Clean Up The Crap

That’s my dog, Clifford (yeah, as in “Clifford The Big Red Dog). He’s quite awesome. He’ll chase that stupid tennis ball all day. He’s 100% retriever and likes to prove it.

Clifford is 115 pounds of pure love. His brother is Cosmo. Also quite awesome. Another 100+ pounds of furry happiness. Technically Cosmo is a retriever, too, but he’d rather climb in your lap than chase a stupid tennis ball (he’s more Golden “Companion” than Golden “Retriever”).

If you add it up, easy math tells you we have over 200 pounds of dog awesomeness living in our house.

And that 200 pounds of canine creates a lot of crap. Sorry, there’s really no other way to say it.

We have a big, beautiful back yard. It’s got a hammock, a trampoline, and some pretty lush grass thanks to a few years of work and a lot of help from Scotts Fertilizer.

But, before we can actually use our back yard, I have to go on poo duty. I criss-cross the yard in a very methodical pattern, searching for “land mines” that we’d rather not step it and definitely do not want to track back into the house. I scoop it up in those blue plastic grocery bags (that’s recycling, right?). And once I declare the yard clean, then the dog is free to chase the ball, the kids are free to chase the dog, and all is right with the world once again.

In the summer — the busy backyard time — this duty (or should I say, doodie?) befalls me at least 2-3 times per week.

Do you have any clue where I’m headed with this disgusting analogy?

Every workplace has crap. Every life has crap. It’s inescapable. The problem is that we try to plow ahead with our projects, our deliverables, our day-to-day work, and we keep stepping in it. Our messes slow us down, create unnecessary chaos, and end up contributing to work that stinks.

To make powerful progress, you have to clean up the crap first.

So what does crap look like in the workplace? It can no doubt show up a million different ways, but here are three of the most common, ranked in order from easiest to hardest to clean up:

1. A MESSY SPACE. Never, ever underestimate how much a messy space slows you down. So it comes as no surprise that the assistance of cleaning companies is needed, especially if you find it difficult to clean your office environment. Even by doing some research about Green Facilities, you’ll be able to get a better understanding as to how having a clean environment can make all the difference in terms of productivity.
If your office, desk, storage, etc. is always in disarray, you are losing countless hours in productivity every day. That could mean hundreds or thousands of hours of lost productivity every year.

Also, never, ever underestimate the mental and emotional stress that a messy space causes. You might not think it does, but it does and here’s the proof: clean up your space and THEN see how you feel. You will feel like a weight has been lifted, I promise.

The Fix: Do I really have to say it? Clean up your space! Even if you have to stop all work for a whole day or two to really deep clean and organize. Your energy, positivity, and productivity will explode once you’ve given it a clean space to play! This is always, always, always time well spent.

2. BROKEN STUFF. It might be something physically broken, like the filing cabinet drawer that you have to jiggle seven times and say a short prayer to get it to open. It might also be a system or process that’s broken. This can take a bit longer to figure out and to fix. Is your invoicing system too cumbersome? Do you get consistent complaints about a particular feature of your product or service? Are there too many layers of permission required before a team member can move a project forward?

The Fix: This fix takes two steps: 1) Recognize what’s broken. This might take a formal review of systems, physical space, etc. to really identify things that could be fixed or improved. 2) Fix it. As soon as possible.

3. POOR COMMUNICATION In most workplaces, this is the biggest, stinkiest, most ignored pile of crap of all. Poor communication can be caused by broken systems, conflicting personal agendas, and people who hoard information. But more often than not, it’s caused by a lack of clarity about what good communication looks like in your organization, combined with an unwillingness to hold every team member accountable for practicing it.

The Fix: There are entire libraries of books written on the subject, but a great place to start is by having a candid conversation with your team to define what great communication should look like. Identify some specific areas of improvement and work on them one at a time. If you need some help, one of the best books on the subject is Crucial Conversations.

The most successful people, teams, and companies take the time to clean up their crap on a regular basis. They don’t overlook it or sweep it under the rug. They proactively and methodically clean their “back yard” before they play in it.

One last thought, and it may be the most important thought in this entire article:

Realize that sometimes — many times — the crap you have to clean up is not your own.

In my backyard, I’m cleaning up the mess left behind by my two adorable golden retrievers. In your workplace, you might have to clean up space, fix some stuff, and improve communication problems caused by some of your adorable co-workers. This does not mean you shouldn’t hold people accountable for their own messes. You should absolutely do that. But sometimes — many times — to move forward effectively, to create your best work, to impact the world in the positive, powerful way you know you can, you’ll have to clean up someone else’s mess first.

A special note: I apologize if the analogy I used in this article is a little on the gross side. I have thought about writing this article literally for years and kept putting it off for that reason. However, in the past few weeks I have talked to several people that are not being as successful as they could be because their messes are holding them back. The number of people I know for sure this applies to tells me there are thousands more of our readers who might benefit from the message, too.

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