With no elbow grease required, decluttering seems like an easy spring project… until you get started. Then you just want to wipe that grin off Marie Kondo’s face. The truth is: decluttering is a psychologically intimidating job. Your heart races and your mood sinks as you discover how attached you are to “stuff.”
I’ve learned it’s easier to let go when you think of decluttering not as getting rid of things but as creating space for something new. You can apply this mindset to decluttering at home and at work, with physical and digital spaces, and with external and internal zones.
Here’s where to start decluttering in your association, your work life, and your mind
Once you start looking, you’ll see all kinds of places that need decluttering in your association, in your daily workflow, and inside your noggin. It’s best to start by clearing your own head so you can take on the more challenging spring cleaning projects with confidence and clarity.
#1: Take care of your internal clutter
If you want to make space for something new in your life or live with more peace and ease, you need to work on your mental clutter. When your mind is less cluttered with stories and worries, you can be more present and open to what’s around you.
Type A’s can blame their inner critic for much of this clutter. This negative voice going on and on inside your head is your ego. It’s just doing its job by casting doubt and encouraging you to play small. Don’t take its bait. Worries are the ego’s specialty. It tries to protect you by spinning scenarios about what might happen, what could go wrong, or what someone might say. This negative chatter takes you away from what’s going on right now. Heed Tom Petty’s advice: “Most things I worry about never happen anyway.”
#2: Declutter your desk and cubicle/office
External clutter often mirrors internal clutter. When life gets crazy, our surroundings become disordered, and then that clutter drags us down. Spend ten minutes clearing surfaces and organizing the stuff that’s in your line of vision right now. Seeing clutter takes a toll.
#3: Scrub your information stream
Turn off email, app, and platform notifications. Batch your busywork: only check emails and messages at set times during the day. Busy work clutters up your brain and blocks creative, intuitive thinking. Track your time. It might shock you to see how much time you spend on busywork. Try keeping blocks of time free for work that requires focus.
#4: Clean up your inbox
If your inbox is out of control, take advantage of the app’s tools to filter and move emails into different folders as they come in. If you’re not opening newsletters, unsubscribe. Consider moving internal staff correspondence to a platform like Slack so you can reserve your inbox for external correspondence.
#5: Rethink your to-do list
You can’t live without them, but to-do lists are a huge source of stress. They never get smaller. Every time you move a particular task from one week to the next, you feel like a loser. Why can I never get that done? The guilt weighs on you and takes up valuable space in your mind.
Maybe a new system would work—an old-fashioned Word doc or a different app. Try organizing your list in a new way so you only see what concerns you today. Break down the items that haunt you into smaller tasks that seem less overwhelming.
Now, for the bigger picture… what can you stop doing? I know you’ve always done some of these things, but what value are you (the association and/or members) really getting out of it? Imagine today’s your first day in this job. What would you think of this task? Try taking it away on a trial basis. Mark your calendar to reassess it in two weeks.
Is it more appropriate for someone else to do this task? Why can’t you let it go? I know there could be good reasons, but only you know for sure.
It’s easy to add things to your plate, especially when you’re a person who’s always striving to learn more and do more, but sometimes you need to step back and reassess.
#6: Cleanse data
Now that your life is more in order, it’s time to take on your organization. If you wait too long to tackle data cleansing, it will get out of hand and turn into a huge, ugly project requiring multiple glasses of red wine. Don’t ask. You’ll spend hours you don’t have cleaning it up before migrating it to a new system. Again, bad for your liver, trust me.
Governance isn’t a sexy word, but a data governance policy is a must. You need to appoint a data governance team who implements and enforces data entry rules and procedures. Pull regular data integrity reports to identify bad emails, incomplete records, and incorrectly formatted data. Schedule yearly campaigns asking members to update their profiles.
#7: Prune your email lists
Identify inactive “subscribers,” the people who haven’t opened emails in X number of months (you decide). Chronic unopens are bad for your sender reputation and deliverability rate. Give people options for email frequency and topic. Allow them to opt for less instead of opting out.
People are less likely to unsubscribe if they feel your emails are relevant. Are you segmenting your list and targeting your information by audience?
#8: Streamline processes
Ask technology partners for suggestions on streamlining processes. If you’re working with consultants, ask them too. Look at the user experience. How many steps does it take to enroll in a course, apply for certification, join your association, or register for your virtual conference? On the backend, how many steps does it take for you to do your regular tasks?
Look at the big picture. Where is there redundancy? Manual data entry? Combining and collating?
#9: Tidy up forms and applications
Only collect the data you use because that’s the only data you need. Besides, the more fields you add to a form, the more likely a person will abandon it when a Slack notification pops up on their screen.
#10: Clean up your association’s website
Is your website like a house on Hoarders? You can’t bear to look too closely because the mess is overwhelming—dozens or hundreds of pages that hardly anyone visits, broken links, and out-of-date information. It’s the black hole of information; everything goes in, nothing comes out. No one has ownership, which means no one has accountability.
You need a content governance plan and someone to take ownership. Pull a report of the least visited pages and start throwing things out. Do 301 redirects from those pages to related pages so visitors don’t get 404 errors if they arrive from Google. Google dislikes broken links, so get a broken link checker too. Reorganize the structure so the site looks and feels cleaner and more navigable—Google will like that too.
#11: Sunset lackluster programs
Boards are great at starting new programs, but horrible at letting them go—which could be one reason your plate is so full. If everyone on staff is too busy, what are the chances you’d spend any time in an ideation session coming up with new ways to deliver value to members? Slim to none. Who can spare the time for anything new, right?
You must make space for new value, especially if you have limited resources. You can’t afford to keep programs that no longer attract participants, meet audience needs, or fulfill revenue goals. Recognize when something’s time has passed, so you are free to move on to something better. Every association should have a sunset review process—an objective method for assessing and eliminating old programs.
Sweep out what no longer brings value to you, your association, or your members. When you do, you’ll make more room for reflection, planning, and developing ways to deliver more value to members and customers.