Joy at Work Summary

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get the book here: Joy at Work by Marie Kondo

Joy at Work explains how you can simplify your life by tidying up. Packed with examples and guides this book will help you take control.

According to psychologists, messy environments reduce our focus, tax our brain and make our overall working lives more difficult. In addition to this, the “Pygmalion Effect” suggests that tidy individuals are more likely to be seen as ambitious, intelligent and kind – all factors which subsequently lead to better performance at work.

Why we cannot seem to stay clean…

Tidying up can sometimes feel like a never-ending process. We swing between moments of having a tidy environment to a chaotic one. Why can’t we seem to tidy and keep it that way?

One of the main reasons for us not being consistently tidy is because of our intrinsic motivation behind it. You need to ask yourself whether you really want a tidy workspace based on your own initiative or because external factors require it. Secondly, you should be in control; don’t rely on others to do it!

Before you get started

Before you get started tidying up, it is a good idea to have an effective plan in place. The following 3 questions can help make sure you get the best out of your tidying…

1. Visualize your ideal work-life

Take a moment to think: What would my perfect day look like? How will the morning go? When would I like to take a rest? Where will everything I need be? This type of visualization can firstly give you a concrete plan to follow and secondly, a benchmark to evaluate how your day is currently going.

2. Know where everything belongs

Before you start tidying, have a think about where everything should belong. Think about things like: What do you need to access every day, what do you need more of? If you do not know how things should look then how can you say you’ve tidied up?

The 3 Questions to help decide what to keep

These 3 questions will be the foundation behind deciding whether you should keep something or whether it should go…

1. Does it spark joy?

Although things like photos and memorabilia might not have any useful work-related uses they might spark joy within yourself whenever you look at them and as a result, help you perform better and happier at work.

2. Is it needed for work?

This should go without saying … If it is needed for work then keep it! Don’t go throwing away those important invoices if they are needed!

3. Will it lead to future utility?

Although something might not be important now, will it play an important role in the future? Although that email sent to you might not seem that relevant for your work today, you might need it in 2 weeks time…

If you still answer a big “No” to the following questions then it probably isn’t needed and you can consider getting rid of it.

Getting started tidying

Now that you have a bit of a clearer idea of what you need to do it is time to get started. Let us start by looking at the physical world…


Books can provide us with knowledge and inspiration but can also become a barrier to tidying. Although a full bookshelf can seem fulfilling, we might keep books for the wrong reasons – like impressing others…

Gather all your books into one space and ask yourself those 3 earlier key questions: Does it spark joy, is it needed for work and will it lead to future utility?

If you find you cannot answer any of those questions, then it might be time to let it go!

Physical and digital documents

This will most likely be the most time-consuming part of tidying your workspace. I’d suggest starting with physical documents and then moving on to your digital ones.

Firstly, have a skim through the documents you’re looking to organize and put them into 3 categories.

1. The pending ones

These are the ones that require future action. Think outstanding bills and things like proposals that must be reviewed.

2. The ones we MUST keep

Most workplaces will have things that are required by law – these might be long-term contracts or legislation. These obviously must be kept so sort them into their categories and file them! This is a must, do not just keep them laying around.

3. The ones we WANT TO keep

These might spark joy or be valuable for other purposes. You need to be brutal here, however. If they get in your way and are not worth it then get rid!

Now you have your most important documents you can consider throwing the documents which haven’t been categorized out. It’s now time to start filing the key documents away.

A simple filing system

1. Categorize EVERYTHING

Make clear but simple categories that work for you. If you are a designer maybe break everything down by client and then have a master admin folder for general bits. If you do a lot of ad-hoc work maybe a date type filing system might be best? Ask yourself: How do I approach my work and how can I simplify how I obtain things I need.

2. Store papers upright

It can be tempting to just have a pile of papers on your desk but do not fall for this trap! Make sure each document is stored upright preferably in a folder with its category clearly visible.

3. Make a pending box

Regularly maintain a box – whether it be physical or digital – for things that are pending. This is your place to put things when they don’t have a place yet. Think new documents – do not just put everything here though! It is instead a short-term stop-off for documents…

Tidying emails

The typical office worker spends around half their day working through emails – in addition, half the employees surveyed in one study believed that email interfered with getting their work done. If you want to tidy your life, tidying your emails is necessary!

How we approach emails

There are usually 3 ways we approach our emails: all of which can lead to problems.

1. Those who stay alert

These are the people who stay alert for inbound emails. As soon as they receive one, they put down whatever they are doing and respond immediately.

2. The spring cleaners

These are the people who purge their inbox occasionally. They have periods of not being able to find things because it is so cluttered and other times when there is nothing to read. It is the worst of both worlds – they live in clutter but then also miss important information too.

3. The accumulators

These are the people who let emails accumulate and then rely on the search functionality. If your inbox has at least 1000 emails in it then this might be you!

Taking control of your emails

Firstly, consider those 3 questions we have been using above when deciding what to do with an email.

Delete anything which does not fulfil the criteria and then begin organizing the remaining ones.

I would suggest having a reasonable number of folders but no more than 10. Categorize the folders into different sections.

This is something which should be done daily. When you have a spare second, tidy your emails!

Tidying your schedule

Even if you have all your books, files, and emails in order your schedule can become a significant part of feeling overwhelmed and losing interest in work.

The 3 main traps which cause havoc over our schedules are:

1. The over earning trap

It can be easy to fall into the trap of doing more work than we should. It can be so troublesome that psychologists have coined it “Over-earning”.

We tend to invest lots of energy into things that don’t really matter. We might originally undertake a task to achieve a specific objective, but we can lose sight that we have achieved our goal and instead try to maximize whatever we can get. Instead of spending time enjoying our rewards, we have earned we instead keep working for the sake of it.

2. The urgency trap

Instead of making time to dive into focusing on one task we instead jump from one seemingly urgent task to the next. We work on auto-pilot and complete assignments based on what has been deemed urgent instead of the important tasks. What usually happens is most tasks become urgent when they are not, and it is no surprise that we feel overwhelmed and suffer the negative consequences because of that.

3. The multi-tasking trap

Multi-taskers tend to be among the least productive people at work. Research suggests that by multi-tasking you could be decreasing your productivity by as much as 40 percent. We can only think of a limited number of things at once: take on too much and you are likely to end up doing a few things poorly rather than one thing especially well.

Take control of your schedule

You do not have to let your schedule get the better of you. Here are some tips on taking control of your schedule:

1. Identify your ‘core tasks’

These are your central, ongoing activities that justify your existence at work.

2. Identify the ‘project-tasks’

These are the kind of tasks that have a discrete beginning and end.

3. Identify the ‘developmental tasks’

These are the ones that help us learn and grow such as reading, training, and attending conferences.

Look at these tasks and ask yourself those 3 questions. Then think of any additional tasks you find yourself doing but are not sure why.

Do not be afraid to speak to your boss or team members if you think the job isn’t required. If the job is not pointless then you might gain better clarity on why it needs to be done – which might turn out to be a motivating factor.

Tidying decisions

No matter what type of work you do you will likely make lots of decisions each day.

Most of our decisions are ones made with little effort or focus, however, other decisions can be high-stakes and require intense thought and then there are the medium stake decisions that fall in between and are the ones we likely put off as they aren’t as easy to make.

When tidying your decisions follow this process: Forget about the small ones, organize the medium ones and reserve your energy for the large and important ones.

Organizing important decisions

Gather all the medium stake and high-stake decisions that you currently or will soon face.

Look through your pile and put the high-stakes ones to one side. These must be kept!

Now you’re left with the medium pile. It’s time to find out what is worth keeping.

Again, ask yourself those 3 important questions.

In addition to this, you should also ask yourself: Is this something someone else can do better or cheaper? If so, delegate the task to someone else!

Also, think, does this need regular involvement and thought? If not, then try your hardest to automate these decisions!

Good enough is all that is needed

In addition to removing decisions that are not needed, you can save yourself some mental clarity by being pragmatic and completing a task to the standard that is required.

Instead of doing everything perfectly – forget the idea about being a perfectionist and completing everything perfectly, you might be able to cope for a week but after a while, you’ll get fatigued and start doing a poor job on everything. Instead, perfect the jobs that need to be perfected.

That business presentation to a potential client? Get that right! Where to go for lunch with a friend? Who cares? Choose anywhere!

Striving for perfection can sometimes be unnecessary and come at a cost. It can also waste time which could be spent on more worthwhile activities.

Tidying meetings

As much as meetings can become a pain, they can be beneficial – especially when we need to come up with new ideas as a team; make significant decisions; learn from others or just work together.

The problem with meetings does not come from their concept but instead how they are carried out…

Get more out of your meetings

Here are 5 tips that could help improve what you get out of a meeting…

1. Show up

This means not being only physically present but mentally present too. Make sure that you are engaged with everything going on.

2. Come prepared

Read any agendas sent over and bring any information along which might be useful.

3. Put away distractions

Other messages can wait… Give the meeting and its participants your full attention!

4. Speak up

Everyone has something useful to say, do not be afraid to give your thoughts on the issue.

5. Do no harm

It should be a place to spread positivity and ideas, not negativity and gossip.

How to run a tidy meeting

If you want to run a meeting that others will appreciate, the following 6 tips might be useful…

1. What do you want to accomplish?

Is the meeting even required in the first place? If the message can be summarized into an email maybe consider that instead.

2. Do you need to invite everyone?

Fewer people but more engagement is better than lots of people with little engagement.

3. Let others know the purpose of the meeting

Send out an agenda to help others decide if it’s useful for them.

4. Encourage participation

Meetings are a place to spread and discuss ideas, make sure everyone is heard.

5. Set realistic timelines

Avoid setting arbitrary times like 60 minutes, instead schedule the meeting in terms of 5/10 minute increments.

6. Test yourself at the end

End the meeting summarizing everything that has been discussed, what you have learned, any progress made and who is doing what!

Most important takeaways

Psychologists tell us that messy environments are a barrier to us performing, if you’re looking to take your performance to the next level then being tidy is a must.

It doesn’t have to be that hard, you just need to be disciplined. Those 3 important questions will help you decide what you do and don’t need, however, you need to be brutal. Don’t keep things for the sake of it, if you cannot find a good reason to keep something then either give it away or throw it away!

Get the book here: Joy at Work by Marie Kondo