Does this spark joy?
If you know what I'm talking about, you'll understand I've been a little obsessed with Marie Kondo and her Netflix series and book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.1 This woman has sparked more than a decluttering craze, but also a whole industry of journals, storybooks, simplicity routines, and KonMari training programs. It got me thinking, if people are so ready to become obsessed with decluttering their personal lives and spaces, what about their work lives and spaces? Tidying objects can be straightforward and instantly visually rewarding. Clean off the vertical desk space. Toss out the old, outdated phone lists. Get rid of the post-it notes that have lost all meaning, but are somehow still stuck to your computer monitor. That is easy. But what about the stack of journals you've been meaning to read? That copy of a textbook chapter your last student left at your request? Marie would have us ask, “Does this spark joy?” and then decide if it goes in the recycle bin or back on the desk. Nevertheless, it might not be as simple to declutter when you know the evidence contained in those pieces of paper could benefit your patient next week. (And seriously, who's felt joy at reading a research paper?) Maybe we need to ask a different question. How do I prioritize my professional growth? How can I turn a paper I have been avoiding into something exciting? I bet you are not alone, so ask some colleagues. Maybe they have advice about scheduling time for keeping up with professional reading. Maybe some would be interested in a journal club, or swapping summaries of key papers. That colleague you see once a year at a conference, maybe they'd love to FaceTime once a month and talk about a key research finding. Take some time to find the people and the way to turn something joyless into something joyful.
Decluttering can happen in your electronic workspaces as well. Have your electronic health record templates become overgrown? Have they kept up with regulatory changes? Could they be more clearly understood by the rest of the interprofessional team? Is there redundancy that you could cut out of them? Perhaps now is the time to put together a work-group to modernize and update your documentation formats, templates, smartphrases, or formatting. Streamlining your documentation, whether via the electronic health record or just your personal notes, something you use countless times a day, might not spark joy but the satisfaction of efficiently creating a through but concise note for your patients definitely will. Clean out your email. Go through your files and purge the outdated documents. Better yet, update ones that have grown musty and stale. Reorganize your documents with meaningful names in organized files. Scan some of the journal articles you just can't throw out. Become a “digital hoarder” and convert your systems from paper to electronic, if you really cannot part with stuff.
Best yet declutter your practice. Become more mindful in the moment of habits that are not serving you or your patients. Employ self-reflection and metacognition on a regular basis to think about what you are doing at work and why, to get at why it worked or why it did not. Research shows this practice is a hallmark of expert clinical practice.2,3 Research also shows that it takes an average of 17 years for a profession to incorporate evidence into everyday clinical practice.4 Why not tidy up your practice with best evidence? I can't speak for how that would make you feel, but I'm pretty sure it would spark joy in your patients on the receiving end.
Decluttering isn't just for your personal life, it's for your professional life. Streamlining the complexities of practice, both physical and mental, helps with efficiency. Efficiency of thinking, efficiency in practice. Estimable goals that are sure to spark joy in any acute care therapist.
Sharon L. Gorman, PT, DPTSc
Board-Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist
Fellow, National Academies of Practice
President, Academy of Acute Care Physical Therapy
1. Kondo M. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press; 2014.
2. Jensen GM, Gwyer J, Shepard KF, Hack LM. Expert practice in physical therapy. Phys Ther. 2000;80(1):28–43. doi:10.1093/ptj/80.1.28.
3. Wainwright SF, Shepard KF, Harman LB, Stephens J. Novice and experienced physical therapist clinicians: a comparison of how reflection is used to inform the clinical decision-making process. Phys Ther. 2010;90(1):75–88. doi:10.2522/ptj.20090077.
4. Kanter MH, Schottinger J, Whittaker J. A model for implementing evidence-based practices more quickly. NEJM Catalyst website. https://catalyst.nejm.org/implementing-evidence-based-practices-quickly/
. Accessed February 12, 2019.