Minimalism for work: How "less is more" can help your professional life

The doctrine of minimalism takes many different forms. At its heart, it’s about the idea of paring down to the essentials, eliminating duplication and waste, and embracing what is pure and true in life. We could all benefit from being more focused and clear, especially at work.

Here are a few easy tips to incorporate the principles of minimalism into your work life:

  1. Less talking, more listening. If you believe, à la Fran Lebowitz, that “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting,” then this one is for you. When someone else is speaking, set aside what you plan to say next, and focus on the other person. What are they saying? What aren’t they saying? Then, allow a moment before you respond to reflect on what they said. Adjust your prepared remarks accordingly. Repeat.
  2. Single-task it. Face it – multitasking doesn’t work. Your brain is perpetually on standby, trying to transition to the next task. You are not being as efficient as you think. If you are on a conference call, be on the conference call, not shopping online or approving invoices. Give your whole focus to the task; you’ll find that you are calmer as a result, and you will ultimately get more done.
  3. Less stuff, more space. Is your desk space a shrine for snapshots and tchotchkes? Are your drawers full of unused office supplies, hot-sauce packets, and plastic utensils? Get rid of the stuff that you don’t use (trust me, that’s 99%of it) and come in tomorrow to a cleaner, more serene office or cubicle.
  4. Touch each item once. This applies to both physical and digital clutter. If you open an email, be prepared to read and respond to it (unless you need more time -- more on that in a minute). Once you’ve dealt with a message, delete that email or save it to the appropriate (and appropriately named) folder, so that you can easily find it later. Same goes for actual paperwork -- pick it up, deal with it, and either pass it along or shred it.
  5. Take a minute before answering emails and voicemails. This is good advice for a lot of reasons, including the old saw reminding us that to “act in haste, repent in leisure.” If you are about to fire off a fiery retort, take a breath. Or 10. Or take a walk to the corner and back. Responding in a calm and clear way makes it less likely that there will be follow-up or messy fallout to deal with. It only takes a little longer, but you’ll save your sanity and your schedule by not clapping back.
  6. You don’t need that doughnut. No, really. Part of minimalism is being mindful about what we do, how we live, and how we sustain a healthy lifestyle. It may seem tempting in the moment, but packing a healthy lunch and some fortifying snacks to eat along the way will set you up for a calmer, clearer experience throughout the day.
  7. Let it go. (You too, Princess Elsa.) As the work day goes by, we catalog countless rejections, real and imagined slights, beefs with co-workers, frustrations, aggravations, and gripes. Just let it go. If it’s worth addressing, do so calmly, and with a clear understanding of what you want the outcome to be. But, if it won’t matter a year from now, then take a deep breath and move on from it. You’ll feel better and live longer as a result.
  8. Focus on what you have, not what you don’t. Yes, we all have goals. But where you are now is pretty great, too. After all, wasn’t there a point in time where this job was the one you had dreamed of, and you did a happy dance when the recruiter called to offer you the position? So plan for the future, but don’t sweat it. Do the job you’re in to the best of your ability, and the rewards will follow.

At its core, minimalism is about being intentional. Focus on a few of the tips from the list that most resonate with you, and you’ll come out ahead.

 

Laura Small is vice president and people director at advertising agency RPA.

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