Continuous performance improvement, or Kaizen, can be applied to personal or individual performance as well as to the work place. This type of improvement is done by taking small steps consistently over time to continuously get better at a task or to improve some area of your life.TheExceleratedLife.com
I ran across a word the other day that I haven’t seen used in a number of years: Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese word that refers to continuous improvement. I first encountered the term when I became involved in software quality control and the ISO 9000 quality process. Continuous performance improvement typically refers to process improvement in a manufacturing or engineering environment, in business management, or something similar.
But the continuous performance improvement process can be applied to individual performance or personal development as well. Brian Tracy, one of the pillars in the personal development field, frequently talks about doubling your productivity by improving 1% every day. This type of improvement is done by taking small steps consistently over time to continuously get better at a task or improve some area of your life.
Taking Small Steps
Here are some principles to consider when thinking about adopting or adapting Kaizen in your personal improvement program.
Go for the low-hanging fruit. Do the easy things, make the easy changes, first. Look for areas where you can make small changes that have a big impact.
Take small steps. If you try to do too much at once, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed, then discouraged. If you’re serious about change, you need to do it in a way you can stick with, and that usually means in small doses.
Be consistent. One of the keywords in continuous performance improvement is continuous. That means all the time. You want these improvements to become habits. That is usually accomplished by taking small steps and taking them over and over until they become second nature. Consistency is key.
A Kaizen Practice
Let’s say, for example, you want to be better organized. You could jump in and devote an entire day (or week!) to cleaning up, clearing up, tossing out, aggregating and storing everything in your home, your office, your car, your attic, your basement, and your garage. But nobody wants to spend a whole day of their time doing drudgery and so you don’t do it.
What if you brought the spirit of Kaizen to the process? What might that look like?
First, look for the low-hanging fruit. Maybe there are some old, broken tools or toys that can’t be repaired stuck in the corner of the garage. Throw them out.
Maybe there are clothes hanging in your closet that you haven’t worn in a year or more because they don’t fit or they’re out of style or they make your butt look too big. Take them to Goodwill.
Maybe you have a stack of papers that need to be filed. File them. Maybe you have a stack of old magazines or newspapers that you haven’t read. If you haven’t read them in the last 6 months, chances are you’re never going to read them . . . they’re old news anyway. Recycle them.
Get the idea? Where in your life do you want to begin making improvements? Look for the low-hanging fruit.
Next, begin taking small steps to transform yourself and your surroundings into a well-organized state of being. Begin in one corner of the garage and get it cleaned up. Find a home for everything in that small area. Organize one shelf of the closet or, if that’s too much, take one section of a shelf. Organize an area of your desk or workspace. Weed a few files each day.
The “Zorro Circle”
Small steps such as these make use of what Shawn Achor calls the “Zorro Circle”. [Achor] The term comes from the movie The Mask Of Zorro, in which the young Zorro learns to master swordsmanship by first having to stand and fight in a small circle. Eventually, the circle becomes larger and larger until Zorro is a master swordsman.
This is also the principle of Kaizen. Master one small task or area of your life and then move to the next one and the next and the next. You’ll eventually see major improvements, made one step at a time. “If you long to accomplish great and noble tasks,” said Gary Ryan Blair, “you first must learn to approach every task as though it were great and noble. “
Your Kaizen Practice
What is a small step you can take in an area you want to improve?
Be consistent until the behavior becomes a habit. Once you have a corner of the garage clean or a shelf in the closet organized, keep them that way. Instead of tossing stuff back in the garage or in the closet, take a minute or so to put things back in their homes. Make a habit of filing papers once a week. Recycle newspapers immediately after you’ve read them. Keep the gains you have made by turning the small steps into habits.
What is something you can consistently do to make a habit of the improvements you’ve made?
How I Learned The Japanese Method Of Folding T-Shirts
What does any of this have to do with how I learned the Japanese method of folding t-shirts? It happened like this.
As I was researching Kaizen, I went to to the lifehacker.com blog. There was an article about using Kaizen but my attention was caught by another article about time-saving techniques, one of which probably should have been “don’t surf the internet when you have an article to write”.
It was in that article that I found this cool YouTube link about the Japanese method of folding t-shirts. But the instructions are in Japanese. So I looked around and found this video with the instructions in English.
Happy t-shirt folding!
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Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2010