Spark joy: Declutter your data


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You may have heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru who helps people clear out their houses in pursuit of mindful happiness. Unloved clothes, unread books, stuff you keep “just in case”, even sentimental things – once they are gone, so her advice goes, your neatly organised home will “spark joy”. You will liberated to lead a more focused and meaningful life.

Sure, this may just be common sense dressed up as spiritual insight. I recently tried it on my bookshelf. After discarding about half my collection, leaving only books that I really care about, the result was remarkable. Now every time I look at my bookshelf it fills me with satisfaction, and I find myself picking up books for reference much more often.

Whatever you make of Marie Kondo’s approach, even the most hardened soul will probably concede that something like a garage clear-out feels good: it gives you the space to move again. You can easily find and reach your tools. Result: You are free to focus on the job at hand – like fixing your bike.

Everything in its place

It’s what French chefs call mise en place: everything in its place. This is essential to get things done. Without it, you’ll waste valuable time looking for tools or ingredients. Chefs can’t faff about hunting for a 5ml measuring spoon when there are ten tables waiting for their order.

So why don’t we apply the same to our digital work lives?

A mad world

People everywhere are struggling with information clutter. If we lived and worked in the physical world the way we do things digitally, our homes and offices would be the size of planets.

We’d have personal warehouses full of books, papers and boxes, vaguely labelled like “Clients” or “Archive”. We’d have lines of trucks delivering paperwork to our front doors all day long. We’d have to send out a search party to find our favourite shirt in a wardrobe as big as London. Our toothbrush would be hiding in a different country every day. And our wedding photos would be stored somewhere on a remote island, amongst pictures of cute cats sent to us by complete strangers. The world would be totally bonkers.

The tyranny of cheap storage

And yet this is what we have come to accept digitally. We don’t even see it anymore, it’s just become a habit.

Why? Because digital storage costs nothing, and leaving data sitting around takes less time than moving or deleting it.

But the cost to your productivity and wellbeing can be very high indeed. If your information workflows were as well organised as the kitchen of a French chef, you’d have all your time available to cook up the things you’re supposed to deliver in your job. But instead you waste half your days trying to find what you need – which, when you find it, turns out to be unfit for purpose. Your meetings are a waste of time because most people in it couldn’t find what they needed either. So you schedule another meeting. For which you need more stuff you can’t find…

Don’t put it off

Whatever your job, chances are that you treat information management a bit like a visit to the dentist. You do it only when you have to, and put it off for as long as possible. And worse, when you do get round to doing it, you’ll probably do it badly: by yourself. But even dentists can’t fix their own teeth.

This is why the world needs digital Marie Kondos.

You do know where to find us, don’t you?


This post appeared first on my LinkedIn blog on 6 April 2017



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