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clean corner desk


Spring is in the air! This is the time of fresh starts, newly budding flowers and trees, and…spring cleaning. Maybe you’ve been on a Netflix Tidying Up kick in which you’ve parted with clothing and objects that “no longer bring you joy.” Maybe you’re preparing to give your entire house a good, thorough scrub. That’s great, but have you given any thought to your professional life?

Just as we sort, scrub, cleanse, and revamp our personal lives, so too is it healthy and productive to rejuvenate our professional lives.

I recommend setting aside at least half a day (or an hour a day for several days in a row) to sort and reorganize your professional life. Take the time to deal with overflowing inboxes, ancient file folders, outdated information, and that stack of free stuff and business cards you’ve accumulated from work events.

Here are five places to start:

1. Your Email Inbox

There are times when I’ve simply selected all my emails in my inbox and deleted them en masse! Though I don’t necessarily recommend that, I do recommend purging the build-up in your inbox. Do you really need all those old newsletters and appointment reminders?

If deleting things seems scary, create a file folder called “Archive,” select all your emails, and move them into that folder. That way you can always access them if you need them. Then, create a system of file folders to deal with any new incoming mail (i.e. you could create a folder for each of your clients, each co-worker, or folders for specific subjects, depending on the nature of your work). When new email starts flooding in, delete the junk, sort important notices into files, and keep your “to-dos” in your inbox until you address them.

2. Update Your Resume

When was the last time you took a look at your resume? Does it need a revamp? Even if you’re not actively looking for a job, it’s a good idea to keep your resume up to date. Make sure your current job description is accurate, all the dates are correct, and any irrelevant or outdated information is deleted. You may also want to update your reference list.  A career coach, such as myself, can help you give it a refresh.

3. Update Your LinkedIn Profile

Just like your resume, your LinkedIn profile might be stale or outdated. Give it a once-over and update your information.

4. Clean out your file folders

Yes, it is time to recycle those old tax documents from 1992. Take the time to leaf through your filing cabinet and get rid of information that is simply not necessary. You may also find that some documents can be scanned into your computer and saved in a digital file, rather than a physical one. Though this may seem like a daunting task, it is easy to break it up over the course of several days by, for instance, going through 10 folders every day.

5. Dump old business cards

If you’re like me, you’ve accumulated hundreds of business cards over the years. I’m willing to bet that most of them have been shoved in a drawer somewhere, never again to see the light of day! Sift through your desk drawers and get rid of those cards. If someone’s information is important, save it in a digital contact book or connect with that person via email or LinkedIn. While you’re at it, get rid of all the magnets, stress balls, and other doodads you’ve squirreled away in your desk drawers. If you haven’t used it in the last year, chances are you won’t ever use it.

Your professional life deserves a scrub-down! Commit to making a few positive changes to set yourself up for success. I guarantee your neatly-sorted professional life will help you feel better, save time, and may even motivate you to (gasp!) actually want to spend time in your office.

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Energy Management

Time management is not solving anything.

Why? Because we can set aside time to work on specific projects, but if our hearts are not in it, we’ll end up drifting off or doing something completely unrelated (checking Facebook, browsing through new recipes, catching up on the latest news…).

Instead of managing blocks of time, it’s better to manage energy.

It’s more advantageous to work in short, productive bursts than in long blocks of time in which your attention wanders. When you set aside everything else (including your smart phone!) and focus on a single task, you’ll find that you’ll work better and faster than you would if you simply reserved a block of time and let your attention be captured by new emails, other projects, and social media.

The reason it’s better to work in shorter allotments of time is because human beings are not meant to slog through an entire work day without breaks. As Tony Swartz, founder of the Energy Project, says, “human beings are meant to pulse.” We work in cycles. Our concerted attention can only last for so long (typically 90 minutes, according to Schwartz).

There reaches a certain point where no amount of schedule-shuffling will enable us to stay on top of things. We may do our best to manage time, but if our energy isn’t also managed we can suffer from burnouts, stress, and unhappiness (which can bleed into our personal lives).

The lesson is: Don’t focus on your time management–just assume you’ll be busy. Instead, take care of your energy levels throughout the day.

Schwartz outlines some tips for tending to your energy levels during the day in a book he co-wrote with Catherine McCarthy called Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time.

The authors point out that your time is finite, but your energy levels can be replenished if you attend to them closely. They offer a few ways for you to do this throughout the day:

  • Take a break every 90-120 minutes. Physically get up from your desk and enjoy a brief change of scenery.
  • Eat light meals and snacks throughout the day, every couple hours.
  • Dedicate time every day to focus on what you’re best at and what gives you a sense of fulfillment.

They also suggest that leaders pay attention to their employee’s energy needs:

“To effectively reengergize their workforces, organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them…”

  • Keep a room devoted to taking breaks and relaxing
  • Subsidize gym memberships
  • Encourage staff to move around every so often

And I’ll add a suggestion of my own for leaders:

  • Energy is directly related to feedback. Positive feedback energizes folks and helps them keep the momentum going. Negative feedback, if delivered well, can also motivate people to make improvements. The point is, I find that giving specific, frequent feedback is one of the best ways to help people manage their own energy levels

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS®DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, FOUNDER OF UXL, AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE TAG TEAM. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. YOU CAN VISIT HER WEBSITE AT WWW.YOUEXCELNOW.COM

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