On the road to productivity

After beginning the discussion about a personal productivity system, a great concept in getting to a more productive life is the Japanese philosophy of kaizen. Kaizen’s English translation is “continuous improvement”.

The goals of kaizen include the elimination of waste (defined by [Joshua Isaac Walters] as “activities that add cost but do not add value”), just-in-time delivery, production load leveling of amount and types, standardized work, paced moving lines, right-sized equipment, etc. In this aspect it describes something very similar to the assembly line used in mass production. A closer definition of the Japanese usage of Kaizen is “to take it apart and put back together in a better way.” What is taken apart is usually a process, system, product, or service.

This is the perfect way to view the start of a personal productivity system, which may leave you wondering, what? “If I’m going to get all productive, shouldn’t it be a radical departure from my previous way of doing business?”

Importantly, kaizen must operate with three principles in place: process and results (not results-only); systemic thinking (i.e. big picture, not solely the narrow view); and non-judgmental, non-blaming (because blaming is wasteful).

Kaizen is often a series of small steps, but “radical changes for the sake of goals” is perfectly okay. Make a big change to get yourself on track and then make small changes to get to the perfect system. The workers at Toyota rely on small experimental changes rather than large pre-planned command-and-control changes.

So in the discussion of personal productivity systems, remember incremental change can go a long way, especially after a large wholesale change. After all the psychic RAM can only take so many major paradigm shifts.