How we’re Kondo-ing our work-life

February 1, 2019

Before Marie Kondo sparked an international movement with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I started my company on our own mission to eliminate the distractions and find more joy in the everyday moments of work-life. We didn’t have a name for the process we were going through, but once we heard about Marie and how she was transforming lives, we made her name a verb and started Kondo-ing every part of our agency.

In Kondo’s words, “From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change. That’s why the task of putting your house in order should be done quickly. It allows you to confront the issues that are really important. Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.” 

Kondo is so right. 

Here at BSTRO we decided to apply Kondo’s strategy in a broader sense–instead of focusing on our physical belongings, we did what I call “emotional tidying up.” 

It started with identifying the things that played the biggest role in our work-life happiness.

It didn’t take long to analyze what, where, why and how we worked. From there we started consciously eliminating that which was causing friction in the office–internally and externally. Spoiler alert, we didn’t throw away any books or toss out anyone’s prized possessions. But we got very clear about what we wanted. And that was more joy! 

Here are the 5 things we considered on our path to spark more joy.

1. Our physical workspace

Is it the right size? Is the commute relatively easy? Does the space have the features that make collaborating, focusing, and breaking feel comfortable? For us, our previous beautiful open concept space with 22 ft ceilings and sweeping views once brought us tremendous pride. Over time it became a source of daily frustration. Parking had become expensive. The afternoon sun was blinding. The single paned windows provided little protection from icy breezes and the chaos of the street noise brought daily disruptions.

Once we identified these things, we decided to make a move. We thanked our old space for helping us get clear on what we most appreciated in an office environment and settled into a new office that actually cost less and made the team significantly happier. It was a win win.

2. Our ideal clients

Get clear about the type of clients you want to work with. For us, we started screening with four critical things front of mind.

  1. Do they have a mission we can get behind?
  2. Do we have shared values?
  3. Does the client have the desire to try new things, test, and learn?
  4. Is there an appropriate budget?

Clients that don’t fit our criteria are thanked and typically given referrals to other agencies that might be a better match. Everyone deserves to work with a team fully invested in their success. If they don’t pass our four-part test, or it’s just not gelling because of other factors—chemistry, type of industry, or the assignment—we decline.

I know the idea of passing on a project is scary, but here’s a secret: if you value happiness more than money, saying no can spark unbelievable joy. And not surprisingly, choosing clients and projects that make you happy also will bring out your best work and likewise attract more desirable business.

3. Our team

Having the right team and synergy is critical. Prioritizing character over credentials and happiness over money can bring success beyond measure. Simply being competent at one’s job isn’t enough anymore. Great teams thrive when there is trust, a safe space to try (and sometimes fail), and people who want to show up and be fully in it with each other.

If one of our team members isn’t thriving in their current position, we do everything we can to help them be successful. But the reality is sometimes the job or company just isn’t the right fit. If it’s not sparking mutual joy, we’ve found it best to thank them for their time and let them go so they can find a place where they will thrive. In the same way you can’t always choose who you fall in love with, some workplace combinations simply aren’t a match. And that’s okay. 

4. Reporting success

Be transparent, be honest, measure everything you can, and share results. We do our best to cover all those bases at BSTRO.

As the Washington Post said in their SuperBowl LIII ad, “Knowing empowers us. Knowing helps us decide. Knowing keeps us free.” We agree! We work hard to find out as much as we can about your our industry, our clients’ businesses, and report on the impact of their efforts. We celebrate wins together and make improvements when things are off course. We get clear about what matters, check in regularly, and focus on how we can all spark more joy. Critical to success is being empowered by knowledge—building on what’s working and fixing or removing what isn’t. Focus on theses things and success will naturally multiply.

5. The point of it all

Why do we do the work we do? Why do you do the work you do? Money is not the answer, money is an outcome. If you want more joy in your work, first get clear about what fulfills you at deeper levels.

Does it light you up when you have impromptu conversations with people who challenge your thinking or open up new parts of your mind? If so, working by yourself or somewhere without much human interaction probably isn’t your best bet. Are you happiest when you’re pushed hard and have ownership of the final product? A startup might be ideal. Do you love the rush of taking chances? Then you might need to walk away from the stability of a conservative risk-adverse corporation that pads your bank account, but leaves you empty otherwise. Get clear on your truth. Do you get fired up by solving problems? Making someone else laugh? Contributing to a team? Or mentoring? Do you get comfort from ritual, order, and knowing what you’ll be working on next week?

Answer these questions honestly then prioritize the things that bring you the most joy each day. Let them be your guiding light. Opportunities for moments or situations that spark joy are everywhere. If your work— or workplace—isn’t bringing out your joy, you owe it to yourself—and your co-workers—to bring change to the company, or gracefully move on.

Although our tidying wasn’t about the physical stuff, Kondo’s principle applies all the same. “The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away,” Kondo says, “is to ask: Does this spark joy? If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.” 

Jill Tracy founded BSTRO in 2004 at her kitchen table with a handful of clients and a lot of big dreams. Today, BSTRO is among the top 100 woman-owned businesses in San Francisco and in the top 2% of all woman-owned businesses in America. Most days she’s on Twitter as @jill_b_tracy, but today she can be found tidying up some HR protocols.

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