BL&T No. 048: Decluttering & Clarifying

Time Management

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


“Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder.”

From "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo [Book]


During a recent one-on-one, an employee shared that they had trouble finding time to get work done during the week. In the past, I may have responded by asking questions about their workload and shared helpful time management tactics. However, rather than a casual discussion, I took the opportunity to workshop the situation together in MURAL.

MURAL is an effective tool for collaborating via Zoom. It helps in looking at the bigger picture, visualizing ideas, and aligning on key concepts. As a bonus, you leave the session with an artifact for future reference.

We started by outlining all of this employee's weekly pulls: an event or request pulling their attention. When the week is moving fast, rarely do we stop to take stock in what is vying for our attention; instead, we let it overwhelm us and steal focus. Getting everything out on the table proved to be helpful right out of the gate.

Next, we went through each weekly pull and ordered them in highest to lowest priority. This next step was critical. It helped us get on the same page about where we saw the employee's time valuable while also uncovering new insights. Once we locked in the final order, we highlighted the lowest four or five pulls and asked the question: could I say "no" to these requests?

It's one thing to agree that these pulls are not a good use of time (we did); it's another to eliminate them. To do so, we must find out why they're taking up time in the first place. For each pull, we asked two questions:

  • Why do I say "yes"?
  • What are the trade-offs of saying "yes"?

With only an hour together, we were short on time and unfortunately only got through one pull! That said, this is where it all clicked. The employee realized that they often let low-priority pulls become high-priority because of an innate feeling of accountability or a desire to be perceived in a certain way. The trade-offs were huge.

In one instance, when the employee said "yes" to all client meetings for a particular project, they told themselves they had no choice. They believed that the client expected to see them on calls for the project to be successful, whether or not they had much to contribute. To keep up with other priorities, they would multi-task during the meeting, not engaging in conversation. The risk? The opposite of what they want, and the client perceives them as disengaged or uninterested.

While we didn't get through all of the pulls, taking the time to workshop them together brought positive energy to an otherwise draining topic. We may pick up again in the weeks to come, but for now, I was happy to see the conversation end on a high note and the employee feel more energized about how they could create more space in their week. It's also exciting to know that, weeks from now, we can look back on this MURAL board and see what's changed.

Lesson? When we feel overcome by our commitments and clutter in our heads, we can take a page out of Marie Kondo's book. When working with a client, she instructs them to lay all their clothing on the bed before sorting through it. Whether hoarding clothing or committing to more than we can handle, it's hard to figure out what to hold on to when it is not all in view to examine.

Thought Starter

What am I letting pile up? What will happen if I don't sort through it?

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