How to start with “creating order”?
The usual advice is to make a plan in which you record the most important choices and actions and decide what you’ll do and what you don’t, in which order and how. Sometimes structure is experienced as following a somewhat rigid discipline. All too often one starts with organizing and laying down new rules (possibly as a replacement for earlier agreements). The problem is that such a planning and decision-making process costs energy, probably without giving you pleasure. As if you first have to invest heavily in creating order before there’s a pay-back. However, as with everything you do, it’s nice if you quickly experience a positive result. What makes you happy also gives you strength! In this article I therefore make a side trip to the automotive industry, where they clearly understood this reward concept. The principles of process control they conceived are also useful in daily life. After all, our life is a succession of processes too, and we simply re-use some very practical ideas from the Japanese industry.
The model of LEAN Thinking originated at Toyota. The goal was to provide the customer with the best possible car according his wishes. Despite a requested low price, Toyota also wanted to make a good profit, and so they had to arrange their production to become very effective and efficient. Nothing should be wasted, and everyone needs to know exactly what to do. In such a factory, the value stream is optimized and a lot of attention is given to motivating and training the employees. Continuous improvement is an important part of that process: it doesn’t have to be perfect now, if you know how to do it better next time. Making mistakes is allowed, as long as you recognize them and learn how to improve. Employees therefore get a lot of trust from the management. And with that also responsibility. Without going any further into all the details of LEAN in a factory, I make the jump to daily life.
The following starting points are important if we want to execute the right things in the right way:
- You have a goal in mind, and you know why.
Compare that to “delivering a car to the customer and earning something from it”. For you it can be: “after a difficult period, next to doing your work, you can participate in social life again”. Or: “process the loss of your partner, and pick up the thread of your life”. There’s no need to define that very precise though, but it is good to confirm to yourself that you are creating order to feel better later on.
- You can make mistakes. There is no one who judges you on that, but you shouldn’t ignore mistakes made.
People often have a lot of respect for someone who honestly says that next time something will be addressed in a better way. One is then genuinely interested in your ideas about this, and you might spontaneously get help out of unexpected corners. Give yourself the opportunity to do something now and learn from it for the next time.
- Trust is in your heart.
You know you want this. There are no high expectations, no obligations, there is only the will to move forward. Even if it takes some time.
Just like a factory that’s new to LEAN, you just start creating order somewhere, without a grand plan. You execute small things, and see what comes from these. Next time you’ll know how to deal with it better. Don’t compare yourself with super-structured people who seem to deal with everything very cleverly. You’ll find for your own way. Do not worry about priorities and possible coherence of actions. Over time, the pieces of your daily life puzzle fall into place, and your new personal and dynamic pattern unfolds!
The LEAN model is based on reducing Muda (= waste), Mura (= unevenness) and Muri (= overburden). Reducing these 3 aspects step by step creates more time and mental space for other pursuits or improvements. It’s a thinking model that helps you examine your activities and behavior through a pair of glasses: the glasses of efficiency and effectiveness. We start with Muri, and then start treating Mura and finally Muda, to see how we can translate these principles into our own lives.
Overload (Muri) is detrimental for our balance. We know that from our own experience. Not only do you put too much energy in your activities, overload can also cause damage in such a way that you’re disabled for a long time. It may reduce your flexibility permanently, so that you are incapable for the rest of your life. There are limits to what you can do. An elevator in an office building has a fixed lifting capacity, often expressed in numbers of people. Occasionally taking someone extra will not be a problem, but the chance of damage increases. For example, the lift may no longer be able to fully reach its final position, and remains hanging a few centimeters below the edge of the floor. Sensors can become disrupted due to this misalignment. When faced with heavy or regular overloads, parts such as motor, cables and bearings wear much stronger than expected. Apart from the higher energy consumption, a thorough overhaul is required after a while. For a week users then have to take the stairs … That itself is also an overload for many people, with all related consequences. So you see that overload can cause a chain of effects. Damage can occur directly, or in the form of degeneration: slow decay of your system. The result is always that you have to reduce your activities for a while.
That is also the case with people, who know both mental and physical overload. Here are a few tips that help you implement Muri in your daily patterns:
- Ensure adequate and good night’s sleep.
Make sure you are not disturbed during your sleep. No telephone next to your bed, and drink well in advance for the last time, so that you can go to the toilet before you lay yourself down. It is also important to avoid stimulating things for at least half an hour before bedtime, such as working with computers or mobile devices. Not only is the bluish light of the screens very energizing, a concentrated activity also brings your brain into an elevated state of alertness. Instead it’s better to memorize the events of the past day, and consider what you will do tomorrow. Preferably there’s a soothing music in the background.
Night’s rest is important because your battery then recharges itself, and your brain executes some big cleaning. Even though there are individual differences, our biorhythm says: work when it is light, and sleep when it is dark. Your muscles relax, and all tissues get the time to recover from activities performed. Your metabolism slows down a bit, and your organs calmly complete what they were processing during the day, without being disturbed by strenuous activities or new food intake.
- Consciously take distance from thoughts that keep haunting your head.
View yourself as through the eyes of someone else. Then you see nothing of what goes on in your head. Question yourself why so many things occupy you.
- Dare to say “No!” to yourself and others.
If your head is full with everything you still have to do, you become overwrought. Not everything is your problem. Monkeys are nice animals, but not all monkeys belong on your shoulders!
- Talking gives breath.
Discuss with someone you trust the things you want to do, and how you can approach that. Talking is the best way to assist your brain in creating order.
- If you can and want to, build in moments of meditation.
You don’t have to be a specialist or have had a course at all. Forget the special mats, candles and fragrance sticks. All that can be supportive, but it isn’t necessary. Just sit in a comfortable chair, make sure that no legs or arms are pinched (because of blood flow). If necessary, use a fleece blanket to keep warm. Close your eyes, or gaze at a point in the empty space, and let your thoughts run free. Do not even try to think and observe consciously, but let thoughts come up randomly and evaporate again. Don’t do process it. After a while you’ll notice that your spirit eases, and a feeling of rest descends on you. Don’t be ashamed when you fall asleep. Apparently you needed that too!
- Eat sensibly and drink plenty of water.
That way you keep your energy level in order, and your body gets its building materials. A weakened physique is overloaded more quickly.
Avoid fast-food, and instead take fresh stuff. Fruit, vegetables and especially variation are essential. Remind yourself that industrial food is made tasty by adding lots of sugar, sweetener or salt and flavor enhancers. In addition, for mass production, extra non-natural substances are also subjoined, and it’s uncertain what these do with our body in the long run. Admittedly, fresh food takes more time to prepare. But that’s fun too, and it’s a great way to pay attention to your own needs, and to pamper yourself a bit.
- Do something like fitness, and regularly go for a walk.
That exercises the muscles, stimulates the metabolism, and also has a liberating effect on your thoughts. It increases your resistance margins. If you go to a gym you will be lit by the people who do their work-out, each in their own way. Twice a week a half hour moderate strength training is sufficient. You can also go jogging, cycling, skating and so on. There are a lot of possibilities, and some do not cost anything at all.
- With physical activity, watch out for lifting weight if you have to bend or stretch (high).
The last thing you want are problems with your back, cracks in your muscles or forced joints. Use tools to save your powers, such as a roll board, a crate on wheels, a solid staircase. Ask for help from others. If you do something with two people, each has only half of the total burden! On the internet a lot of information is available about posture techniques to deal with heavier loads. Ensure balance (if necessary using a counterweight), and keep heavy objects as close to your body as possible.
- Watch for potential static stress in your body posture and the chance of RSI, not only while working with computers.
It goes too far to go into this, but rest breaks and alternated muscle use are the best ways to prevent long-term degeneration of tissues and nerves. For example, use your mouse with your left hand (if you are right-handed). That requires some practice, but it’s also a good neural stimulus for your brain! Search the internet for articles on this subject!
- Focus on one thing at a time, and try to finish it neatly before you start with the next.
You take a break regularly, for example for a short nap or a small meal. Do not stubbornly keep going on and on. There is no pressure, and tomorrow there’s another day. However, in the end try to produce a result, no matter how small. That gives positive energy, and from that you derive courage for your next activity.
So if you start something, think beforehand whether you are going to do it correctly, so that it does not lead to an overload. That way you just have fun a lot longer!
Unevenness (Mura) means that actions are done differently each time, without this leading to improvement. This asks too much attention and clearly indicates you lack control over some tasks. In a factory, Mura exhibits itself through the need for repairs and many checks, necessary because one doesn’t trust the quality of an operation. In daily life, for example, this expresses itself when you are vacuuming, and you do not find the accessories you need. Or you cleaned the counter, and later find out that the dishcloth had not been rinsed out properly, so that you have to clean some parts again. Another example: you want to write a letter, but the telephone disturbs you multiple times (solution: just switch off your phone for an hour – nobody who suffers from that). It is more difficult to translate Mura into your daily activities than Muri and Muda. However, take as a guide: anything you can’t complete in a smooth process because you are distracted, suffers from Mura. By the way, that says nothing about how long something takes: it’s not about being ready quickly, but about keeping focus on your end goal, without useless interruptions.
- You normally do not always have to be available for answering. Ever since we have mobile phones, WhatsApp and email, we expect each other to react promptly when there’s a message. But 80% of our communication has no meaningful purpose at all, at least nothing that justifies the expectation of immediate response. Switch everything off when you’re busy with something important, put your gadgets in a drawer, use airplane mode and turn off the sound. And do not forget: resting is also an important activity!
- Scanning all advertising leaflets to see where you get products cheapest is fun, but don’t exagerate! The result is that you drag around lots of things, going from one shop to another, to get everything you are looking for. It is better to do that for expensive goods only. For our home-garden-and-kitchen groceries it’s okay to stick with 2 or at most 3 stores where you get a certain assortment. Even though it is not the cheapest way, you are less tired and have more time for other things. Your shopping lists are also clear and repetitive.
Do not change brand or product too often. That creates extra confusion in your head because you have to keep track of everything, how it tastes, how it should be prepared, and so on.
- Always try to do your household work according a fixed protocol. This way you can concentrate on the quality of your work. For example, start with the preparation, collecting everything you need. If, in the middle of a job, you discover that something is missing , that leads to a real disturbing break.
- There are many things you don’t have to think about all the time. They come back regularly and can be executed according to a fixed pattern. For example: wake up, open up the quilt, open curtains, open the window for the fresh air, go to the bathroom and dress up, close the window again, have breakfast, … A certain rhythm helps you not to forget anything.
You must learn to recognize Mura in your daily activities. Unwanted distractions and interruptions are signals that there is something to be gained!
The 7 types of waste, summed up as Muda, are perhaps the best known part of LEAN. All around you there’s waste of time, material and energy. You are waiting in a traffic jam until you can continue. You are ready to submit your tax return, but have to wait until March 1, when the tax authorities are ready. You walk to your office to get something, but you notice it’s not where it actually belongs. You find out that your stock of strawberry jam in the fridge has been consumed by mold, so you have to throw away everything. You carry your laptop to the service workshop, to discover you have to send it to the manufacturer. If you pay special attention to it, there are plenty of examples of waste. My first project as a developer, 33 years ago, was an extremely low noise amplifier for 32 nitrogen-cooled sensors. After it was finished one and a half years later, the scientist in question left the laboratory, and the entire assembly was disposed of as scrap. The strange thing was that I didn’t feel it as waste: a new challenge was waiting for me. That’s how it goes in everyday life. We ignore what actually was lost time and energy, because we already are distracted by the next activity.
Apart from the fact that it is a pity to waste valuable time and resources, there is another reason why I pay attention to it.
Waste expedites a chaotic course of your life. You are often busy with fire-fighting, and things that you thought were over come back on your plate again. This is often accompanied by an avalanche of information, sometimes useful, but usually completely irrelevant. This swallows your thoughts, and that can be the trigger for stress, overwork and burnout. It is often these small annoying disruptions that elicit irritations between partners. In retrospect, when somebody made a mistake, it is always easy to say: “Do you see? Didn’t I tell you…? Couldn’t you better be …?”. In the end waste drags your attention away from what really matters, and what is important to you and the people around you.
Some wastes are inevitable. Tools are subject to wear and must therefore be replaced once. However, without tools you can’t hang a photo frame on a concrete wall (okay, I know that there are super-adhesive brackets 🙂). Washing and polishing your car also costs time, water and shampoo. It doesn’t really bring you anything, but it extends the life of the car (especially together with adequate technical maintenance). Shopping notes you can only use once. There are more examples that in themselves do not yield anything, but are supportive for your life. The best thing you can do with such “wastes” is to make sure you benefit from it for as long as possible. The shopping note has, for instance, 2 sides, and perhaps you can cut it in half first because you never write down that much. Being creative with it is fun and gives satisfaction, because you take control and immediately reap the benefits. That produces a good deal of organization.
You need the same creativity to eliminate other forms of waste as much as possible. In doing so, you increasingly think ahead and anticipate on what awaits you. Remember that you continuously learn how it can be done better, so don’t expect the ideal solution right away! That is not the goal of Muda reduction. The purpose is to make available more time, money and energy, so we grow satisfaction in our lives. That is what LEAN means with “value creation”. The list below is meant to help you find your own way. It really becomes fun when you start to recognize moments that you could have tackled something smarter and more efficiently.
- Waiting: the example of the traffic jam speaks for itself. But it can not always be prevented because you depend on others. Let’s take another example: you want to make a cup of tea. To get water boiling takes time, so it’s best to start with that. Only then do you grab a cup, take a tea bag, etc. In other words: fill your waiting time with other useful things that have to be done anyway. Perhaps you can rinse a few things? One of the reasons that people commute to work by train is because they can use the travel time for something else. If you go by car, you are occupied by something that in itself doesn’t yield (except that you are flexible). Many people have magazines on the toilet to enjoy the waiting time. Instead, you can also check your email using your mobile phone.
Be aware: rest breaks are not waiting moments! In that time you do something special. If you don’t like your moments of rest, see them as absolutely necessary waste of time 🙂.
- Overproduction: imagine you want to make one cup of tea, and put the kettle on with one and a half liters of water in it. That takes longer, costs more energy than necessary (real loss, because the water then cools down again) and you have water that you don’t use for now. You cook a meal for one person, with ingredients for two (so you better split it and freeze the second half). When shopping, you take along a few offers that you actually do not need. It can also be mental: you think about an important situation, and let your thoughts immediately dive into 2 or 3 other issues. Because your brain is not good at that, the outcome is not optimal.
- Defect: This includes everything you do not immediately execute well. The result is the need to do something again, or even repairs. It is often better to give a little more time and attention to your work, so that later on you will not have to spend more time and money on corrective actions. If you paint a wall, and you do not follow the instructions on the paint can (in addition to a number of basic techniques to avoid spilling material and to remain clean yourself), chances are that you have to apply an extra layer. In other words, your first action led to a defect. If a dishwasher is too full of pans, cutlery, plates, cups, etc., then the washing result is not 100% okay. If you assemble a self-build piece of furniture, you have to tighten all fastenings firmly, otherwise it will break down sooner.
- Inventory: You buy so much discounted fruit that you have to throw away half of it after a week because it is spoiled. But even if something can be kept for a long time, for example toilet paper, it is a waste to spend more money now on things that only get in the way. Special offers come back regularly. Too much stock also has another disadvantage: for the time being you can’t switch to something new or better. This creates the tendency to dispose of old stocks, or to use them for purposes that they are not suitable for. The trick is to have exactly enough of everything, plus a small buffer. That applies to clothing, food, everything you see around you. If you do that well, your environment breathes space, peace and order.
- Motion: think of useless walking back and forth. First store items in one cupboard, and then move them to another shelf. I consider it a sport to do everything I can without extra effort during my tour around the house. When I walk past the mailbox, I immediately check if there is mail. When I walk to the garage, I see if I can take paper garbage there. When I go shopping by car, I look for the most efficient route along the shops, so that I do not get unduly stopped in traffic. In short: try not to turn back to your steps again and again. If you need to see somebody, better wait until you are sure that this person stays at the suitable location (in stead of chasing him or her). If you pay attention to it, slowly it will go unnoticed, and you will experience fast results and high effectiveness. There is a satisfactory flow in your activities that gives room for other things.
- Excess work: This often occurs as a consequence of one of the other forms of waste. Consider, for example, painting the wall, or not smartly planning your work. But it also happens if you, for example, do the dishes with too little soap: then you have to scrub longer and firmer to get everything clean. Or you sweep the room with a broom that is dirty. Extra work also arises when you ask everything again, while you already know it, and because you are afraid to make mistakes. And how about: always wanting to explain everything to everyone? Again and again returning to the same themes without any progress. Very often it’s better to let go, and continue to the next topic!
- Transport: You can’t escape bringing items from one place to another. Dirty laundry must go to the washing machine, from there to the drying rack, the ironing board and then the wardrobe. The order and distances determine how efficiently you get that done. Walking back and forth (motion) takes time and energy, especially if you also encounter a few stairs along the way. If you have done your shopping, you can store everything in two ways … fast, because in advance during packing you took into account what has to go where, or slowly (you take something out of your bag, and think where it should go; take the next product, and so on). Putting something temporarily aside is often a problem: if you are not careful, you’ll lose it or you walk a few times before it is in the right place.
Muda gives you a way to look at your activities, and take advantage of that. You leave behind everything that is completed well. It is, as it were, a sort of task list that you finish. As soon as you no longer lose time and money on things that are actually useless, then you (also mentally) get space for yourself. And that is so very important!