UPDATE 27 November 2020 | WIN!

We’ve teamed up with Pan Macmillan SA to give away 5 copies of Joy at Work by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein. To enter read this review and then let us know in the comments what you think about Joy at Work. Giveaway ends Wednesday, 2nd December 2020. Only valid for SA residents.


Marie Kondo’s reputation precedes her. If you learned about her from click-baity headlines and haven’t delved deeper into her methods, chances are you think of her as the extreme minimalist organiser who makes you throw out 90% of what you own. That’s what I used to think until I read her book The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying up and it truly was life changing. Since that major clean-up almost a year ago! My bedroom and closets have remained in pristine condition.


Recently she teamed up with organizational psychologist and chaired business-school professor Scott Sonenshein to create a book on how to create Joy at work. By each covering the areas they specialise in (physical clutter for Marie and Digital clutter for Scott) they provide a whole roadmap on how to overhaul your work life.


This book is not just about how to tidy up your workspace. It’s about how to put in order both the physical and non-physical aspects of your job, including your digital data, time, decision-making, and networks, and how to spark joy in your career.


According to the book, the process improves performance and enhances the joy we get from our work. Who wouldn’t want that? I loved the ideas and tips this book shares and was so excited by the thought of applying the lessons of KonMari to my work life. But, as soon as I was ready to start, I felt overwhelmed, like I didn’t know where to begin even though Marie had set out the steps. There is a huge distinction between idea and action. As Marie says,


There is a big difference between imagining what tidying will be like and actually doing it. That’s precisely why it would be a waste to read this book and not try it, especially if you’ll feel something that clicks.


Well, a lot of the book clicked with me (the amount of tags I used are witness to that), so I decided once and for all to just schedule my Cleaning Festival day in. Then I got busy and the day I scheduled to give it a go wasn’t as free as I had planned. I told myself I’d do it when I had some free time, and as soon as an hour presented itself, I felt drained with fatigue and wanted to do everything but KonMari my work life.


If you tidy a desktop today, a drawer tomorrow, and throw out “when you have time” you’ll never put your space in order.


Tidying isn’t just about putting your space in order for appearances sake. According to the book, clutter also negatively affects our health. A study by scientist at UCLA cited in the book, showed that being surrounded by too many things increases cortisol levels, a primary stress hormone. Chronically high levels of cortisol increases the risk of depression, insomnia, other mental disorders and stress-related physical disorders like heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.


It isn’t either only a matter of health, it’s directly linked to joy as well. Research shows that clutter (both physical and digital) decreases our joy at work. It overloads the brain and when we are inundated with things, information, and tasks, we lose our sense of control and the ability to choose. In fact, if you are lacking joy at work or are having doubts about your job and career, Marie says it’s the perfect time to tidy up.


Tidying is much more than sorting things and putting them away. It’s a major project that will change your life forever. The goal of the method shared in this book is not just to have a nice neat desk but to begin a dialogue with yourself through tidying – to discover what you value by exploring why you are working in the first place and what kind of working style you want.


She gives the example of a client who remembered her childhood dream while tidying her books and quit her job to start her own company. However, Marie does admit that cleaning isn’t instant magic. When she was working a sales job she wasn’t great at, cleaning didn’t make her better at it, but it made her happier. “Although I’d like to say my sales performance shot up immediately, things didn’t change quite that fast. I did, however, feel a lot happier being at my desk.”


The change that tidying brings about is very Feng shui. Marie says that working in an orderly environment feels good, giving us a more positive outlook and allowing ideas and inspiration to flow.


But more importantly, I think that when we look after the things that make our work possible, we give off different vibes. Our attitude and behaviour toward our clients and co-workers changes, and this naturally leads to better results in our work.


Ready to commit (for real this time), I rescheduled that Tidying Festival and kept the date. You may be asking WTH is a Tidying Festival?


Festival tidying is the KonMari method of assessing everything you own, deciding what has a place in your life now and designing your own organisational storage system.


Marie says that a misconception about tidying is that it is an arduous chore that must be done daily for the rest of your life. But, once you’ve done your festival tidying, the only type of tidying you should have to do is daily tidying. Daily tidying involves putting things that you have used, back where they belong, and identifying where new things you may have acquired belong. Once I started doing this, I realised that although it often takes superhuman effort to discipline myself to do it, it only takes a few minutes that not doing it is not worth the sorrow that reverting back to clutter results in.


If you’re going to embark on the KonMari method, you need to master daily tidying in order to prevent rebound. Marie says that being successful is dependent on your mindset going in. Firstly, the initiative needs to come from you. This is something I really appreciate about Marie Kondo’s method and something that is blaringly evident in her Netflix show. Unlike what is depicted on Home Makeover TV shows, Marie doesn’t come into a chaotically unorganised, clutter filled home and clean it for you. She teaches you how to do her method and then leaves you to do the work. By being confronted by your clutter and mess and deciding what to do with it, something inside of you shifts. Secondly, you have to be committed to the upkeep and know your why behind tidying up. As marie says, “even if we tidy our desk once, to keep it that way we need to stay on top of it.”


Establishing what you’re keeping and where it goes is crucial to this step and disciplining yourself to put things back in their determined spaces is the key to success. In the almost two weeks since Zissy and I KonMari’d our office, it has stayed spotlessly clean and the reason it has isn’t because of some magic spell that popped out of the book, but rather the discipline Marie speaks of. Every time any item is taken off its shelf or storage bucket, be it as small as a scissor or as large as our photography props, we put it back in its place as soon as we’re done using it. Every day, no matter how late we might finish work (We’re still trying to create the perfect work day) we put our things away (laptop, diary, stationary etc.) so that we always arrive to our office in the morning with a clean fresh work desk and space.


Despite winning the war against physical clutter, I must admit that I haven’t quite finished the digital clutter tidying that Scott guides you through. Digital clutter somehow feels so much more overwhelming yet so much easier to hide. But, much like physical tidying these sessions need to be scheduled because they wont just happen “when you have time”.


My favourite tips from Joy at Work


  1. When cleaning papers be aware of the scanning trap. Firstly, if you tell yourself you’ll scan those materials when you get a chance, it’ll never get done. Secondly, don’t replace physical clutter you’ll never look at with digital clutter of the same type.


  1. As a rule of thumb don’t store anything on your desk. Your desktop is a wok surface, not a storage cupboard.


  1. Treat your computer desktop as you should your physical one, only keeping on it what you would need for your day – it’s not a dumping ground.


  1. Don’t let email take over your work. They recommend keeping email office hours and lettings your clients or co-workers know when these are.


  1. When organising your emails leave the sent folder as is, it is searchable and not worth the time it would take to examine each one.


  1. When organising photos, Marie does this in labelled folders (which are searchable) as she rightly says, it is unrealistic to change each photo’s name.


  1. Have fewer apps on your phone. Fewer apps = fewer distractions and fewer reasons to keep it nearby.


  1. In order to tidy your time, stop automatically saying yes and default to saying no. Make exceptions only for activities that matter most.


  1. Tailor auto-making decisions according to your needs, whether its inspired by Steve Job’s automated wardrobe or Tim Feriss’s automated breakfast. By eliminating small decisions you’ll have time and energy to focus on the big ones. Zissy and I find this especially true when it comes to morning routines. Exercise is always the first thing we do at the start of each day. This means before were are even fully “awake” enough to talk ourselves out of doing something that is good for us and makes us feel good, we’re already dressed and doing a predetermined workout.


  1. “Good enough is good enough for most decisions. If you spend too much time seeking a perfect solution, you’ll likely be overly committed to that solution. Even if it’s no longer working.”


The same rings true for projects and goals. Often we have visions of what we want to do or our dream careers, but we stop ourselves out of the fear that everything needs to be perfect in order to begin, when really just starting is where perfection lies.


Want to give Joy at Work a try but hate tidying? In the words of Marie, “Don’t think of it as tidying. Tell yourself its interior designing.” Trust me, it’s worth it.


Our work and our lives are a cumulative result of our past choices. Whatever happens is the result of our own decisions. If something you’re engaged in doesn’t bring you joy, remember that where you are now is a path that you chose in the past. Based on that understanding, ask yourself what you want to do next. If you choose to let something go, do it with gratitude. If you choose to continue, do it with conviction.


Joy at Work was given to us by Pan Macmillan Publishers and is available here. Pan Macmillan Publishers nor the author approved or reviewed this piece prior to publication. Opinions + images are our own. 

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