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‘Joy at Work’ (from home): Rice professor teams up with Marie Kondo in new book

Courtesy Pan Macmillan

By Morgan Gage     4/14/20 3:48pm

Since the debut of Marie Kondo’s show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” many of us have been asking ourselves, “Does this spark joy?” either in jest or while actually sorting through clutter that we should have thrown out three years before. However, while it is easier to function in a tidy workspace, many items that are crucial to someone’s career cannot be thrown away regardless of their emotional value. This is where “Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life,” coauthored by Marie Kondo and Rice business professor Scott Sonenshein, comes in to bridge the gap by helping readers declutter their workspaces and take pleasure in their jobs.

The book brings together the KonMari method with Sonenshein’s research in organizational psychology. By combining their two areas of expertise, Kondo and Sonenshein hope to provide a guide that allows their readers to clean up their messes at work and find more joy in a place where people spend a significant portion of their lives. To get a better sense of the book, the Thresher sat down with Scott Sonenshein to discuss how the advice within it can help those working from home.

“A lot of my research has been on the power of less,” Sonenshein said. “Marie is helping people literally and metaphorically clean out their closets by leaving only what brings them joy. That’s where my research comes in.”

While many people have vacated their usual office spaces due to COVID-19, the importance of keeping a tidy workspace while working remotely is now more important than ever. For those who have moved online for work and school,, Kondo and Sonenshein provide advice on reducing digital clutter.

“I think people are probably getting even more emails than they’re used to, which only ups the ante,” Sonenshein said.

Sonenshein noted that there are many things that need to be considered when work moves from in-person to online. Sonenshein is no stranger to this critical move — both of his Rice courses have shifted to Zoom for the rest of the semester, an experience shared by professors around the world. 

“You lose some of that in-person connection, and it’s much harder to bring rapport that way,” Sonenshein said. “You can’t make eye contact. One of my classes has 60 people, and you can’t even see all of them on the Zoom screen. The book focuses on building higher quality relationships instead of higher quantity.”

With the majority of our interactions — both professional and social — occurring online, people face digital distractions more than ever. After a single interruption, it can take as many as 26 minutes to get back on track according to Sonenshein, but “Joy At Work” offers techniques to combat these distractions, some of which Sonenshein uses in his daily life.

“I like to put my phone in a drawer and forget about it. You have to be mindful to just turn that thing off,” Sonenshein said. “I try to keep it from being on me at all times. I [also] tidy my phone to only have the most essential and most joyful apps on my phone.”

However, he recognizes that it is more difficult to set aside technology than ever before.

“It can be very tempting to feel connected [via email] by responding immediately, [but] if it’s not important or urgent, it can wait,” Sonenshein said. “And you can respond in a few sittings each day rather than be tethered to this thing and put everything down to respond immediately. I think that’s a pretty unhealthy way to live.”

While the basis of the book is organizational practices?, Sonenshein says that “Joy At Work” is ultimately a book about creating the space for meaningful work by making choices that cultivate the life that the reader wants to live. 

“This is really a book about stepping back and getting rid of a lot of the work and life messes that you have so that you can make choices that create the work and life that you want, not the one that you just happened to stumble into or the one that you feel pressured to go into,” Sonenshein said.[Joy At Work] is really a book about intentions and making choices consistent with the life that you want.”

Overall, Sonenshein said he hopes that readers can reflect on the strength of combining different perspectives and the way it contributes to a stronger product.

“I think a lot of new ideas and knowledge can come from when you work with people who are different from you, and in this case, Marie and I had very different professional backgrounds,” Sonenshein said. “We have very different cultures. We speak very different languages, and I think a lot of the interesting stuff in the book comes from those differences.”

“Joy at Work: Organizing Your Professional Life” is available for purchase from all major online booksellers.

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