For a while now, the world has been buzzing with a new trend: minimalism.
It’s spreading through households, thanks to Marie Kondo, and slowly now to wardrobes with a rising trend towards “slow fashion.” Wherever you may be on your minimalist journey, there’s a ton of insight to glean from the practice of this philosophy.
Becoming minimalist can not only create a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle, but there are always ways minimalism can also positively impact productivity in the workplace.
First of all, what is minimalism? And why should you consider becoming minimalist? Joshua Becker answers this question concisely by explaining, “I am intentionally trying to live with only the things I really need.”
To put it another way, minimalism involves clarity of purpose, and this purpose drives the choices we make, choices to reduce what we have, what we pay attention to, and what we do to only what is essential to us. Applied in our lives, minimalism can help us spend less money, reduce stress in our lives, gives us more freedom, and increase happiness, among many another other benefits. The general driving principle behind minimalism is that, by removing everything we don’t need from our lives, we can better redirect our time, resources, and attention to maximize the areas of our lives that genuinely bring us joy.
Because minimalism can so often be influenced by our personal values, it will, in reality, look different from person to person. What’s important is that your own approach minimalism fits your own goals, wants, and needs. Much like you can apply minimalism to your home and wardrobe, there are also ways becoming minimalist in your work and career can help you be more productive and reduce stress in your everyday life.
Minimize distractions at your desk by keeping it tidy
Personally, when my desk is littered with sticky notes, papers, and pens, it’s difficult for me to concentrate, find the right documents, or simply find space when I need to open a notebook or planner. I take time at the end of every workday to organize my deskspace, replacing pens to their holders, putting away my notes to their labeled folders, and clearing away trash or paper I no longer need.
Repeating this ritual at the end of the day also ensures that I have a clean slate to work from the next morning. If your daily work involves taking a lot of notes or keeping numerous documents organize, you try keeping it all in a binder like this one and use simple dividers or tabs to keep everything inside organized.
A habit that takes five minutes at the most saves me so much time because having a clean desk helps me focus on the task at hand rather than a distractingly messy desk.
If you want to take this minimalist approach one step further, you can try decluttering your desk. Trying to take decluttering the entirety of your desk all at once may see overwhelming, so it may be helpful to simply set aside 10 minutes at the end of every week to tackle one decluttering task at a time. You can spend these 10-minute intervals completing a small task, such as:
- Scanning important paper documents you’ve accumulated over the week, and then shredding them
- Collecting all of your pens, pencils, and accessories, and donating the ones you no longer need;
- Wiping down the surfaces of your desk and your monitor (here’s a cute and handy cleaning kit you can store right at your desk!)
- Going through your e-mail inbox and filing away the messages related to tasks you’ve already completed. Decluttering your digital space can be just as helpful as declutting your physical space! I like to sort my inbox by project (for example, you can use a client name), and then I have folders labeled, “Answered,” “To Do,” as well as “Miscellaneous.” Be ruthless and simply delete any email that doesn’t contain any important or relevant information.
Remove your cell phone from sight
Another way to minimize distraction at your desk is removing your cell phone from your sight. One study has shown that simply hearing your cell phone or feeling it buzz can actually increase rates of errors made to the same rate as when a person actually answers a text message or a call.
I had a coworker suggest locking it away in a drawer to completely vanquish the temptation of checking it every ten minutes. If locking your cell phone away seems too extreme of a step to take, you can try putting your phone on silent or on the “Do Not Disturb” mode, and then placing it out of sight where you can’t see it beginning with short lengths of time at first time. Having your cell phone out of sight and out of sight will do wonders for your focus and your productivity at work.
You can also use apps like Freedom or Self Control to help you work distraction free; these apps allow users to block selected websites (like social media or Netflix) while you’re working so you can redirect your attention and time back to the more urgent tasks at hand.
If your own coworkers are the culprit when it comes to distractions, you can set healthy, polite boundaries with them by communicating tactfully ahead of time or by asking them to summarize their requests in an email you can read later.
For instance, if you need to set aside a large block of uninterrupted time, you can preemptively communicate to your coworker: “I’m hoping to set aside the next two hours to complete the rest of this project. It would be really helpful if I can work without interruptions from 10 AM to noon. I would love to talk to you about your trip to Switzerland at lunch! If you have an urgent request, email is the best way to reach me until noon. Thank you.”
According to The American Psychological Association, multitasking actually takes a toll on productivity; it takes significant mental energy to switch from one task to another.
The minimalist approach to this obstacle is simply to try your best to focus on one task at time.
Although it may seem counterproductive because so many of our workplaces demand the ability to multitask, focusing on one task at a time can reduce error and actually help us complete tasks faster.
You can try this strategy, called batching, by first categorizing your tasks. After that, you can block out time in your schedule in advance to complete those tasks one at time later in your week. You can read more here about how you can use time blocking as another strategy to further streamline your workflow. For example, as a social media manager, a person can schedule two hours on one day just taking photographs, and then spend another two hours another day writing copy distraction free.
Lastly, if multitasking is the norm in your workplace, it may also be helpful to communicate with your coworkers and boss ahead of them so they know what to expect from your as you test out this new workflow. Here’s a example of an email you use to inform your coworkers about your desire to reduce multitasking in your day-to-day work schedule:
In the interest of trying to be as productive as possible, I’m trying to move towards a new strategy wherein I reduce the need to multitask in my daily schedule. There are several studies that indicate that multitasking may actually reduce productivity. For example, the APA cites the cognitive “switching costs” associated with constantly alternating between many different tasks. I wanted to let you know ahead of time, as it would be helpful for me to be able to block out my schedule in advance so that I can make sure I prioritize the most important things we need done this week. I really appreciate your understanding, and I’m more than happy to talk about my organization strategy with you in person if you’re curious.”
Whether you communicate it by e-mail or in person, setting expectations ahead of time will allow others to adjust their workflow around you.
These are only a few ways you can apply a minimalist approach to your workplace to reap its many rewards. As you are delving into becoming minimalist, it is normal to feel discouraged at first: the results may not be immediate, and practicing a brand new lifestyle can feel awkward, like trying on a new shoe that needs to be broken in. However, with consistency and persistence, the benefits of minimalism are plentiful.
It is your choice how you approach becoming minimalist, but the many rewards of it can be profound not just on an individual level, but also on a societal and even global scale.