I have paper statements for a lot of financial accounts (mostly so when the Terminators come and destroy all the electronic records I still know exactly how much money I lost in the market). If you’re like me, the papers pile up because filing is a pain. Do it. Now. Put them away in appropriate file folders and label them appropriately so you can find stuff later.
Do the same for your electronic documents. “Stuff” is not an appropriate folder name either in your Outlook inbox or your My Documents folder. Spend some time to put order to that chaos. Keep up on it over time too. When you’re done with an electronic document or email, file it appropriately.
– Clean out your inbox. Now that you have a good file system, tackle every message in your inbox. Either delete it, file it, or take the action required. Do your best to “touch” each message only once. Read it then act on it. You’ll be surprised how quickly you get it down to a manageable number of messages.
To keep it clean in the future, adopt the discipline of acting on every message that comes in. File, delete, or act. No more “I’ll read it later” because you never do. Also unsubscribe from newsletters you no longer read (and no, you can’t unsubscribe from this blog because you’re reading it and getting value from it right now, right? Gotcha in my logical trap, don’t I?). There are too many distracting emails cluttering your inbox. Cut them off at the source. My rule of thumb is if I haven’t read it in the last two months, out it goes.
Clean Out the Garage
Now that your desktop is squeaky clean, let’s tackle the garage where the bigger projects get done. If you look around I’ll bet you’re working on a few huge projects and there are tons of little ones that you’ve started but they’ve lost momentum. They sit there mocking you with their annoying little piles of parts and pieces cluttering up your workspace. Get the Goodwill boxes – we’re gonna chuck some stuff (and take the tax deduction too! Not really.).
– Kill stalled projects. You probably have a bunch of little projects in various states of progress. Assess all the projects you’re working on with an eye toward impact and relevance. If the project clearly isn’t going to have the impact you originally thought or if they’ve clearly moved down in priority and simply will never get done, kill them. Package them up, document their current status so you (or the person picks them back up later) know where it left off, then file the project. Be sure to let stakeholders in the project know it’s been shelved for now along with the reason it’s been shelved.
– Reprioritize projects and reallocate resources. Now that you’ve killed dead projects and freed up time from email time sinks, reassess the remaining projects. Prioritize them again and figure out what resources you can throw at them.
Clean Out the Attic
People are worriers by nature. I’ll bet if you sat down for 30 minutes and wrote about all the concerns on your mind, you’d fill several pages. The attic of your brain becomes cluttered over the course of a year with a ton of unproductive junk. Time to clean out those cobwebs.
– Throw away things you can’t affect. We worry about issues we have no control over. The financial crisis? Life on Mars? Alien invasions? (Okay, that last one is definitely something to worry about). These worries take up valuable energy.
After you make a stream of consciousness list of all the things that worry you, look at the list realistically. Draw a line through the things you have little to no control over and commit to not worrying about them. Instead focus on the ones you can impact and determine specific actions you’ll take to address the concern (example: if you worry about retirement then rebalance your portfolio and set new savings or cost reduction targets for yourself and track them). Eliminating worry over things you can’t affect clears your mind to focus on more important things.
– Give the attic a fresh coat of paint and learn something new. Attics can get dull after a while. Renovate. Learn a new skill. Pick up a language. Read awesome professional development blogs more frequently and tell your friends to do the same (yes, that was a shameless plug). Set goals for your own intellectual growth and that dingy attic will get brighter every day.
There. Spring cleaning is all done. Don’t you feel better? Lighter? Less encumbered by worry and distractions? I hope so. Seriously – take a day or two to do these things. Your mood, your productivity, and your effectiveness will improve dramatically. Once they do, enjoy the flowers, the birds, and the cookouts. you’ve earned them!
Got any other spring cleaning tips? Please help out the rest of the community and share them!