The business principle that made Toyota a role model in the global market can be applied to your personal life. Here’s how you can work smart to make your life more meaningful
The unparalleled success of Toyota made “kaizen” a commonplace work principle. What you may not realise is that kaizen is a principle that can be applied to all aspects of life. Kaizen is about innovation in the workplace. In personal terms, kaizen means having an improvement mindset. “Kai” stands for change. “Zen” means to become good. Kaizen is the principle of continuous improvement.
Kaizen is so useful to us personally because for many of us, change is hard and the anxiety it provokes in us often causes us to fail. Instead of overwhelming ourselves with a perfect image of the person we want to be, practising kaizen means that we focus on the smallest things first, the surmountable changes we want to implement. We take the first step and mastering that small change gives us the impetus to continue with changes.
In Western business, change often means trying to envision an unknown situation and planning for it. With kaizen, companies make constant incremental improvements that allow them to deal with obstacles and circumstances as they arise.
At Toyota, every employee was encouraged to take note of several things that they noticed could be improved and given the power to implement changes. These small improvements aggregated in a way that led to major innovation and success.
This kind of philosophy can help all of us to personally improve. Instead of thinking about who you want to be ideally, if you make a small improvement in your life every day, you can revolutionise your life over time without drastic and momentous effort. Kaizen means working smarter, not working harder. It’s about implementing practices that make your life more efficient and less wasteful in terms of your energy and time. And that will leave you a happier person in the long run.
This is the process of kaizen in a business organisation:
1 Standardise operation or activity
2 Measure the standardised operation
3 Gauge measurements against requirements
4 Innovate to meet new requirements and increase productivity
5 Standardise the new, improved operations
6 Continue cycle
And here is the process as it may be used personally:
1 Standardise routines
2 Set or review goals
3 Measure progress
4 Consider new ways to effectively achieve goals
5 Create a new habit
6 Start the process again
The kaizen process is a two-week cycle in business. In terms of personal development, creating a new habit may take 21-30 days.
So how do you implement personal kaizen? The first thing that is useful is a Time Map, a chart of the way you’d like to spend your time and a chart of the way you actually do spend your time.
Step 1: Make a list of areas of your life that are important to you. Examples include: family and friends, exercise and education, career and contributions, alone time and spirituality. You can make subcategories for each of these areas if you’d like too.
Step 2: Rank your list in terms of priority. What is truly most important to you? Don’t judge yourself by other people’s expectations, values or standards when you do this.
Step 3: Chart the way you spend your time every day for two weeks. Break your day up into hours and log what you do in that hour. Don’t just write: “work on reports” if you actually answered three phone calls and 10 emails during that time too.
Step 4: After two weeks, look over your log and measure how much time you’ve spent doing each activity. How much time did you spend on things that are important to you? Break it up into percentages.
Step 5: What you’ll also see here is how much time you spend doing random things in ineffective ways. Do you check email every 15 minutes instead of assigning two or three small-time increments of that? Do you forsake time alone doing something you really enjoy for that workout you feel you’re supposed to do? Take note.
Step 6: Look again at your list of important things and the chart of your true time. Keeping your priority list in mind, choose one small thing you can change in each area to improve your life. Pick the easiest change to implement — not the toughest. That’s another kaizen principle: pick the low-hanging fruit first.
Step 7: Craft a plan to implement the changes — what is it that you’re going to do differently or focus on and how.
Step 8: Commit and follow through. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” wrote Tae Te Ching and it is eminently kaizen. Practise creating that new and positive habit for a month. That will make the next change you tackle so much easier.
Step 9: Keep a journal to track your progress. Those small successes can add up in terms of self-esteem, self-efficacy, motivation and actual transformation.
Step 10: Revisit and revise your charts and choose the next change.