This is an excerpt from Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life, by Marie Kondo and Scott Sonenshein. The book has a unique format, where the two authors have explicitly divvied up the book and the chapters each writes, but each then comments on the other’s work. Here, Sonenshein, a professor of organizational behavior at Rice University’s business school, writes about how to tidy your to-do list and Kondo shares her perspective. Read our cover profile of Kondo and her business, Konmari, here.
Evaluate Your Tasks to Make Your Job More Joyful
Your task pile is like a mirror—it reflects what you’re currently doing. How do you feel when you look in the mirror? I’ve learned that most people see opportunities to come closer to their ideal work life, but they’re not confident enough to make changes.
Don’t underestimate your control here, or the power that small changes could have on your day‑to‑day enjoyment of work. After you’ve got your tasks in piles, go through each pile, starting with the easiest to tidy (typically your core tasks), followed by project tasks, and concluding with developmental tasks. Pick up each task and ask yourself:
- Is this task required for me to keep—and excel—at my job?
- Will this task help create a more joyful future, for example, by helping earn a raise, get a promotion, or learn a new skill?
- Does this task contribute to more satisfaction at work?
Stop doing any task that doesn’t meet one of these three conditions.
Now, what if you’ve got too many tasks that are required but don’t spark joy? Or what if your boss won’t let you discard any tasks, even the ones you have no reason to keep? Sometimes we’re not able to recognize how others benefit from our work. That’s a shame, because if we did, work would be a lot more meaningful.
Here’s a quick rule I follow: Apply the beneficiary test. Be honest—does anyone read the weekly report you send out, and does it change their decision-making? You can survey your beneficiaries to appraise the usefulness of your work. You might just learn that people do value your work and find new meaning in completing the task.
If you’re still convinced the task isn’t worth keeping, go talk with your boss. Share the results of your beneficiary test. Your boss might be able to see how your work is important, even if you don’t. It’s another way for you to learn if there’s a hidden impact to your work, which might change your mind about whether the task is worth keeping. After applying the beneficiary test, have an open conversation over the value of the tasks you’d like to discard, and politely remind the boss of the tradeoffs involved in doing them. If all of this fails to convince your boss, maybe your boss is just unreasonable. But unless you’re willing to change jobs, you’re just going to have to go along with it. As much as we’d all like to sometimes, we can’t toss the boss out!
After you’re done, lay out all the remaining tasks so you can look at all of them at once. What do these tasks say about the type of job you have? You might have a title and a job description that portray your job in one way, but the work you do tells a different story. Collectively, do the tasks you kept spark joy or contribute to a more joyful future? If, after tidying, you’re still feeling like your tasks are not moving you toward your ideal work life, I’ve got a few more tips below to make your job better.
If you’re satisfied with your pile of tasks, check in periodically to be sure you are continuing to achieve your ideal work life. For any new tasks that come your way, explicitly decide whether they are worth doing before accepting them. —Scott Sonenshein
Give Priority to the Activities That Spark Joy for You
Right now, my work sparks joy, but there was a time when my schedule was so packed, I was physically and mentally exhausted. It was in 2015, just after I was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, and I was inundated with offers from all over the world.
I accepted as many as I could, seeing them as a great opportunity to share the KonMari Method, but I also happened to be pregnant with my first child, and the pressure took a toll on my mind and body. Sometimes I couldn’t control my emotions and would burst into tears at the end of the day.
Finally, I realized that I simply couldn’t go on like this. That’s when I began changing the way I worked.
My goal in my work is to share the KonMari Method worldwide and help as many people as possible learn to choose joy in their lives through tidying up. But I can’t possibly teach others how to spark joy in their lives if I’m not experiencing it in my own.
Since I had that epiphany, I’ve made it a point to prioritize time for joy in my life, especially when I’m busy. I deliberately schedule in time for things I enjoy or want to do, such as:
- Being with family
- Brightening up my home with flowers
- Enjoying a relaxing cup of tea
- Getting a massage when I’m tired
These help me to regain my inner balance so that I can return to work refreshed and filled with positive energy. In our busy contemporary world, many of us give priority to our work at the expense of our lives, just as I once did. If that is true for you, my message is this: Make your own physical and emotional well-being top priority.
A jam-packed schedule and work overload lead to burnout. We’re not going to be inspired with brilliant ideas or achieve good results when we’re totally drained. Even if we love our work, we’ll start to hate it and find it hard to keep going.
The first step is to make time to refresh and rejuvenate. Then plan your schedule so that you can work efficiently the rest of the time. In the long run, it’s more productive to approach our work with joy and ease of mind. —Marie Kondo
Excerpted from JOY AT WORK © 2020 by KonMari Media Inc. and Scott Sonenshein. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.