If only being productive were as easy as downloading an app. Unfortunately, it’s rarely that simple.
Achieving any sort of mastery in productivity takes practice and time. Here’s a simple guide to Kaizen (which translates roughly to “good change”) a Japanese philosophy that helps us improve and organize everything we do.
It’s an understatement to say we’ve grown accustomed to accumulating to-do apps, tasks management tools and productivity articles. Every single aspect of our life is dictated by little square icons. Finding a good app can help us in many ways but it’s rarely the end solution. Ticking the “Done” box certainly gives a sense of relief but did we do it in the most efficient way, wasn’t there a faster, better way of doing it ? In my never-ending quest for improvement and peacefulness (meaning more time to stare at series with my loved one and less time answering emails) I stumbled upon the Kaizen philosophy, a note of zen that could help us upgrade our life in a more efficient and less stressful way.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
Less of a productivity “system”, Kaizen is a way of thinking based on the philosophical belief that everything can be improved. Rooted in the two thousand-year-old wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, Kaizen is the art of making great and lasting change through small, steady increments.
The Kaizen philosophy was one of the elements which led to the success of Japanese manufacturing. The beauty of it is that you can gain the benefits of this approach in your work and business as well as in every aspect of your personal life. Kaizen is based on making little changes on a regular basis: always improving productivity, safety and effectiveness while reducing waste. To be practical : If it doesn’t work, fix it trough small and safe steps while reducing unnecessary stuff.
In his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, Robert Maurer writes about how the prehistoric part of the human brain, called the amygdala, is programmed to trigger a “fight or flight” response. When this happens, our higher-level cognitive thinking is shut off. A helpful survival instinct when we are in real physical danger, less helpful when triggered by a change at work or in our daily life. Maurer suggests that small baby steps changes bypass this response because they aren’t overwhelming or scary.
Taking an hour each week or month to reassess our work process could be more helpful than looking for the best productivity app of the month.
Here are some ideas on how to implement the Kaizen philosophy in your work and daily life, whether you need to finish a project, start a new good habit or simple get stuff done :
- Start Small : Small changes are easier to squeeze into your day and will gradually reinforce you behaviour. Start by asking “What’s the smallest step I can take to be more efficient/productive/change behaviour?”
- Install a process and value it : Come up with a process for a specific activity that’s repeatable and organized. Examine whether the process is efficient by asking yourself if the process saves you time and if it accomplish the desired result. If not change it.
- Keep Innovating : Search for new, better ways to do the same work or achieve the same result. Things change all the time (our environment, our priorities, our work) so never stop improving and always look for smarter, more efficient ideas.
- Get rid of waste : Some (if not many) things that we do are unnecessary. Reassess weekly or monthly the task that have become just a habit but that you could get rid off.