Two years ago I wrote about how lean manufacturing concepts can be applied to the home, and suggested some New Year’s resolutions. From 5S to inventory reduction, one piece flow, standard work, and even value stream mapping… there are applications in the home that can really be beneficial. I’m happy to say that I actually accomplished many of those resolutions, but in doing so a common theme emerged that has developed into my resolution for 2008, both at work and at home:
Simplify and learn something new.
The resolution even in itself is simple. There is the 5S component I described a couple years ago, there’s an organization component, there’s a work flow component, and a prioritization component… just to name a few. I have found that a quest for simplicity feeds on and reinforces itself. Similar to how an organization that reaches the tipping point in a lean manufacturing transformation creates employees that can become a bit obsessed… such as the Toyota employee that analyzes his morning shower routine. Removing excess stuff creates a hypersensitivity to excess stuff, eliminating non-value-added activity creates a hypersensitivity to NVA. And so on.
Here are some ways I’ll be simplifying, beginning right now.
- Donate all excess books. This was a tough one for me, as I grew up in a household full of books. I liked being surrounded by the feel of knowledge. But the lean guy in me, with the support of a wife with an eagle eye for dust, has changed my viewpoint. With a couple exceptions for books I reference often, most of my business books have been moved to a common library at the office or donated to the library. I don’t read novels twice, so my collection of techno thrillers, including my Tom Clancy hardbacks, has been donated to the local library. I don’t cook much (see a dot point further down) so most cookbooks are donated. Now others can access that value, we have more room, spend less time dusting, and the house just looks… simpler. If I need a book, or a recipe (yeah, right…!), I can find what I need on the internet or in the library.
- If it’s not being used, get rid of it. This varies by type of item obviously, but err on the side of probably not needing it. Karen over at Lean Reflections suggested getting rid of anything old enough to not have a bar code. Clothes that haven’t been worn in more than a year… donated to Goodwill. I did that about six months ago, and surprisingly it cleared out over 50% of my closet. Even more surprising was the fact that I still haven’t missed anything. Of course when you wear jeans and a t-shirt every day…! Excess paint, tile, nails, hoses, used sandpaper in the garage… donated to Habitat for Humanity. Food that has been sitting in the pantry for over three months will be donated to the local soup kitchen.
- Simplify seasonal activities. Do you really enjoy spending several days putting up Christmas lights, then removing them? Then finding space to store them? At the risk of being called a scrooge, I’ll stick with the simple wreath (which is a gift, and perishable so it isn’t stored), and put my time into helping others. Weeks agonizing over gifts? My wife and I go simpler every year, and will probably just make a donation to charity next year.
- Simplify recordkeeping. I’m going paperless. American Express and other credit cards now have their bills and statements online and maintain history, so I don’t have to keep the paper. If I really want to keep local copies (such as online medical statements from Blue Cross) I download them to a file. I’ve figured out which other bills are needed for tax or investment purposes, and I’ve bought a tiny desktop scanner to make them electronic. I’m going through old files and shredding what isn’t necessary, and scanning the rest. The file cabinets, and boxes of old files, are history!
- Outsource chores someone can do better than me. Yes, believe it or not, I’m actually telling you to outsource. I don’t necessarily mind cooking, but I always have something I’d rather do even more. My wife and I have gotten in the bad habit of eating out a lot, or else having a gourmet meal from a box. Even though we’re both busy we could find the time… but we like to do other things. So for Christmas we gave ourselves a personal chef service for a couple meals a week. We eat better and we actually save over eating out… and we have more time for ourselves. Similarly we have our yard maintenance done. We used to have a housekeeper a couple times a month, but found that out of embarassment we cleaned before she came over which sort of defeated the purpose. Maybe we’ll try it again someday.
- Outsource those nagging projects. We all have them… those things on the to-do list that never quite get done. I have a long list of them from various business ventures, mostly clerical such as organizing address lists and updating marketing materials. Some have been waiting for years. Until now. A friend of mine recently suggested Elance, which brings together people with projects and people with time to do them. Anything ranging from typing letters to creating full websites to doing deep market research. I tried it out on a couple of projects and was more than satisfied, so now I’m using the system for a couple projects a week. You can go the very cheap route with providers from overseas or, as I did, you can use one of the numerous talented and experienced providers trying to eke out a living in places like North Dakota.
- Turn off the TV. I did this when I went on vacation about six months ago, and have rarely watched a full non-news program since. I’m a political junkie, so I couldn’t go without my weekly Beltway Boys and McLaughlin Group with the occasional Hardball thrown in. But everything else is gone… ok, ok, I do admit I watch an occasional Battlestar Galactica. The time savings have been simply phenomenal… and disappointing. I’m disappointed in how much time I wasted in the past.
So now you’ve simplified your life to the point that you have all kinds of free time. Now what? Learn something. I’ve had a resolution for the last decade or so to learn something radically new each year. Scuba diving, wind surfing, you name it. The Superfactory website itself is an outgrowth (and a big one!) of learning about lean and then learning web programming over a decade ago. Evolving Excellence grew out of wanting to learn how blogs worked about three years ago. Last year I took a stab at learning to fly but my buddy bailed out so I stopped. Maybe I’ll complete it this year.
Here’s to a simpler 2008!