Does your career need spring cleaning?
As April showers usher in May flowers, thoughts inevitably turn to…spring cleaning. Motivated by a rush of optimism and an instinctive urge for a fresh start, many of us will spend the coming weekends clearing out closets, washing under oven hoods, and vacuuming a year’s worth of dust bunnies from underneath the couch. And why not? Experts have long touted the psychological benefits of annually sprucing up the home, with scads of studies finding that a clean, well-organized, and clutter-free house is more conducive to health and happiness.
If our living spaces profoundly affect our moods and productivity, it stands to reason our workspaces do, too. But how many of us take the time to tidy up our office, even once a year? I thought so. And this oversight is a head-scratcher given we spend more waking hours at work than we do at home.
At work, as at home, annual cleaning and decluttering is the first step toward gaining a fresh perspective. Start with conquering the unsightly mess on your desk but don’t stop there. Spring is an ideal time to blow the cobwebs off your career goals, too. Don’t have any? It’s time to fix that.
Kondo-ize your cube
If your job keeps you tapping away on a keyboard for nine hours a day with barely enough time for a bathroom break, it’s best to commit a weekend day—armed with a peppy playlist, paper towels, and your favorite all-purpose cleanser—to declutter and deep clean. Start by casting an eye around to see what’s dirty, what’s disorganized, and what contributes to a less-than-inspiring environment. Dust everything on your desktop, brush the crumbs out from between the crevices in your keyboard, and wipe down your computer screen.
If your job keeps you tapping away on a keyboard for nine hours a day with barely enough time for a bathroom break, it’s best to commit a weekend day—armed with a peppy playlist, paper towels, and your favorite all-purpose cleanser—to declutter and deep clean.
Once your workspace is squeaky clean, get to work organizing it. With your recycling bin close at hand, tackle the stacks of loose papers or file folders (anyone still using those?) gathering dust on your desk. If you don’t recognize a document or haven’t thought about it in years, chances are it belongs in the blue bin. Toss hard copies of reports, reference materials, and employee manuals if they’re readily available online.
Next up: Email. You probably have thousands of emails that can be deleted or filed. Filtering by person or date makes it much easier to delete huge chunks of emails because you typically don’t need to read through as much to understand if it’s important. You’ll be surprised how many non-work emails get clogged up in the system that can be deleted outright. Otherwise, choose the last email of every conversation thread and save only it—the rest of the back-and-forth can be deleted. If you don’t file emails into folders, now’s the time to start. Many email systems allow you to sort emails directly into folders, automatically filtered by person or subject.
Now, Kondo-ize some more
Many of us take the time to fill our home with appealing, artful objects, yet when it comes to our workspace we live in a depressing state of monochromatic sameness. What would make you feel happier to be at work? From a lovely vase kept filled with fresh cut flowers to an elegant teacup for an afternoon cup, there are myriad ways to bring a touch of style to your office. Need (or just want) new desk supplies? Turn to Etsy, rather than Office Depot.
Take down everything that’s thumbtacked to your cube walls or bulletin board. Start over. Refresh your space with new art from your second grader, updated family photos, and a different New Yorker cartoon. Add some pizzazz to your cube with a stylish metal memo holder or gold pen cup.
Take down everything that’s thumbtacked to your cube walls or bulletin board. Start over.
It’s spring, so go ahead and add a touch of green to your space. Plants help purify the office air you’re breathing, which is a good thing considering, as noted by Science Daily, “Ozone can be released by ordinary copy machines, laser printers, ultraviolet lights, and some electrostatic air purification systems, all of which contribute to increased indoor ozone levels.” Yuck. As luck would have it, some of the most common and hardiest indoor plants are also the best at filtering out harmful toxins. Flamingo lily, broadleaf lady palm, red-edged dracaena, and peace lily are great choices that don’t require much maintenance.
Chances are your workspace walls are a neutral color, if not white. Which is bad news if you’re trying to inspire creativity. If you aren’t in control of the paint choices at work, find ways to bump up your immediate surroundings with art, accessories, and textiles. If you have room for a chair in the corner of your office, buy one, and by all means, make it pop. What colors should you seek out? According to Fast Company, red is for the “Detail-Oriented” and blue is for “Creative Types.” They advise against spending time surrounded by yellow, as it “causes anxiety.” Entrepreneurs take note: “Green would be a good choice in an office where innovation is a key component.”
Buff up your brand
Once you’ve spruced up your physical workspace, it’s time to give your career a once-over. Invest time in reviewing and updating your professional profile on LinkedIn and your company website to ensure it’s accurate and up-to-date. How long has it been since you made a new professional contact–via LinkedIn or otherwise? Forge some strategic new connections, make plans to attend a few networking events, and while you’re at it, arrange to meet your mentor (remember her?) for lunch. If you don’t have a mentor, now’s the perfect time to find one.
Develop your development goals
Part of examining your job with fresh eyes should involve establishing development goals. Just as there are countless experts you can hire to help you organize and deep clean your home, you’ve got options for help with a career overhaul, too. Setting career goals and figuring out what “stuff” is getting in the way of your promotion or development is a great job for a career coach (if not a therapist).
Development goals may focus on skills you need to acquire to excel (or advance) in your career. Things like becoming a confident public speaker, managing a team, or mastering a new computer program. Development goals can also be an element of a broader career development plan, which is a blueprint for getting from point A to point B, professionally.
Development goals can also be an element of a broader career development plan, which is a blueprint for getting from point A to point B, professionally.
Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, notes that professional development is “too often left to the rote box-checking of annual performance reviews.” In order to make meaningful progress in our careers, she writes, we must ask ourselves, “How can I ensure I’m more valuable at the end of the year than I was at the beginning?”
Clark advises a three-pronged approach to planning for professional development each year, focused on learning, connecting and creating.
Creating your learning goals starts with identifying the gaps in your current knowledge or experience. Are there areas of your job or field you’re not sufficiently familiar with?
There may be particular skills you want to pick up or interesting trends you see on the horizon that you’d like to learn more about. From there, you can chart out the best method—whether it’s taking a course (either in-person or online), independent reading, or listening to podcasts.
Develop your connecting goals by looking at where power resides in your organization. Specifically, who has control over your professional future? Think about ways you can spend more time with key people (without seeming creepy or opportunistic). Perhaps you serve on a committee together, and you could suggest meeting for coffee to talk about the latest developments.
If you’ve been at your company for a while and already have a robust network, you can look outside for your connecting goals: who else do you want to meet in your field, or in your local business community?
Finally, one of the most underused forms of professional development is creating. Many people think of professional development as a more passive form of skills building. But creating content and sharing your insights is a valuable form of professional development on two fronts. First, the act of writing (or giving speeches or making podcasts or creating videos) forces you to crystallize your knowledge into a form that’s comprehensible and engaging to others. That sharpens your own understanding and prompts you to think more deeply about the issues.
Second, as I describe in my book Stand Out, one key element of developing yourself as a professional is cultivating your personal brand. When you share your knowledge publicly, your expertise can be recognized – and you’ll reap the benefits in the form of new client inquiries, respect from your peers, and opportunities you likely can’t yet imagine.
At the end of your office and career spring cleaning, you should feel uplifted by your surroundings and have set a clear path forward for continuing your climb up the ladder. And when the daffodils bloom and the dust bunnies return next year, you’ll know it’s time to do it all over again.
Laura Shear is a Bay Area-based freelance writer and consultant. She's addicted to home improvement projects and rescue puppies and firmly believes rosé should be enjoyed year-round. Find her on Twitter: @lmshear.
Original illustration by Violeta Noy.