It’s Time to Tidy Up – Get Organized, Reflect & Restore this Fall

Kyla Holcombe, Ph.D., Insights Consultant & Organizational PsychologistEmployee EngagementLeave a Comment

While I never miss a spring-cleaning, during fall, I find it increasingly difficult to carve out time for cleaning, personal development, goal-setting, or creativity. I recently realized I should be more attuned to the natural signals of fall, as the transitions of this season can prompt reflection, getting organized, and clearing out unnecessary clutter in work and personal lives. Kids are going back to school. Organizations are wrapping up Q3 and heading into Q4. Leaves are changing and I will soon dig out my comfy sweaters. As we head into Fall, I commit to: 1) Get organized, 2) revisit goals, and 3) eliminate pesky distractions. Here are the items I plan to tackle; want to join me?

Get Organized

At home, fall is a great time to clean out closets, donate unused items, and declutter spaces. Something about putting a physical space in order is cleansing, restorative, and re-energizing. By taking stock of what we need and what we don’t, it also prompts thinking about priorities, how we spend our time, and where our energy goes. As Graham Hill discusses in his TED Talk, removing physical excess and clutter can help bring clarity and focus in our minds as well.

At work, simple things like having an organized desk or workspace can make a big difference. On a desk, for example, limiting the amount of office supplies, displaying only a few meaningful personal items, maintaining a good amount of clear working space on your dominant side, and keeping only currently relevant documents accessible can help maximize productivity (Vasel, 2015). Mirroring this in your virtual workspace is important too; is your desktop relatively organized and files in tidy order so you can easily find what you need?

I also plan to reflect on my work roles. In our research, we see higher engagement among those who have a clear understanding of their roles and priorities. Lack of role clarity is also a major stressor related to work overload, poor performance, and turnover (Bliese & Castro, 2000; Griffeth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000; Tubre & Collins, 2000). Now is the time to check-in with yourself, your manager, and your teams. Roles and priorities can shift, so it is important to check-in periodically to make sure everyone is still on the same page. Are role expectations clear? Are priorities moving into the end of the year clearly outlined and organized? Where can you bring clarity to your work tasks and refocus on major priorities?

Revisit Goals

Like many people, I am a dedicated goal-setter; it is the follow-through and accountability that I am continually working to improve. This is a good time of year to check-in on New Year’s resolutions or goals set during beginning and mid-year evaluations. Big-picture goals are especially difficult to monitor over a full year. Financial, wellness, or learning goals are easy to push aside when there are daily fires to tend or urgent and pressing needs to fulfill. However, time has passed since goals were set and there is no better time than the present to reflect on what has changed, what is going well, roadblocks encountered, and ways to course-correct if needed.

If you or I discover that less progress has been made than intended, it can be helpful to think about personal change and development via the punctuated equilibrium model. The model originated in biology and has been used to explain organizational change and patterns in team performance (e.g., Gersick, 1988). The model suggests that change comprises long periods of stability or non-activity, punctuated by short periods of relatively fast change. For example, when teams work towards goals, their activity tends to be slow and lacking in direction at the beginning, but kicks into gear at the midpoint of a project, given awareness of time remaining until the deadline. Teams can make substantial progress in a relatively short time when aware of a pending date. This highlights the importance of clear deadlines and everyone’s awareness of them.

Related to my own change and progress towards goals, it is not surprising that a couple months can pass without any real attention or action towards a large goal. Approaching the end of the year, I need to break my long-term goals into shorter, more concrete goals. Considering what is realistic by the end of the year, I can map out where to focus on a weekly or monthly basis. By increasing the number of “deadlines,” I will also increase my mid-point opportunities to punctuate and motivate change.

Eliminate Distractions

I often fall into the trap of trying to add more and more to the plate without considering what I will remove. Removing distractions is a great place to start cleansing, decluttering, and simplifying. Taking breaks is important for balance and productivity, but it can be enlightening to sit down and identify the tasks that suck up our time but do not contribute to our goals, learning, or performance. And, after identifying the items we want to dedicate less or no time to – e.g., responding to emails, checking Facebook, attending meetings unrelated to our work – we must hold ourselves accountable to keep those items off our plates. Forbes suggests that the most common workplace distractions include music, watching TV, co-worker gossip, audible email alerts or notifications, personal and work-related phone calls, texting, other people’s conversations, background noise (e.g., printers, bathroom door opening and closing), micromanaging supervisors, and distractions outside (e.g., people walking, traffic, weather). It is time to reflect on which of these impacts work and how they can be minimized to focus attention.

Fall is upon us. What better time to check-in, reflect, simplify, and reset than with the changing season?


Bliese, P. D., & Castro, C. A. (2000). Role clarity, work overload and organizational support: Multilevel evidence of the importance of support. Work & Stress14(1), 65-73. How To Handle 10 Common Workplace Distractions. Retrieved from

Gersick, C. (1988). Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development. Academy of Management Journal, 31, 9-41.

Griffeth, R. W., Hom, P. W., & Gaertner, S. (2000). A meta-analysis of antecedents and correlates of employee turnover: Update, moderator tests, and research implications for the next millennium. Journal of management26(3), 463-488.

Hill, G. (2011). Less stuff, more happiness. Retrieved from

Tubre, T. C., & Collins, J. M. (2000). Jackson and Schuler (1985) revisited: A meta-analysis of the relationships between role ambiguity, role conflict, and job performance. Journal of management26(1), 155-169.

Vasel, K. (2015, Feb. 2). Here’s how your desk should be organized. Retrieved from