Simple ideas can change your life.
If you are anything like me, you are always looking for the next best thing. And often, the best ideas come from industries completely unrelated to your own!
Recently I discovered the principles of 5S from the Lean Manufacturing. I know what you are thinking. Manufacturing! I work in marketing.
But bear with me.
Lean principles and 5S in particular have been around for a long time. They are one of the backbones of Toyota’s success. And companies like Nike, Intel, Caterpillar and many more are all using lean to improve their businesses today.
Now you might be asking yourself: what is 5S and why is it important to me?
5S is fundamentally a set of very simple ideas that can be applied to almost any work situation to gain more efficiency and improve productivity. The 5 Ss were originally Japanese words beginning with S, each with a distinct idea behind it. We also have the 5S in English, in case you want to read their definitions.
The great things about 5S is that it is so simple and powerful that you can use them in any field and see amazing benefits.
Let’s find out how.
1. Sort (Seiri)
I like to watch Masterchef Australia a lot. Well, if I am honest, a bit too much. But in my defense, you learn a lot of interesting things about cooking and being productive too!
One thing they always go on about is keeping your work-space clean. And the chefs always say that if your workbench is a mess, your cooking will suffer. You will lose track of things, mix up ingredients, misplace items and in the end, produce a sub-standard plate of food.
Why am I telling you this? Because “sort” from 5S is exactly the same. It refers to keeping your workplace clean and tidy in order to improve your productivity. Basically, removing unwanted items and mess.
The same idea can be applied to anything, including your desk or even your desktop and file system on your computer.
Do you struggle to find documents, or post-its just when you need them? This could be one of the big reasons.
Takeaway: Always be on the lookout for ways to remove the clutter in everything you do. Don’t leave things until later or just in case.
2. Set In Order (Seiton)
Moving on from the cleanup phase of 5S is the ordering phase. The idea here is to improve efficiency and productivity through the intelligent placement of things that you use often.
That may sound a little weird at first, so let me give you an example.
Say you have to write an article for a blog. In doing that particular task you will always use very similar items on your computer:
First, you should look for ways to make sure the commonly used websites are bookmarked for easy retrieval when you need them.
Next, you should store the files you need (references, images) in a shared folder you can easily access via shortcut or bookmark.
Also, you should make sure that your desktop software is easily accessible and not buried 2 sub-folders deep (desktop icons are handy here).
The idea is to help you streamline your process and ensure you do not lose time looking for things you know you will need every time you do that task.
Takeaway: Keeping your commonly used tools in easy to reach places can make a huge difference to your productivity.
3. Shine (Seiso)
This reminds me of shining my shoes!
Shine refers to keeping things clean and well maintained. Again, the best way to understand how this is useful is to put it into context for you.
Apart from making sure you get rid of any unwanted mess on your desk (physical and virtual) “shine” also suggests you should keep things up to date and well maintained.
We all hate to update our PCs and phones. I sometimes avoid the update button on my iPhone for weeks.
However, while I was reading Inevitable, the latest book from Kevin Kelly, recently I had a revelation. In the book Kevin admits that he, like most of us, has avoided software updates for years too. The problem is that when you do finally press the update button you can unleash a torrent of problems. Because you have waited, there are other things that have progressed too. Other software that depends on the PC or phone. Waiting may seem like a good idea, but in the long run you are far better off doing it ASAP.
The same goes for most things you own. Maintenance is a necessary evil that helps you not only do your job faster and easier but keeps your tools running better and for longer.
Ever pumped up your tires on your bike and suddenly found you could go faster? You get the point.
Takeaway: Don’t avoid maintaining your tools and software because, in the end, it will only slow you down.
4. Standardize (Seiketsu)
We all hate processes. Well, most of us anyway.
They seem so boring and unnecessary, and suck all the fun out of our day to day tasks. However, if you can boil something down to a step-by-step process and “standardize” it (as this part of 5S is all about) it means you have that task well in hand.
You can now repeat it exactly at any point, even in the future (months after you last did it). It also means you can outsource the task to someone else and free up your time to do more interesting things in your business or day. Or, even if you don’t have your own business, you can hand it off to an intern or another employee within your company.
All the best companies and entrepreneurs know that the power of a well-run business is in the processes. They make things repeatable, improvable, and measurable.
Takeaway: Boil down your most often done tasks into repeatable steps and document them.
5. Sustain (Shitsuke)
This one is perhaps the simplest and the hardest at the same time. Make it a habit.
Habits are hard. However, if you don’t do all these things on a regular basis and build them into your daily work life it will all have been for nothing.
Your work space will become a mess again. Those files will go missing. The software won’t be up to date.
This is heavily related to processes, at least within a business, because they need to become part of the culture. But for an individual, it just means keeping them in mind in everything that you do.
Takeaway: Make all of the first 4S ideas a habit and your productivity in all areas will soar!
Summing It All Up
There is a reason that Toyota became one of the world’s most successful companies, and in a time when they were far behind their competitors. They made an art of things like 5S. Embedding it deep within their business and culture.
You can do the same, and make the most of the time you have each day.