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10 Steps to a Zen-like Working Environment

10 Steps to a Zen-like Working Environment
Zen Garden

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” — Hans Hoffman

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” — Henry David Thoreau

For today’s knowledge workers, every distraction is a drain on productivity and sanity. Every ringing phone, instant message, flashing email reminder, pile of papers, cluttered sticky notes and phone messages and knick knacks and memo posted on the wall — each of these things slows you down, wastes your time and energy, and stresses you out.

To achieve calm, and simple productivity, create a Zen-like working environment.

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Imagine for a minute that your desk is completely clear, except your computer monitor, keyboard and mouse, your inbox and phone, and perhaps a framed photo of a loved one. Imagine the walls around you are free of visual clutter, except for a photo or painting or two of a serene nature scene.

You are able to focus, you can crank out your tasks, and you can lower your level of stress.

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It’s not hard. Here’s how:

  • Clear papers. Take all the papers on your desk, and around your desk, and put them in your inbox. If they don’t fit, just put them in a single pile. Now go through that pile, one document at a time. Don’t put any document back on the pile — deal with it immediately, and then move on to the next document, until you’ve cleared the pile (this may take several sessions for some people). With each document, your choices are to 1) Trash; 2) Delegate; 3) File immediately, 4) Do it immediately; or 5) Put the action on your to-do list and the document in an “action” folder.
  • Clear clutter. Now clear as much of the other stuff on your desk as possible. And it’s all possible. Knick knacks, post-its and phone messages (those should go in the inbox to be processed), most of your framed photos, folders, etc.
  • Clear gear. You don’t need your office gear to be in sight. Put your pens, stapler, paper clips, digital camera, and any other assorted gear in a drawer, organized neatly. While you’re at it, clear out your drawers and only put in the essential stuff. It’s easier to keep organized that way.
  • Clear the walls. Clear every scrap of paper and most of the artwork from your walls. You don’t want your surroundings to be too busy. Put one or two pieces of simple art on each wall.
  • Have an inbox. Have one inbox on your desk, and have all incoming documents, notes, phone messages and other papers be put into this inbox. Process it to empty at least once a day, using the steps above. From here on out, don’t let any other papers clutter your desk except the one thing you’re working on.
  • Simplify your computer. Clear your desktop of icons — it’s an inefficient way to launch documents or programs and organize yourself, and they’re just visual clutter. Clear everything from your menubar too, if possible. On your desktop, use a simple and serene picture as the background, and only have the document open that you’re currently working on. Turn off all email and IM notifications, and only do email at 2-3 set times a day. You don’t need all the interruptions.
  • Simple filing system. Use a simple alphabetical filing system with plain manila folders. Have plenty of labels and empty folders on hand, so you have nothing stopping you from creating a new file quickly and filing a document. Don’t let your filing pile up.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Once you’ve cleared the clutter, there’s usually still stuff you can clear away. Edit your surroundings. For each item in view, ask yourself, “Does this really need to be in view?” In most cases, the answer is no. Find a way to get it out of sight, or get rid of it. When you’ve gone through this process, do it again — you can usually still find ways to get something out of sight.
  • Simple furniture. Go for the simplest furniture possible, a plain floor covering (solid-color wall-to-wall carpeting or undecorated hard-surface floors), bare windows or simple window coverings such as blinds, plain shelves and lamps if necessary.
  • Simple decorations. Skip the bric-a-brac, and only have one or two simple decorations, such as a few flowers in a vase or a Zen garden.

Have suggestions for creating a Zen-like working environment? Let us know in the comments.

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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