The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up…Your Content

A little over a year ago, I joined the Pages team at Facebook. I loved the team’s mission, which is essentially to help small businesses succeed, and was excited to help build a strong online community for these businesses by connecting them to people who would love their products.

My new team had a reputation. They were so passionate about improving user experience that they crushed goals while moving blazingly fast. My first few days there felt a little like I had been dropped into whitewater rapids. I knew I needed to find some kind of anchor to avoid getting swept away — something solid, with big impact, that would cement my place on this rockstar team.

Luckily, the thing I found was like a huge boulder with footholds and outcroppings. It was the perfect place to hunker down and take action. So I got to work.

Starting the magic

The project I led with was a massive audit of our notifications. Over the course of several years, the team had built hundreds of features. To help people find and learn about these features, they had written hundreds of notifications. The problem was that no one had taken enough time to periodically sort through these notifications and evaluate which ones were truly useful and which could be updated or retired.

That was where I came in. And that was when the magic started to happen.

I’d recently read Marie’s Kondo’s bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which outlines a revolutionary approach to reducing clutter and, in doing so, embracing your best life. Prior to reading the book, I was a skeptic. As someone with mad organizational skills, I doubted whether Kondo had anything to teach me. But the book was a global sensation, so I decided to give it a shot.

As it turns out, the book really did teach me new decluttering techniques — and not only in my home. My aha moment came when I realized I could apply Kondo’s model to our team junk drawer of notifications. This was one of those ideas that was crazy enough to be brilliant, and it changed the course, quality and impact of our work in a hugely positive way.

You can’t tidy up if you’ve never learned how

When I brought up the idea of auditing an amount of content this large, my team was skeptical. They knew it would take a good chunk of time and worried that I wouldn’t be able to devote as much thought to other important projects we had in the works.

I understood. In her book, Kondo outlines numerous similar situations. Spoiler alert: Most people see the art of tidying up as a chore to be avoided.

But I persisted.

Like water over stone, I eventually wore my team down, convincing them that clarity would bring us true satisfaction and great joy. They thought I was a little strange, but I didn’t mind. It was time to tidy!

My first step was to seek out and meet with content strategists from other teams at Facebook who had undertaken massive content audits. I interviewed them to find out what they felt they had done especially well, mistakes they had made and advice they had to share. The information they shared proved to be invaluable and saved me lots of time.

One of the main principles of the KonMari technique, as it’s called, is that you must take everything out and examine it in order to determine what to do with it. So that’s just what I did next. I found every notification we sent (more than 300!), took screenshots, and organized them into a spreadsheet that detailed things like click-through rate, volume and tone. This was the basis for determining which notifications we should keep, update or toss.

With this solid foundation (buy-in from my team, advice from my peers and a structured framework), I was now poised for success.

Before you start, visualize your destination

Another principle of KonMari is that you must set goals. You might think you can skip this step and just get straight to work. Don’t do it! Thinking through what you hope to achieve — in detail — before you really dig in saves time in the end and results in a better, more solid outcome.

Kondo preaches that you must vividly picture your goal. To this I will add: Bring your team along with you. Although I was enthusiastic and passionate about the project, when I first started my audit, my team was not completely on board. One person suggested that I focus only on the top 10 notifications. Others urged me to spend time on “more important” projects. Others still wondered aloud why I was bothering to fix content that was already out there in the world and seemed to be working just fine.

I realized I needed to paint them a beautiful picture. I explained that sometimes less is more. I extolled the virtues of fewer but better things. I shared what we had to gain from reducing the number of notifications but elevating the quality of those we kept. Eventually, they saw my vision as well.

Selection criterion: Does it spark joy?

This is probably the best-known part of Marie Kondo’s Magic: examining each object — in my case, each notification — and asking whether it sparks joy. For me, this was the most interesting technique to apply because I had to ask myself, “Can a notification spark joy?”

I decided that the answer was yes. A succinct, useful notification that solves a genuine problem for a person who uses your products is like a ray of light — welcoming, guiding, friendly…and, yes, joyful.

Follow your intuition and all will be well

Content strategists focus on creating and examining words. Every notification should matter; every word should be just right. If a piece of content doesn’t seem right, my job is to take the time to figure out why. Is it outdated? Confusing? Is the tone off? Will people understand why they should take action? Most important, is it actually solving a problem for the people who use our products?

In Kondo’s world, a person’s space should be filled only with things that make them happy. In mine, I aimed to create notifications that made others happy — sometimes without them knowing it, or at least without knowing exactly why. I realized that to accomplish this, I needed to use more than data. I also let my intuition guide me toward clear, useful, relevant content that just felt right.

Make tidying a special event, not a daily chore

According to Kondo, if you try to do a little each day, you’ll never finish. In order to accomplish as much as possible in a short time, I cleared my calendar. Then I worked as hard as I could to get. It. Done.

Finally, I had a beautiful spreadsheet of joyful notifications that made sense.

The magic effect of tidying

For me, the tidying of our notifications truly was magical. From the moment of first inspiration to the last line of my massive spreadsheet, I realized that this work had evolved in ways I never could have imagined. My efforts to make sense of content chaos brought my team closer together and laid a solid foundation of clarity and excellence for our products.

Most important, my work gave the people who use our products the joy of a great experience.

Magic? Yes.

Life-changing? I’ll let you be the judge of that.