Living Leadership

Living Leadership

Cleaning — the time for reflection

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Julie Thorson
Julie Thorson

Like many of you, I've attended conferences where speakers share their insights in order to inspire us to become better leaders. I always enjoy these speakers and reflect on how I might be able to incorporate nuggets of what they share into my world.

One piece of advice I've heard over the years is to touch each piece of paper only once. In other words, as an item comes across your desk, pick it up only once before you do something with it. Doing so helps you practice good follow-through, organization and, generally speaking, avoiding clutter. It creates clarity in your workspace.

Great advice, but for me, completely unrealistic.

I have to admit, my workspace is not free of clutter. In fact, I'm sure my “stacks” cause stress to others. However, I see plenty of other desks around my organization that also have some clutter and a few stacks. This makes me think there are others of you out there with the same trait.

My advice goes beyond organizing your desk and going through the stacks. I recommend you go through your workspace and take the time to reflect while you do so.

It's one thing to go through old files and add to your shredding bin, but it's quite another to go through the files and appreciate where you've been. Last week, I found myself with a few hours of unscheduled time, which is unusual. I started to go through files, which led to a full on “get your act together cleaning, shredding, binging” organization spree.

This event was meaningful because I actually took the time to not only clean and organize but to also look deeper.

Like many of you, I've kept files, documents, letters and objects for far too long. I never felt it was time to shred or toss … after all, I may need them in the future.

Logic won over.

I'd been holding on to things for years and had never referenced or pulled them out for anything. The things I had looked back on I did so for all the wrong reasons.

For the most part (with the help of a trusted teammate), I got rid of a lot! The process was overwhelming. I was concerned I would be searching for something the next day and would beat myself up for tossing it. Once completed though, it felt great. I should have taken before-and-after pictures. Several people have stopped in my office asking what got into me because the results are so visible.

Others are much more skilled at keeping it simple than I am. I'm again reminded of how I have a lot to learn and how leadership is a constant learning opportunity.

Something as simple as cleaning and organizing your desk and files can be a reminder of how far you've come in your leadership journey. I took the time to read thank you cards from employees, residents and families. This reflection always puts a smile on my face.

I also sifted through projects that never advanced. Files with many documents outlining lots of work that didn't come to fruition but the efforts were there. What did I learn from that failed project? Did I fail the organization as a leader? Did I contribute negatively or positively to the outcome? What did we as an organization learn from that project so many months ago?

Yes, organizing files and cleaning the clutter is about much more than housekeeping; it can be a time for you to pause and then start fresh with a new perspective on the day's work. A fresh outlook for all that's to come.

There is no written rule as to whether you should take the time to do this once a week or once a year. It's simply good to do.

Just remember that as you sort through your desk, you shouldn't miss the opportunity to grow.

Julie Thorson's “Living Leadership” blog was named the 2016 “Best New Department” Bronze Award winner by the American Society of Health Publication Editors. The president and CEO of Friendship Haven, a continuing care retirement community in Fort Dodge, IA, that earned the Governor's Award for Quality under her, Thorson is a coach's daughter at heart. She is a former part-time nursing home social worker who quickly ascended the leadership ranks. Now a licensed nursing home administrator, she has been a participant in LeadingAge's Leadership Academy and LeadingAge Iowa's Mentor of the Year. 

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