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April 15, 2014
Spring Cleaning: Unclutter Your Career
I have a love/hate relationship with spring cleaning. I positively dread the thought of the work involved, but admittedly get excited at the thought of a brand new start to something. Whilst in the midst of it, I inevitably have a mental collapse at the thought of tossing something seemingly precious, but in the end, revel in the cleanliness, sleekness, and “un-clutter” that abounds. 

January brings resolutions; year-end reviews bring reflection. But there’s something very compelling and inspiring about the thought of renewing. So as I was covered in cobwebs and dust, shuttling rusty rakes and ripped, tangled kites from my garage into trash pails last weekend, my thoughts turned to my professional life.

You have to admit there are significant parallels: if we put so much effort into cleaning up and airing out our personal space, why shouldn’t the same stand true for our professional lives? If we take pride in and appreciate the good that comes from spring cleaning, perhaps we can experience those same feelings professionally by shedding the non-essentials in our work lives.

But what about the glaring, overstuffed closet bursting with out-of-date clothes in the room? It can absolutely be overwhelming to attack messy issues. We can shove them to the back of the closet or sweep them under the rug for now, right? Wrong. This is why you bother doing it:

Focus: When you remove things from your work life that don’t necessarily need to be done right away, or can be done by others, you empower yourself to grow professionally. Spring cleaning challenges yourself and others in ways that have either eluded you or have never entered your mind.

Pride: Looking back on a job well done is such a boost; once you feel it, you just want more of it.

Happiness: Who doesn’t want to be happy, motivated, or empowered? Possessing a positive attitude is critical to all of these, but shedding negativity is also likely needed to get you there.

Less stress: Facing a mess is stressful, but it ultimately teaches us how to effectively manage future stressful situations.  At MEC, we have learned this through a recent Happiness course we offered to employees. Our CEO Marla Kaplowitz remarked, “We found that by equipping employees with mechanisms and tools to tap into their “happy” sides, they can simultaneously balance workplace pressures more effectively.”

So snap on your rubber gloves and get to renewal by problem solving. Start by asking yourself these questions:

What bothers you? You can’t free your mind if you don’t know what’s weighing it down. Your relationship with your boss? Working late nights? Too many technical glitches? Identify the top three to five issues that put a pit in your stomach. Don’t hinder your thinking with thoughts like “that will never change” or “that’s not my job.” That kind of thinking will likely be unproductive and spin your wheels, or worse, make you all the more frustrated.

What is your time suck?  What takes way more time than it should? What can and should be done more effectively and efficiently? Lay out the process (or maybe it’s been formally laid out already) to begin exploring ways to streamline what’s currently being done.

What can you make better? Going through mundane motions and repetitive tasks gets old. While these tasks may be inescapable, identifying new approaches might be just the breath of fresh air you need to re-inject pride into your day. You have ideas; express and implement them!

What do you not have control over? Let’s be realistic; there are situations you won’t be able to fix. Maybe you don’t have control over budgets. Or staffing. Or your workspace design. If there is absolutely no input you can share or immediate effect you can make, put this respective frustration on the backburner for now. Complaining can be futile if you can’t address it and activate a solution. Focus on what you can improve so you can set yourself up for success.

Is your desk a mess? The obvious question, right? Well, it is a spring cleaning article. Clutter begets clutter. Go into your calendar right after you read this and set aside a lunch hour. Weed through your desk drawers and those manila folders collecting dust. Toss what you haven’t used in a year, file only what you must, and if a hard copy can be found electronically, throw it in the trash (remember to recycle!). Clearing up a workspace works wonders and helps your focus.

Spring cleaning is a dirty job, but you can and should do it for myriad reasons. Intimidating though it may be, the rewards you gain as a result and the renewal you’ll experience at work will be well worth it.

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Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee. 
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