A few years ago my rent increased dramatically, and I had to find a new place and move while I was working a lot of hours. I picked a place hastily and unpacked quickly, so I didn’t put together an efficient system. In my two years there, I never took the time to fix this. Pans weren't near the stove, cups were far from the sink, and coming out of the shower in need of a fresh towel meant raining onto carpet while running to the hall closet. Everything I needed always seemed to be far away, and I wasted a lot of time running around unnecessarily.
This disorganization is pretty common in workplaces. We inherit our work environment, and though we might initially question why the broom is here and the dustpan over there, eventually we no longer notice. When we train our replacement, we find ourselves explaining that the broom is here and the dustpan is there. It’s typical, but it’s embarrassing.
5S to the rescue! 5S forces us to create a system, so that these little obstacles that bleed away our time are removed. The broom goes with the dustpan. Once we streamline, we realize how much of our time had been wasted.
When I bought a new place, I learned from my previous mistakes and decided to take my 5S work precepts home with me. While the word 'productivity' calls to mind work situations such as assembly lines, it doesn’t make sense to waste my free time running around for towels or cups. Efficiency at home means more time to relax.
So if you'd like to be a machine of efficiency at home like you are at work, here are some suggestions. Don’t become overwhelmed by thinking how much time the project will take; cut it into smaller manageable projects, like start by attacking the garage. Once you start benefiting from the results, it’ll be easier to make time for more.
Step 1: Sort and Red Tag (in theory)
Though at work this step involves red tagging, at home I simply call it “Making a Pile for Goodwill.” First, define junk. My personal standard is, if I haven't used it for a year, it’s junk, unless it’s specialty, like the carpet shampooer or turkey roaster. Relegate these items to non-prime real estate, such as a hard-to-reach cupboard or back closet. Stop lying to yourself that you'll soon fix that clock that’s been broken for two years. Get rid of it and don't look back.
Step 2: Set in Order, meaning fix the system
This step is my personal favorite because it's where the real magic happens. Identify time bleeds. When you're in the kitchen, do you crisscross to get the right implements to the right place? What is in that hall closet? If you’re accessing those items frequently, you have a time bleed, because nobody hangs out in the hall. In other words if you have to dig for cotton swabs in the hall closet every day, yet you have a stash of guest towels in the bathroom that you only use every few months, trade those items. Your home is a series of workstations with tools. Are necessary tools nearby? When you get ready for work, do you move in a linear fashion, or are you running around to different rooms and colliding with family members? If you can shave five minutes off your time, that's five more minutes of sleep every day, which is 30 hours over the course of a year.
Step 3: Shine, or at least tidy up
Cleaning can streamline your processes by de-cluttering your path. If you’re navigating around an overflowing bin of dirty laundry each day, washing it doesn’t fix the problem; the laundry bin needs to be relocated.
Pay attention to frayed wire, leaking pipes, or other potential future issues. If tasks tend to fester on your to-do list, then call in some help, trade specialized labor with a friend, or bring in a specialist. Get 'er done. We all have to-do lists, and the constant back-of-mind sensation of guilt bogs us down. Eliminate this, and you’re ready to conquer new things.
Step 4: Standardize and create accountability
Just as in a productive workplace where employees are tasked within their areas of expertise, a family should find the ideal niche for each member. If your son loves the outdoors, put him in charge of weeding. With task ownership comes accountability and pride, and he'll be more likely to put in 110%.
Set a task schedule with clear expectations. Create a penalty and/or reward system. Allowance or increased privileges are an obvious path for the kids, but what about the adults of the family? To each his own pleasure. If you want to enjoy a favorite show, set that as a reward for recaulking the tub. Don't allow yourself that morning cup of coffee until the dishwasher is unloaded. Like Pavlov's dogs, you're retraining your behavior with positive reinforcement toward the more organized person you wish to become.
Step 5: Sustain
Just as you might set aside Friday afternoons at work to sort through email or return tools to the tool crib, schedule regular time at home to clean and audit the organizational system, establishing a pattern. A system overhaul includes defeating entrenched bad habits, which takes time. Scheduling time to rectify not only restores order but reminds you of the goals.
Each night I walk through the house before going to bed to verify that things are in good order—the stove is off, no food has been left out, the alarm clock is set. Schedule a few minutes each day to assess, then you know what needs to get done even if you can't tackle it then.
Changing your household system won't happen by just walking through these steps; you have to set better systems in place and adhere to them. The home is full of relaxing associations, which can lure you into leisure. Tap into your work-productive mode while 5S-ing the home. Mimic whatever your work systems are that get you going, whether you use a task whiteboard, to-do lists in OneNote or Outlook, or just take time each morning to think through what’s on deck and when it needs to get done.
It's too bad that dirt perpetually accumulates and things always break, but with a new system and good habits in place, you'll be a step ahead of the chaos.