Posts Tagged minimalist tips

The Simple Office: How to Use a Minimalist Approach to Work

We spend a lot of time in our offices. In fact, the average person spends one-third of their life at work, which highlights the importance of a clean, organized space. Taking a minimalist approach to work and maintaining a simple office eliminates the clutter and chaos that can distract us from getting the job done. I’m a huge proponent of keeping a minimalist office and work life. I used to keep a tidy, simple office when I was in my corporate job and now that I’m self-employed, my office is even more minimal. Simply put keeping a minimalist home office helps me maintain a healthy work-life balance and it can help you too!

simple office clutter free

My minimalist approach to maintaining my workspace started with my first job. My boss insisted we keep a very tidy desk. I can still hear him now, “a professional keeps his desk clear of distractions! If your desk is a mess, so is your career!” The lesson on office simplicity stuck, and to this day I couldn’t agree more.

Over the years I’ve learned to cut out the office clutter, develop good work habits, stay organized and keep on top of tasks. Learning good habits in your work life has a profound effect: it reduces stress, allows you to get more accomplished, and helps you perform your job better.

For many of us, what’s great about our desk is that it’s uniquely ours. We often don’t share our desk with anyone else. A workstation is usually a small space, but it also is subjected to an influx of clutter, making our desk and workspace, the perfect spot to build good habits. We can discover organizational habits that work for us, without catering to the habits of other people we live or work with. In the small space of our desk, we can practice organizing without feeling overwhelmed by an entire house full of stuff. The real kicker I’ve found is the good habits you build at work spill over into your home life. Once you see the benefits of a simple office, your house might become more organized as well!

Question Everything

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is: question everything. The most dangerous words in business (and life) are, “That’s the way it’s always been done.” This mentality prevents us from growing, improving and changing; companies and employees that can’t change, improve and shift are the first to lose their jobs or go out of business.

question everything to make your work and office simple

When I took over a new position at my previous job, I was being trained on the various processes and paperwork. As we reviewed each step, I’d ask why it was important.  The person who was training me (and leaving the position) defended each step like her life depended on it. I documented each task as I took notes, questioning everything.

After training, I walked through the task list with my new boss. For about 25% of the items on my list, my boss said, “Oh I didn’t know that was still being done. We no longer need that step.” So, I eliminated it.  Next, I went to the people who received the reports and several said they didn’t really use them. So, I eliminated them. Then I asked what they needed in the reports and found half the metrics and fields weren’t used anymore or were never changed. So, I eliminated them.

When I finished, I discovered nearly half the work the previous person was doing wasn’t needed. I effectively cut the time required for the position in half. Later, I reduced the scope even further, all by asking questions, assuming nothing and doing a bit of digging.

Going Paperless

Paper is the number one way our desks become cluttered. Luckily more and more offices are going paperless, making workspace organization easier than ever. To tackle your paper pile, start by looking at the paper on your desk.  Ask yourself why each document is there in the first place. Remember to question everything!

going paperless for less messy desk

As you review your paper pile, you’ll find most documents fall into one of several categories. Sort them into each:

  • Paper that’s old and needs to be tossed
  • Paperwork that’s completed and needs to be filed
  • Papers waiting for action by others to complete
  • Paper waiting for you to complete

A funny thing about humans, especially when it comes to decluttering, is we often jump to the most difficult task, then convince ourselves it won’t work.  We talk ourselves out of the job before we even start. The first two tasks above are the easiest to deal with, so start there.

Schedule time on your calendar to sort the pile and throw out the stuff that needs to be tossed. Keep in mind, you need to shred some papers with confidential information. Easy. Done.

Next on our list is the paperwork that’s completed but needs to be filed or dealt with in some way. This step really comes down to having a good process to deal with paperwork right away (more on that coming up). Don’t let papers pile up if you know what to do.

Most home office printers can scan 50 sheets at a time and email them as a PDF document. If you don’t have a copier or printer with this capability, you can find one for around $40 that can scan 30 sheets at a time. If you do a lot of scanning convince your boss to buy a good desktop scanner for your office (my favorite scanner is Fujitsu ScanSnap i Series Duplex Desktop scanner).

A desktop scanner works fast and easily scans all your paper clutter. If you want to change a habit, replace it with a new behavior that’s fast and easy. If the new habit isn’t, it will never stick. With a desktop scanner, you won’t need to leave your desk or waste time waiting for the copier.

Sometimes you’ll have documents you don’t know if you should keep. This is where the decluttering process often falls apart. When something doesn’t fit the mold or the rule, it creates chaos.  Develop a way to deal with the questions now so you don’t fall later.

When I find papers I’m unsure about, I scan them into a separate folder. If the paperwork is important I’ll take the time to name the folder with descriptive keywords. I date the folder as well.   This way, if I ever need to find a document, I can easily go to the folder and find it quickly. Note: many scanners allow you to set up the date and file name to be automatically added to the document.

For the paperwork you’re waiting for follow up from someone else on, the process is simple. Question why the paper is there, then have a place to store it, and a process to follow up with it. When I’m faced with this issue, I often redesign the form to reduce it to a single page (front and back if needed). This greatly reduces the size of your paper piles.

The objective should always be to complete your work, but it’s important to consider how you can reduce the work needed (and the accompanying slew of paper). As they say, work smarter, not harder, which brings me to my next point…

Eliminate, Automate, Outsource

When you question everything, you’ll see huge gains in freeing up your desk and workload. Whenever you’re assessing work clutter remember:  first try to eliminate, then automate, then outsource.

eliminate tasks automate work and outsource jobs

The benefits of elimination are obvious. Eliminating the job should be our first step. If we can remove a task entirely from the equation, then we free up time, space and energy.

Automation is the second step of efficiency. Setting up automatic or streamlined processes will eliminate distractions. Automation shouldn’t be your first move, because setting up the process takes time. The task will still eat up part of your day, just not as much. If we had eliminated the job, we wouldn’t be doing it.

Automation may mean creating a macro in a spreadsheet; using a software function called autocomplete to type common phrases faster; setting up templates to copy and paste into common tasks, or creating forms that you use to make the work go faster.

There have been several times in my professional career where I’ve reduced my workload by setting up automation to complete my job quicker or easier, or even cut out the task entirely. For example, about 10% of my emails were common, repeated questions. I set up an FAQ template I could insert into an email reply with two clicks. I was also emailed for approvals often. 80% of the requests were for purchases under $100– a tiny amount for the company.  I instructed staff to not email for approvals under $100, which cut out most of my inbox clutter.

Many people freak out over this concept because they fear they’re working themselves out of a job. I’ve found the opposite to be true: in most cases, I was freed up to take on new, interesting projects which look great on performance reviews, I can do a better job with less on my plate and focus on the task at hand. I’ve also found, most bosses are too busy to notice and micromanage inefficiencies.

Create Systems

Systems make the difference between meeting goals and missing them. Systems create order from chaos and reduce decision making. A system is an approach to a task. In business, we might call them SOPs (standard operating procedures), checklists, or workflows.

create systems for better work flow

Start with your largest daily task. Gains on these tasks will have a far-reaching impact.  Think about the steps required and write them down. How can you eliminate some of them? Next, examine the remaining steps. Can you automate them? Create templates, forms and technological solutions to do the work automatically. Finally, how can you outsource?  I outsource jobs as much as possible, by empowering others, training staff to find information on their own and setting up rules for my involvement in a process.

I looked at my top three tasks at my previous job. Each of the tasks consistently required the same steps So I created tracking sheets with the steps to use as my system.  At any given time, I knew exactly where I was on a project and what I had to do next. I never needed to think about it.

When I create systems, I like to use checklists, tracking sheets and bullet journals. I create workflows, using the project management software Trello. The trick is finding a system that works for you. There are many great techniques and tools out there. When systems fail, it’s often not because the tool doesn’t work, it simply doesn’t work for the individual using it. Find your simple work organizing tool. For me it’s Trello.

In this post, I go into how I use Trello to organize my life.

Get Better At Managing Time… And Defending It

Here’s the hard truth: if you’re bad at managing your time, you’re bad at life. It sounds harsh, but there it is. Much like choosing a tool for systems, you need to find a time management method or tool to fit your needs. It doesn’t matter what time management tool you use, as long as it’s effective. I like to use Google calendar because it’s accessible on my computer and my phone.

manage your time so it doesn't control you and your work

Schedule time for each of your tasks throughout the day. Include tasks like lunch, meetings, relaxation time and anything else you plan to do. [link: https://thetinylife.com/minimalism-single-tasking/] I’m a big proponent of doing one task at a time, [/link]. Don’t try to do it all at once. Studies on multi-tasking prove it’s a highly ineffective approach. It’s better to group similar tasks together and then focus on one at a time.

Many people forget to schedule blocks of time to include their commute, prepping for meetings, meals and organizing their space before starting the day. It’s very important to take time at the beginning of the day to clean, organize and tidy things your workspace. This is the hallmark of a school of thought called “LEAN.” The first step of the process is to “Sweep.” Here’s how I integrate lean into my life.

After learning how to better manage your time, you need to get even better at defending it. When you set a schedule, stick to it. There will be a lot of distractions that try to pull you off track. For me, it was email and not setting boundaries with my coworkers. Now while I’m working on a task I close my email and silence my phone. Many office phones have “DND” or do not disturb button. This prevents your phone from ringing and sends callers straight to voicemail. Unless you’re a doctor, the caller can likely wait. Trust me! People often fight me on this concept, but they eventually discover taking an hour to call someone back isn’t the end of the world.

I focus on one task at a time, complete the job, tidy up, then move on to the next item on my schedule. A few times a day I’ll open my email inbox. I deal with each email right then and there. Email and phone are major workflow disrupters–decide to control them and don’t allow them to control you.

The biggest challenge for me (and most people) is saying no and setting boundaries with coworkers. This is a big topic, but the truth is, you need to get comfortable with saying no. Most of us want to be helpful, friendly and agreeable. We say yes to activities we have no intention of doing or don’t have the capacity (mentally or time-wise) to do. This is where saying no so important.

Saying no to your coworkers is uncomfortable at first when they’ve procrastinated and need help. It’s tough when they’re interrupting your flow at work, but it will get easier. Saying no to your boss, on the other hand, is tricky. My advice is to turn the situation around and make it a little painful if they aren’t respecting your time.

Tell your boss “I’m working on this project for you.  If I switch to this new task, I’ll have to push back the delivery date. Which is more important?”  This approach shows your boss the consequences of adding last-minute tasks to your plate. It also forces them to decide between doing one task or another. Finally, it puts the responsibility on them for any negative outcomes. This approach takes practice, but it works wonders.

So that’s how I take a minimalist approach to my work life: whether it’s keeping a simple office in a corporate setting or managing time while working out of my minimalist home office. It boils down to being intentional with your approach to work, minimizing the clutter on your desk, not letting email rule your life, and setting up systems for success.

Your Turn!

  • What tricks have you learned to keep your office space simple?
  • What do you do to keep a work-life balance as a minimalist?

How To Stock Your Minimalist Kitchen + List: 16 Pantry Staples

How To Stock Your Minimalist Kitchen + List: 16 Pantry Staples

The term “minimalist kitchen” is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? After all, many of us love cooking and the kitchen is one of the most complex areas of our home. Even with a tiny house, my kitchen is my “command center.” I like cooking. I keep my kitchen organized and clean it every day–it’s small and orderly…but does mean it’s a “minimalist kitchen?”

kitchen staples

At the heart of it, minimalism is all about embracing simplicity. When we have a bunch of expired ingredients on hand and storage for a small army we’ll never need to feed, it gets stressful. Rather than working through a cluttered kitchen and sorting through expired jars of who-knows-what, a minimalist kitchen list consists of items you use regularly for meals you enjoy. Stock your minimalist kitchen with the equipment you’ll use and the items needed to prepare your favorite foods. That’s it.

When it comes down to it, all you really need to store in your pantry or kitchen are the ingredients to tide you over until your next trip to the store. Now, that said, there are a few staples that are helpful to keep on hand. This is especially true if the weather gets bad or life gets busy and you need the components of a meal, fast.

So what items should go on your minimalist kitchen list? What are the basic guidelines for stocking a minimalist pantry and what ingredients will maximize your meals in a minimal amount of space, clutter, and stress? This is what I’ve discovered when it comes to keeping a small, but useful kitchen and pantry.

Guidelines for Stocking a Minimalist Pantry

If you’re ready to start cutting out pantry clutter, especially if you have a small storage space, there are a few guidelines you should follow:

1. Buy only what you like

buy food you like

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they stock a small pantry is storing extra food for special meals or occasions—from cake mix to cranberry sauce. Some people get a “food storage list” and assume they should buy every item on it. Only buy foods you like to eat and eat regularly. If you don’t bake, then don’t keep baking supplies on hand. If you aren’t a fan of beans, don’t feel like you should buy beans for your storage. This is especially applicable if your space is at a minimum.

2. Watch for items that go with many different meals

Ingredients like broth or canned tomatoes go with all sorts of dishes. It’s a good idea to keep a few cans on hand. The same goes for items like pasta, oil, spices, and rice. Look for simple ingredients that work into many of your favorite meals.

3. Stick to a meal routine

taco tuesday food planningJust like wearing similar outfits every day, sticking with a regular meal routine cuts out a lot of stress. If you know you’re always going to enjoy Taco Tuesday or fish on Friday, then you don’t need to spend time planning and ensuring you’ve purchased a bunch of different ingredients. Treat yourself by going out when you want to enjoy a meal out of the routine or plan a dinner at home for a special occasion. The rest of the time, stick with foods you enjoy and put them in a regular rotation.

4. Purchase shelf-stable items

Stocking a pantry, whether big or small, calls for shelf-stable items. When you purchase foods requiring cold storage like freezing or refrigeration, it takes up a lot of room. This is a problem if you don’t have a much fridge or freezer space. I have a very small fridge (a 4.4 cu ft bar fridge), which I use to house the basics: milk, meat, cheese and fresh vegetables. Many items (like eggs, butter and produce) are easily and safely stored right on the counter or on shelves rather than in your fridge.

5. Watch expiration dates

If you’re decluttering and organizing your pantry, watch your expiration dates! Anything past the “best by” date, get rid of! If you don’t plan to eat it (but it’s still good) consider donating it to a food bank. Don’t keep items you don’t like or won’t eat before their expiration date. Chalk it up to a good life lesson and toss it out.

when do food expire chart

6. Store only what you’ll need until your next trip to the market

You don’t need to store weeks or months of food in your pantry, especially if you’re applying a minimalist approach. Store only what you’ll use before your next trip to the market. Keep a few basic ingredients on hand to pull together meals you enjoy.

Minimalist Kitchen List: 16 Pantry Basics You Need on Hand

Obeying the guidelines above, these are pantry basics most people like to store. Again—follow your own preferences and habits. If you don’t bake, skip baking supplies. If you’re a vegetarian, then you won’t have much use for canned meat or jerky. Keep one or two weeks’ worth of each item on hand.

1. Beans

beans for pantry

Beans are inexpensive, easy store and a great source of protein. If your storage space is limited, beans give you a great shelf-stable option to dress up or dress down. Dried beans and chickpeas are typically softened by soaking overnight. Lentils and split peas will soften as they cook (no need to soak). Beans provide a nice, simple base for many dishes.

2. Rice

rice as pantry staple

Rice is another great, simple item to keep on-hand, especially if you don’t have much space. Store it easily—any dry spot will do. There are tons of meal options using rice as the base. Mexican food, Middle Eastern dishes and Asian meals all work well with rice. There are many different types of rice: Jasmine, Basmati, sushi…but buy basic white or brown rice (white takes less time to cook) if you only have room to store one type.

3. Baking Supplies

baking items - flour, sugar, salt

If you’re a regular baker, you may want to purchase baking supplies (flour, sugar, baking soda, etc.). Buy only the basics you need in between your trips to the store and watch for items like Bisquick or cake mix which are used to bake several different dishes. When space is limited, baking supplies take up a lot of room, but for those who use them often it’s well worth the sacrifice of space. I personally prefer to buy a few pre-made baked goods, so I don’t need to store ingredients like big bags of flour.

4. Spices

piles of spices in spoons

Spices are an area where many people tend to go overboard. After all, they don’t require much space, they’re inexpensive and add flavor, so why not stock up on every spice, right? Well, spices actually have a very short shelf-life. Many ground spices only stay potent and flavorful for a year or two after opening. Dried herbs tend to last even less time. It’s better to buy small quantities you’ll use up quickly and regularly. Salt and pepper are exceptions of course. I keep my grinders along with Texas Pete (the best hot sauce ever–sorry Tabasco) right on hand at all times.

5. Pasta

keep dry pasta in pantry

Pasta is a fast, easy meal to enjoy all kinds of ways. Add peanut butter and soy sauce for Asian peanut noodles. Use pasta as a base for spaghetti or enjoy plain noodles with a little olive oil, cheese and egg. Dried pasta is easy to store, so it’s smart to keep a box or two ready for meals.

6. Canned Tomatoes

cans of tomatoes

Canned tomatoes can be pureed to make tomato sauce. Use them as a base for soup, stir them into pasta, or use them in chili. Canned tomatoes are another versatile and easy to store ingredient, even in the smallest pantry. They add a lot of flavor and stretch many different meals.

7. Oil

olive oil for cooking

There are many oil options. I tent to prefer olive oil because it’s shelf-stable and easy to use in almost any dish. Coconut oil is another good option because it’s used in both cooking and baking. Whichever type you choose, oil is a must-have for your minimalist kitchen list, especially if you’re looking for ingredients you’ll use all the time. Use oil to brown meat, keep vegetables from sticking or in pasta dishes. You can use olive oil as a swap for butter to dip bread. Add lemon juice or vinegar to oil and make instant salad dressing.

8. Dried Fruit

dried fruits

Dried fruit is one of those like it or hate it foods. Some people think raisins are the worst ever while others love them. As far as pantry foods go, dried fruit is pretty versatile. Use it in trail mix, add it to baked goods for sweetness, keep dried fruits on hand for snacking or adding into salads and sandwiches. If you like oatmeal or hot cereal, dried fruit is a nice addition. Again—choose only the type you like.

9. Cereal & Oats

dried oats and oatmeal

Basic cereals like Chex, corn flakes or Rice Krispies are great to keep on hand because you can use them as a coating for chicken or fish. Use them in rice crispy treats or snack mix. Then, of course, you can also enjoy them as a breakfast or snack with milk. You may also want to keep oats in your pantry too. Oatmeal is a great hot cereal and oats are often used in cookies and other baked treats.

10. Canned Vegetables & Soups

canned soups in pantry

As far as canned vegetables go, some people love them, while others can’t stand them. They’re certainly easy to store, especially if you’re living in a small space. Keeping a few cans of corn or another basic vegetable is smart, in case you need a quick meal or side dish. Similarly, soups are used for all sorts of meals, so storing a few cans of broth or soup makes a lot of sense for most people. To take up even less space, buy concentrated bullion cubes or paste, then just add water.

11. Peanut Butter & Nuts

peanut butter and nuts

Peanut butter is a great high protein snack and it’s also an ingredient in all kinds of meals. Peanut butter is used in Asian or African cooking. Peanut butter’s easy to store and almost everyone loves a PB&J when you need a fast, easy meal. Keeping nuts like cashews or almonds in your pantry is a good idea too. Add them in cereal, use them to top salads, add them to stir-fry and in other dishes.

12. Canned Meat/Fish

chicken for meals

Having a few packets or cans of tuna fish on hand is a basic for most pantries. If you need an easy way to add protein to your meals: just open a can of tuna and stir it into pasta or make a tuna fish sandwich. Canned chicken is also a good option to put together a chicken salad, use in soups, casseroles or pasta dishes.

13. Shelf-Stable Dairy & Sauces

shelf stable sauces

Parmesan cheese is shelf-stable and can be stored unopened in your pantry for a very long time. Soy or powdered milk is also a good idea if you only venture to the store occasionally and run out of regular milk between trips. It’s also used as an ingredient in many dishes. Most salad dressings, mayonnaise and sauces are shelf-stable until they’re opened. If you go through these items fast, it makes sense to add one extra bottle to your minimalist kitchen list.

14. Jerky

beef jerky lasts long in storage

Jerky is easy to store. It doesn’t take up much room and it’s great to keep on hand for a quick snack. Look for individually packaged sticks as well as different flavors and types. There’s turkey jerky, salmon jerky and even jerky with caffeine in it (a.k.a. Perky Jerky). If you need a high protein snack that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, jerky is a good option.

15. Bread & Crackers

crackers

Keeping bread and crackers on hand is a smart plan. Bread doesn’t last a long time though, so only store what you will eat within a week or two. Crackers are more shelf-stable and will last for months unopened. Tortillas are another option to keep on hand. If your space is small or if you’re looking for less clutter in your pantry, pick one type of bread you will use in several different ways.

16. Snacks

cookies

When it comes to snacks we all have our own preferences. Keep a few snacks on hand, but don’t go overboard. Cookies or chips are easy to store and don’t usually take up much room. Again, the best rule of thumb is to only store what you’ll eat within a week or two (between trips to the store). Most snacks aren’t used as ingredients for another meal, so there’s no reason to keep more than you need (unless you anticipate a snack emergency).

Your food storage is a lifesaver (literally!) if the weather is bad, if you live in a remote area or if you can’t get to the store for whatever reason. Keeping a minimalist kitchen should help make your life and meal planning less stressful. If you store only the basic ingredients you need for your favorite meals, you’ll always be prepared, even if you’re stuck at home or don’t have time to fix something big. Cut out the clutter and unnecessary items in your pantry today!

 Your turn!

  • What are your must-have minimalist pantry items?
  • Do you stick to a meal routine or mix it up?

Minimalism Tips for Beginners

Minimalism has changed my life in so many positive ways. There are so many aspects of your life that can benefit from minimalism, I recommend getting started as soon as possible. These are four minimalism tips for those looking to live a more minimalist lifestyle.

Minimalism Tips

Declutter Instead of Organize

I used to be a big fan of organized. Having everything in it’s designated place made me so happy. Though I was relatively organized and tidy, I still had kitchen drawers overflowing with stuff and clothes that I never wore folded perfectly into my dresser. When I chose to declutter instead of continuous organizing, my drawers became emptier and easier to work with. Getting dressed in the morning was so much quicker when I didn’t have to sort through clothes I didn’t usually wear.

Question Everything You Bring In

I used to buy things on impulse much more often than I like to confess. It was a regular habit for me to pick up a new shirt or pair of cheap earrings when I’d go out for soap or paper towels at Target. But once I started questioning why I was buying something and if I really needed it, my impulse shopping slowed way down. When I started asking for how long I’d use it and how often I’d wear it, the impulse purchases stopped almost completely.

Want Versus Need

Minimalist TipsDetermining the difference between things you want (because it’s cute, you like it, or it looks good on you) versus what you actually need can make all the difference in living a minimalist lifestyle. Though you may need a dress for a special event, you don’t necessarily need a new one. Using what I have and being conscious with my decisions to purchase new items helped me keep my closet minimal and clean.

 

One in, One Out Rule

The one in, one out rule means that every time you purchase something and bring it in to your space, you must get rid of one thing. This helps keep clutter to a minimum, and is especially useful after you’ve done a few rounds of decluttering. This rule helps prevent me from replacing items that I already have, which haven’t seen their fair share of use. It also means that if you decide that you need a wardrobe overhaul, you can do that by replacing the same amount of items that you already have, guilt free. I do recommend buying clothing from thrift stores for budgeting and environmental reasons.

These four simple rules have helped me to maintain my minimalism and keep my closet clean, clear, and clutter-free. Minimalism not only helps me maintain a clear closet, but it helps me maintain a clear mind and simple, happy life.

Your Turn!

  • Do you use any of the tips I mentioned?
  • Which tip will you try first?