I wake up each day with the aim of living a simple, spiritual, life. It’s a journey. A journey with a goal, but without a destination.
My simple, spiritual, life is holistic. It’s about applying principles, and living simply, in all that I do. At home, at play, in solitude, with friends, at work.
Recently, I started to really simplify my work life. I work in a regular 9-5 office job but have found that I have been able to simplify this aspect of my life – in some areas. I’m still working on the other areas, and my findings will be the subject of another post. For this post I’m going to concentrate on what I’ve done so far, and what I’ve found.
Simplicity can be found and can be practised anywhere, including the corporate world.
How to simplify at work
The best place to start is with the areas where you have 100% control. For me that was my desk. If you work in an office then it’s highly likely that you’ll have a desk, your own work area. A place where you have autonomy, your own personal empire.
What does your desk look like right now? Is it clear or is it covered in papers and things? My guess would be the latter (mine was). How does it make you feel about work when you think of your cluttered desk? When you think of the inbox waiting for you? Are you looking forward to turning up to it tomorrow?
This was me. To be fair I have always been quite tidy, so my desk wasn’t a complete disaster area. It was covered in papers though and many other things, that I know now, I rarely ever used.
My simplified desk
In autumn 2010 I decided to simplify my desk. I went into work on a Monday morning and spent the first couple of hours clearing the clutter. This is what to do (what I did) and this is what happened.
1. Clear the desk completely – take everything off, other than the computer and the phone (these two items are essential to any work area).
2. File away all the papers – go through the papers and find a home for them, whether that be a file or the universal filing cabinet (also known as the trash).
3. Decide what, if anything, needs to be on the desk – we’ve spoken about the phone and the PC but is there anything else that needs to be on the desk? When I did this I found that I needed nothing additional, other than a few guidance/reference documents that I used multiple times daily, particularly when people called.
4. Put everything else away – including stationery. My desk used to contain one of those ugly desk tidies and was filled with multiple pens, pencil, highlighters etc. I ditched the desk tidy and now the stationery that I use regularly is kept in the top drawer of my pedestal.
5. Sit back and admire a clutter free, spacious, desk – it’s amazing how spacious a desk can be once all the clutter is removed. The clean space is amazing.
Once I’d done this (I also applied the same principles to the pedestal for my desk) I felt great. Working in this simple environment made my work (I’m not going to say more enjoyable…) more focussed and I found that I was able to get more, quality, work done.
Focus – clutter is distracting. Multiple papers and things strewn all over a desk do nothing but distract from the job in hand. A clear, simplified, desk allows focus on the job/task in front of you.
Calm – a clear desk brings a sense of calm. It means you can find anything and everything because you’ve put things away (where they belong) – so there’s no more panic searching for a paper that “I know it’s here somewhere”.
Productivity – by being calm and focussed you become more productive and the quality of what you do improves.
A clear, simple, desk is now an essential part of my work life – give it a try, you might really like what you find.
The next step I took was to use the Most Important Tasks philosophy that Leo Babauta writes about. I’d successfully integrated this into my home life but now took it to my workplace.
A simple ‘to-do’ list to get things done
If you want to know, in detail, about the Most Important Tasks philosophy then check out Leo’s eBook ‘Zen to Done’.
The basic principle is this:
Every day write down the 3 most important tasks that you want to accomplish – and do these tasks first.
This is how I have applied this principle at work.
1. Each day, before I leave work, I write down the 3 most important tasks for the following day on a fresh piece of paper – I put this on the top of my inbox, and leave for the day. I am able to leave work, and forget about it, safe in the knowledge that what I need to do tomorrow will be waiting for me in the morning.
2. Each morning, I do the 3 MITs first – that’s it. Before email, before anything else – I do my MITs. I am an early riser and I get to work a couple of hours before most people (I also leave earlier than most!) which gives me a great head-start on the day.
This simple philosophy, coupled with my clear, simple, desk has enabled me to become more focussed and productive at work. I am less stressed – it’s a simple as that.
The journey for me continues and work is an area where I am focussing on simplifying all areas – some are more difficult that others – particularly those areas where I have less control – but I’m working on them.
The two areas that are next up for a simplicity treatment are:
I’ll post about how I get on. Until then try the clear desk and MIT system and let me know how you get on.