Minimalism and the workplace


If you have already experienced the benefits of an uncluttered home environment, you will know that this has a really positive impact on your overall wellbeing. You’ll feel freer, lighter and less weighed down with ‘stuff’.

Since many of us feel that we spend almost as much time at work as we do at home, is there a place for minimalism in our professional work environment?

Your work space

Everyone’s work setting is unique, so I will write from my own experience of some of the types of settings in which I’ve worked.

In terms of context, even those who work for the same organisation may have different experiences of ‘work space’. Some may work in open-plan environments with individual workstations in a cubicle type arrangement. Others will enjoy the quieter space of a single occupancy office.

If you are a desk-bound office worker (as I am), then you may be familiar with the concept of DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessments. These assessments are designed to ensure that your seated position (whilst working) is optimal for your wellbeing. Long before I became passionate about minimalism, I knew that an uncluttered desk and tidy surrounding space promoted better posture and greater comfort.

We can’t do our best work if surrounded by mounds of paper or other types of clutter. 

Where I work, the idea of a paperless office remains a myth, albeit things have improved. To keep on top of the paper mountain, I am vigilant in having regular sort-outs, shredding or recycling paper that I no longer need to keep.

Remember, the 3 S’s of Paperwork!

If the classroom is your ‘office’, then you are likely to have a say in its layout and organisation but there will other people who share this space (either all or part of the day as learners, helpers or visitors). This becomes more tricky, but if you have a say over how the space is organised, bring some of your knowledge about minimalism to school and see what impact it has on your co-workers (big and small).

Perhaps your workplace is one in which you and your customers are co-located, such as a retail environment? There, you have a chance to make a positive impact not only for yourself but for those who come into your store every day. Consider how much time is devoted to maintaining a sense of order to create an inviting space; retailers do this for a reason.

Your work tasks

Declutter your ‘to do’ list by using tools such as Producteev. By using a task management tool such as this, you can keep track of ongoing work, maintain notes on progress and avoid feelings of overwhelm.

Taking an essentialist approach to work helps with decision making. That is, work out what’s essential then shelve, disregard or postpone the rest. You might be familiar with the ‘urgent important’ matrix, as set out below. This can be a hugely useful tool to help with prioritisation. Not sure what to do? Do what falls into top left hand quadrant: the urgent and important.

If you manage your time effectively, however, you should see fewer things fall into this category, instead chipping away at the things that are important but not yet urgent (top right).

Urgent imporant matrix

Be intentional with your tasks. Try the Pomodoro technique, for example, where you commit to focussing on a particular activity for a full, uninterrupted 25 minutes, then take 5 minutes’ breather.

If you’re using MS Outlook, manage email by sorting by ‘subject’ so that all threads relating to a particular email clump together. You can quickly see the ‘reply all’ threads and just keep the ones that matters.

Your work colleagues

If minimalism allows us to focus on what’s important, we can apply what we know to our interactions with others. Listen, focus, pay attention. Be present. This really matters.

Did you know that there’s a ‘5-a-day’ for mental health? The Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing project identified 5 activities, which promote mental wellbeing:

  1. Connect – with those around you.
  2. Be active – can you cycle to work, go for a lunch time walk or use on-site sports facilities?
  3. Take notice – be aware of what’s around you and appreciate it.
  4. Keep learning – this is a great motto for any age.
  5. Give – do something nice for others (described by Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project as ‘do good, feel good’. Looking outside of ourselves, as well as in, is win/win for everyone.

What about you?

How do you apply minimalism and simple living principles to your work environment? Have you ever decluttered or applied minimalist techniques to your work setting? I’d love to know!


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