The phenomenon caused by organizer extraordinaire Marie Kondo has swept the country with millions of people emptying out their closets, delicately folding their favorite outfits, and tossing (while mindfully thanking) the items that don’t “spark joy.” I’m one of those people, having bought both of her books, binge-watched her Netflix series, and raised eyebrows from my husband at the bags of stuff I’ve emptied out of our home. And while homes around the world including mine are benefiting from Kondo’s Shinto-inspired decluttering strategy, the same methods can be taken to somewhere a bit more unexpected: your professional network.
Like a home, your professional network needs attention and a bit of cleaning up every now and then. Just like your home accumulates objects and trinkets over the years, your professional network expands as you move from role to role (or in some cases even change industries). While many professionals might think having a larger network always opens more doors, “downsizing” your LinkedIn network can actually have tremendous benefits if you’re ever looking for a new role, exploring different companies, or looking for a career shift entirely, and want to tap into your network for help. That said, let’s get started on rethinking your LinkedIn network, the Marie Kondo way!
Step 1: Envision what you want to see
The first thing is to visualize the professional life you want in the coming year, so you have a clear idea and a vision. If you have a clear goal, you have an idea of where you want to be and what you want to attain at the end of the process. Whether you’re looking to join a larger company, making the transition from one industry to another, or simply looking to meet people who are interested in having a thoughtful discussion with, knowing what you want out of your professional network is critical.
From there, the motivation that comes with starting the KonMari method helps to build out your all new, perfectly curated professional network. You’ll find out that, in the end, a more defined LinkedIn network will give you a better overall experience–from a more relevant LinkedIn feed to a much more concise roster of contacts to potentially tap into.
Step 2: Does this “spark joy”
Think of “joy” as opportunity, at least for this practice. When going through connections in your network, ask yourself if the person you are connected to is someone you know and whose connection can be mutually beneficial–can you both help each other along in your combined professional journeys? Are you bringing value and diversity to each other’s networks? Whether they know someone you want to meet or you see yourself as someone who can act as their professional mentor, make sure that the people you are connected to on LinkedIn are people you know who spark “joy.”
You’ll undoubtedly run into people who don’t fit this criteria and when that happens, you have a couple of options. If you don’t remember someone, I suggest to disconnect, meaning you take them out of your network entirely. This may seem harsh, but if you’re unlikely to tap each other for help on your professional journey anyway, then it’s better for both of you to declutter your network, feed, and LinkedIn experience. Plus, they won’t be notified that you disconnected. The second is to unfollow, which leaves you both connected but their updates are kept out of your feed. For more passive connections that you still feel might be valuable, I recommend the latter.
Much in the same way that decluttering your house can make it easier to access your clothes and kitchen utensils, having a thoughtful professional network makes it easier to stay up to date with your connections and manage your networking efforts. The more thoughtful your network, the more relevant the content on your feed will be, the more likely your conversations will be productive and fruitful, and the easier it will be to focus on the people who are part of your career journey.
Step 3: Tackle categories, not rooms
While your LinkedIn network won’t have “rooms” to work on, you likely have categories that you can focus your attention to. Instead of going down your entire list of connections (which can seem daunting for some folks), sort your connections using the filters on LinkedIn and work that way. For example, if you’re in the market for a new job, lumping together people you’ve worked with in the past or people in industries you’re interested in getting into could be a great way to start. Here are a few other categories to consider:
• Colleagues (past and present): Look at past companies you’ve either worked at or organizations you’ve been involved in and make sure folks you previously connected with are still relevant. Note, this might also be a good opportunity to triple check that you are connected to current colleagues.
• Alumni: You can search by both universities and high schools.
• Location: Have you moved around a lot? It might be helpful to look at people you connected with in your last hometown.
Step 4: Sentiment and nostalgia are no reason to keep things
Just like the sweater your grandma knitted you for the holidays 10 years ago, connections that you’ve had for years yet don’t (or won’t) ever interact with aren’t those you should keep in your LinkedIn network just because. There’s no need to hang onto past connections simply because of nostalgia or politeness; if you don’t interact with them, you’re not doing each other any good. It’s not about getting rid of connections, it’s about making your network actionable!
Pro tip: Marie Kondo says it’s always a good idea to keep small change in your pocket so that you actually spend it. Within the context of your network, “small change” could be anyone who’s direct influence you’ve yet to feel but could in the future. Think carefully about this group of people before releasing them from your LinkedIn network.
Now that you’ve KonMari’d your network, what happens next?
When adding new connections, make sure you know them, they spark joy, open mutual opportunity, bring diversity to your network, or are relevant to your professional career. Do this moving forward for all your “new items” (aka connections.)
Embrace your refreshed LinkedIn network! In reviewing your connections there were probably a few folks you realized spark joy, but that you haven’t touched base with in some time. Take this opportunity to reach out to your now tidy network and start a conversation, ask for help, or offer to give someone career advice. Your LinkedIn network is meant to be an active one so go ahead and get a jump start on the next phase in your career! You’ve earned it.
Lizabeth Li is a director of product management at LinkedIn.