Konmari your documentation: 7 steps to sparking joy
Catherine Heath | January 6, 2021
You may very well have heard of Marie Kondo. Marie Kondo is a tidying expert, bestselling author, star of Netflix's hit show, "Tidying Up With Marie Kondo," founder of KonMari Media, Inc, and a social media superstar. She has made tidying fun, and cool. But what are the links between Marie Kondo’s KonMari tidying method and documentation?
As the famous Stephen King said of writing, you should “kill your darlings”. This means we need to let go of things that we feel emotionally attached to but are no longer serving us, which is a big part of the KonMari approach. This idea applies to our documentation as much as anything else.
Now let’s hit the practical advice for KonMari-ing your documentation.
1. Organize your tasks
First of all, get organized. This may be easier said than done, but a little effort now will reap rewards later down the line. Take the time to gather all your documentation tasks into one place.
Our Chief Executive Owl Marybeth says, “One of the strategies Marie teaches is to gather all belongings of the same type into the same space so you can see how much you actually have. One strategy some of us use here is to put all of our tasks into Asana so we can see everything in the same place. When you have tasks spread out between Slack, email, Help Scout, and Asana, things can feel cluttered and overwhelming.
“The act of gathering everything together in Asana and then prioritizing from there is similar to how Marie has you declutter your home. Once you have everything together, you can decide what you need/want to keep on your todo and what you can purge if it's no longer important or necessary.
“Near the end of 2019, Kate and I konmaried a few things, like finally moving all of the Pivotal Tracker tasks over to Asana so they were all in the same place and purging what was no longer needed.
“We take a very konmari approach to the backlog as well, which is where all of our feature requests, bugs, and other dev chores live. We try to collect all the information in the same place, and then at our prioritization meeting we decide the fate of each item.”
Catherine says, “Yes, I guess it’s kind of about bringing everything out into the open and taking stock of what you have. This can be a slightly traumatic process, but worth it in the end!”
Marybeth says, “A related concept I've learned with tidying is to "put things away not down". It works for work stuff as well as life. Everything should have a place and you should put things where they go as soon as they come up.”
Head Professional Services Owl, Resident Sorcerer Stephen agrees. “I like that. Then if it doesn't have a place that might help decide whether it's necessary or not.”
Organizing all your documentation tasks helps you declutter, and deciding on a place for everything helps you decide if you really need it. Make sure your whole team is tracking docs or audit tasks in one place, so it's clear what the full scope of work is, and who's working on what.
2. Categorize your documentation
Categorizing is a big part of KonMari, and this can just as easily apply to your documentation. Our Head Product Owl, Resident Cheesemonger Kate says, “Marie talks a lot about the importance of getting everything in a specific Konmari category together, so you can really get a feel for how much stuff you have. I think this applies to documentation, as well, but there are at least two ways I can think of that you could apply it. The two that seem most useful to me are:
a) Getting together all documentation on a specific topic and reviewing it at once so you can easily cut redundant things. You could possibly use your KB architecture for this, or metadata (like tags), or search. In a pinch I've used all three. This would be a good use case for the tags filters I talked about in that "keeping your content up to date and still have time for lunch" post. This to me is a deep-dive and should be reviewing actual content.
b) Reviewing all documentation of a specific type/function (e.g. individual how-to articles vs. toolkits vs. getting started guides, etc.). This could be a two-phase effort: one to just review titles/topics to check your coverage; another to review them in more detail to check for relevancy, etc.”
There’s really no point in having repetition in your docs, so when you organize it into categories it’s easier to see when you have duplicate content. This will also help you see when particular content is missing, so you can add creating this content to your to-do list.
3. Find joy in useful docs
Documentation may not be an area that sparks joy for you - yet. Joy can also be found in content that is useful and practical.
Kate says, “Documentation is hard because a lot of it is necessary and might not bring you a lot of joy. However, you can treat it like tools and other more utilitarian things in Konmari: even if it's necessary, it should still be organized and put in its place. Be sure that your information architecture makes sense so that all things have a logical place. If they don't, it might be time to do an info architecture overhaul (similar to the blog post I wrote on how we reorganized all of our content).
“I think content audits should keep in mind utility AND joy. If you have two pieces of content that basically discuss the same thing, which does it more effectively? Either cut the others or see if they surface different topics or angles that could be incorporated into the "good" one or more fully developed into separate content.”
Information architecture is a key aspect of making sure your documentation is both utilitarian and joyful. When your content has a place, it’s easier to see what you have. And as Kate says, cut the repetitive content.
4. Follow a Just-In-Time approach
It’s not possible to create all the documentation you might want in an ideal world. Luckily, Konmari emphasizes minimalism and this concept can also be applied to docs.
Kate says, “I like to take a just-in-time or demand-driven approach (Bri had the post on JIT docs; KCS talks about demand-driven documentation). This means that you're creating documentation as it's needed rather than in anticipation of some future need. It's a good methodology from the get-go.
“If you have a heap of content and you haven't done this from the beginning, look at the reporting options your KB has. KO, for example, has a "Articles with 0 views" report that can help you identify content that is not being viewed at all--good candidates to be thanked and deleted, or for some massive overhauls to be made more relevant.”
As we’ve said, comprehensive documentation might be a pointless pipedream, but it’s also crucial to delete content that isn’t being viewed at all.
5. Make your docs as joyful as possible
It really is possible to find joy in your documentation when you give yourself some creative licence.
Kate says, “This may sound silly, but there are definitely docs I've written that bring me more joy than others. Often that's because I got to work in fun owl-related examples into my screenshots, or I used a good Use Case write-up with Linus and friends in it. Other times, it may just be that the documentation does exactly what it should do, and there's a satisfaction in that.
“As when you are going through possessions with KonMari, it helps to begin doc reviews by looking at a few of those very obviously joyful docs. This can help you get a feel for style choices, layouts, etc., that seem very strong--and that can help you develop either intuitive or explicit criteria to hold other docs to. If you're part of a team, it can be great for you each to pick one or two docs that bring you joy and to review the traits of those as a team to see if it impacts your style guide, templates, etc.”
Make the creation process of your docs more fun, which will motivate you to create more documentation.
6. Consider the layout of your docs
You need to consider different layouts for your docs based on the function they provide.
Kate says, “Really think about layout and function. Marie has different folding and storage methods for different types of items. They tend to be variations on a theme (the folding into thirds, for example). As you think about individual document layout and overall KB architecture, pay attention to the structures you're using. Do they fit the content you're presenting? Are they consistent?
“KonMari has a sort of double joy: when things have their place and a method for putting them there, it is far less work to get things in order. Your docs, in an ideal world, will have that same kind of order. You'll be able to say "Oh, this is a feature overview article so it should be set up like X" or "This is a how-to so it gets set up like Y". Templates can be useful here, but I often find templates frustrating and instead prefer to use checklists. In either case, you're repeating a series of steps over and over again so your documentation is consistent.
“This has perks for your readers, sure, but it also has perks for your writers. It's much easier to make sense of a sea of new information when you launch a new feature or product, for example, if you have a checklist of structures that must, should, or could be included.”
As Kate says, consider creating a checklist for different types of documentation to keep your formatting consistent. This is helpful for both writers and readers.
7. Phase your doc reviews
Don’t tackle everything at once. If you’re reviewing your docs, it’s going to take time to complete this ambitious project. Marie Kondo doesn’t recommend tackling everything straight away.
Kate says, “Also: as with KonMari, take any doc reviews/updates in phases. You can't do it all at once, and it will feel overwhelming. Starting with a particular type of doc or a particular section of your documentation (preferably easier types/sections) is useful--you can gain momentum, refine your process, develop a really good sense of what "great/worthy of keeping" documentation looks like, and then gradually apply that to the trickier and trickier things.
“I have been using an approach like this with our knowledge base reorganization and the massive round of content updates I've been working on since the reorg. I picked some of the less complicated features and topics to work through first, and I've been gradually working my way up to the much more involved undertakings (like a new Getting Started Guide, etc.).
“While I'm normally of the opinion that it's good to get the most odious tasks finished first, this is a bit like Marie's suggestions to work through the various categories of possessions in a particular order, saving the sentimental and really heavy items for last--once you've kind of "embraced" Konmari effectively and know what you're doing.
“In my case, I saved the getting started guide for last because it's a large undertaking and it really gets at the heart of a lot of larger questions (how do we want to introduce people to the product and documentation? What should that experience be like?) and I wanted to be able to focus on those questions alone without having to also be stumbling my way through style guide conventions, the new organization/layout, etc.”
As Kate says, start with some of the easier documentation tasks in your review first. You’ll improve as you go along, and develop a strategy to help you handle some of the trickier parts of the review.
So now you understand the links between Marie Kondo’s KonMari approach to tidying and documentation. Categorization is particularly important so you can take stock of everything you have. Aim for a Just-In-Time approach to documentation so that you’re only creating content as and when you need it. Find as much joy as possible in your documentation, but don’t be afraid to “kill your darlings” if you find customers don’t need certain content.