A Guide to Minimalism At Work

Minimalism has become a very useful tool for me in the last couple of years. Not only could I separate myself from unnecessary clutter but I was also psychologically released by the mind shift. While the concept of minimalism does not restrict itself on decluttering and sorting-out, it also motivates you to live a more simple and thoughtful life. This includes relationships, acquaintances, friends, obligations or work life. Minimalism can help you to see the forest for the trees again and to gain perspective on the way you want to live your life.

At work, I recognized that I naturally integrated minimalism in my daily life and working processes. Often there were only short moments in which I came up with structured solutions for problems in breaking them down. To give you an insight in how to incorporate minimalism in your working lives, I summed up some of my experiences and best practices. Maybe some of them help you to see things more clearly and to face challenges with fresh air.

Break it down

Some tasks or problems are complex and the path to getting them done is foggy and indefinite. For me, it helped to break tasks into small bits that could be tackled easier. I asked myself “Which steps need to be taken to get this task done”. Through this, I detected impediments early on and it’s also a good feeling when you put a check mark before these quick wins. After all, you also wouldn’t eat a pizza in one piece, right?

Find your tools

Some tools help you stay organized. Trello worked perfectly for me since it helped me avoiding a desk full of post-its. Evernote can provide structure for your notes and ideas. Wunderlist or Asana can take your to-do lists to the next level. Just make sure to limit yourself preferably to one main tool besides of your e-mail-program. I tried to use more tools simultaneously and it just caused confusion and additional work. Some tools can also be integrated with each other, for instance your e-mail-box with your Trello board. See the instructions for Trello here. Also, Zapier is a great service to integrate any other tools with each other.

Keep it clean

Clutter causes distraction and confusion. Always make sure to keep your folders clear. Pictures belong to where the “pictures” are; videos belong to “Videos”. Establish a structure for how to separate your folders for projects or customers. Keep your virtual desktop free from the latest cat photo you downloaded. Your real desktop also shouldn’t be neglected – keep it free from stuff you don’t need. Do you need 36 biros? No. Please note that you can always have a personal item on your desk since minimalism does not mean “without personality”.

Prioritize

Sometimes you have so many tasks on your table that you lose sight for what is important at the moment. In most cases, you don’t have to do everything and since you’re human after all, you also can’t do everything at once. For me, it was a big help to prioritize my tasks. Often, you can’t decide that by yourself but you can always ask superiors, colleagues or in some cases even customers what is more important from their perspective.

Focus for Efficiency

The main reason why people don’t get things done is the lack of focus. Too many tasks at once messes with the concentration and through the increased speed of work thanks to e-mail and smartphones, we simply lose our ability to really focus on one task. The good news – you can do something about it. These measures worked for me:

  • Block a time slot in your calendar
  • Turn off all notifications and sounds
  • Find what helps you to focus, whether it’s music, noise-cancelling headphones or a special type of tea/coffee. That creates a trigger for your brain.
  • Set a time limit that fits your kind of task, 15-20min can already make a difference! For some people, methods such as the Pomodoro-Technique help you to use your time efficiently. Try some of them out and look for what suits you best. Note that breaks are always important for your brain to store information and to reboot.

For further reading, I highly recommend you to read Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s a great book about today’s value of concentrated work and the advantages that go along with it.

Eliminate the Shallow Work

Some tasks need to be done every day, every week or every month. Some of them require a decent amount of time, although they could work automatically. So for me, it was great to ask “Which of my tasks could be automated, delegated or improved?” Here are some things I drew from that:

  • Automatic sorting of e-mails, so that I don’t have to sort them into folders manually
  • Automatization of Reportings through Excel
  • Creating a default PowerPoint-set so that I don’t have to start all over every time I need to prepare a presentation.
  • Improve weaknesses: If I’m very slow with a program or a process, I try to find ways to make it better. This can range from learning shortcuts to watching tutorials or finding someone experienced to learn from.

Confront the Meetings

Meetings can be a pain in the a** for everyone. Some people like to hear themselves talk which makes the meetings take forever. From my experience, there are some aspects that you can do as an individual to make meetings more efficient:

  • How can I prepare my topics for the meetings so that they are clear and easy to explain?
  • Which topics can be discussed quickly? Which topics need further discussion in another format?
  • Is what I’m aiming to say adding to the topic or do I simply rephrase what others have said already?

Reflect and Evaluate

Always be on the hunt for things in your daily routine that just don’t make sense or seem unnecessary. Ask yourself what tasks took very long today and why that was the case. Also, all the measures above are not fool-proof. Therefore, just make sure that you look back after two weeks on the steps you took and reflect on your experience. Adapt and justify until the measures fit your need!

What measures did help you to integrate more minimalism at work? Do you have routines or procedures that make your work easier? As always, I am looking forward to your comments!

Also check out some of my recommendations to learn from other minimalists!

Me, the Predestined Atheist

In my childhood, praying was something I did quite regularly. Well, you couldn’t exactly call it praying since most of the time, it was a 15-20 times repetition of phrases like “Please make sure that our house doesn’t burn down tonight” or “Please make sure that no burglars break into our house tonight” (Note how I excessively used the polite imperative). A part of the procedure surely could be attributed to a small neurosis that I seemed to have as a kid – why else should I’ve repeated these mantras that often. But overall, I have to admit that the praying itself was more of a protective measure, comparable to hanging garlic next to my bed against vampires. If anything, you could call it “precautious” more than “religious”.

Nothing to confess, nothing to fear?

My slightly shifted understanding of religion accompanied me all the way through primary school. I remember having to go to confession within the context of our religion class in third grade. It was a strange thought to come up with sins just like that in front of a pastor we all barely knew. But as a kid, you just shrug your shoulders and be like “these adults surely have their reasons”. So I went to endure the process.

To my great surprise, the confession was not held in a confessional box like in a good mafia film but in a sterile back room of the church which smelled like incense and dusty wooden chairs. Feeling intimidated, I sat opposite the pastor in the middle of the room. What I told him in detail slipped my mind, but it must have been either half true or sinfully filigreed. On a day previous to the confession, I had thrown a ball so clumsy that one of my classmates sprained his finger and needed to wear a bandage. Since me – the evil third grader – had dashed the ball on purpose and with deadly precision on the finger of my classmate, I didn’t want to hide this insight into the chasms of the human soul. In hindsight, I believe that the pastor didn’t take a narrow view on that. After all, most of my sins were not severe enough for the last judgement, for which reason he let me go home with a handful of well-intentioned advice.

Especially in primary school, the notion of religion really takes shape in the heads of children. We learned about the bible and which lessons could be drawn from it as well as about what’s sinful and what makes a good person. As a child, I felt deep respect for the bible stories and especially the passion of the Christ always had the potential to impress me. But I also wondered why everything had to be about the forgiveness of sins and the unrestricted love for God. Everything felt very strict and gloomy as opposed to encouraging and joyful.

Church as a contradictory institution

Going to church always supported that view. In our town, it was a quite dark and barely lit place. Cement walls embracing dark wooden benches concentrated on three crosses behind the altar. In a dark corner, there was a baptismal font also made of cement, standing there as if baptism was a thing that has to be secretly hidden. The whole place just didn’t make sense to me since it didn’t match my views on how religion should be lived. Instead of feeling happy and uplifted, I remember leaving the services feeling down and oppressed.

Generally, going to any church soon began to frustrate me on a deeper level. For one part, we visited pretty much every church that we came along on vacation and for the other part we were one of these families which, after Christmas dinner and handing out presents, hit the road to church. I never understood this as a child. First you’re allowed to unpack presents but then you have to leave them behind to sing weird songs with strangers in a rather cold and packed room. Even for an educated music scientist, the orders of the lines were a mystery themselves. Of course it seemed self-explaining that firstly, you sing verse A, then five times verse B, then the chorus and then – of course – verse M. Even in the moments where there was no singing, I had to pull myself together not to drown myself in the baptismal font.

Unfortunately, I have to confess that I myself was a part of these occult procedures called worship services. After my communion (which appeared to me like the perfect invention money-wise), my brother and I signed up as acolytes at our local church. These poor souls supported the pastor while wearing bad-fitting and fittingly smelling frocks. We prepared the wine we were not allowed to drink and collected the collection from the innocent guests which we were not allowed to keep. Until today I am of the opinion that the most exciting job was to ring the bell at the start of the service.

I think it’s clear that I didn’t take my job as an acolyte very serious at all. Various times I had to suppress a conniption next to the altar when my brother or another acolyte silently commented on bible phrases. At last, we had enough of giving up our free time for such an unpaid side job (after all, we had to show up on most weekends and holidays) and finally decided to hand in our frocks. Just metaphorically of course, since we didn’t have our own frocks.

Saying goodbye

After choosing ethics over religion class in the 7th grade, I further distanced myself from church towards atheism. It just felt like the right next step to learn more about the enlightenment, humanism or the studies of Kant and Plato as opposed to further pore on my bible studies. I learned a lot in this class and it definitely resonated better with my values.

Finally, leaving the church two years ago didn’t feel that radical then. No regrets, no desire to go back. It was the end of a journey in which I subconsciously had never really wanted to take part. Retrospectively, I had always been a predestined atheist, who never quite got the entire fuss over the church and this thing called faith.

Now I am interested in your path. Maybe you found your way to faith in your late teenage years or much later? Maybe you experienced something similar to what I did? I would love to hear your stories!

Further reading: Comparing yourself to others, Minimalism at work