Organization: 5S

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Clean Garage

Today’s post is a brief introduction to a “sophisticated” business strategy that is probably something that your mother taught you when you were 5 years old.

5 S is a strategy taken from Toyota, which famously rose from mediocrity to worldwide fame.  Their leadership practices contributed to their achievement of such success, so for a while it seemed like no business meeting would be complete without someone saying Kaizen or Kanban or Go to the Gemba.  Many books and consultant sessions have been sold as a result!  One of the practices in these books is a methodical way of organizing your workplace to improve your efficiency.  They break down this process into 5 steps, which conveniently start with the letter S, both in the original Japanese and in the English translation.  Keep in mind that this was designed for factory work with many employees, so it may not neatly fit into your work or your personal life.  However, I think the general principles can provide a helpful framework for how to think about any processes you carry out routinely.

A couple months ago I took an afternoon and tackled my garage.  It was very gratifying to do each of these steps so that when I need a tool I can actually find it.


Sorting, Straightening, Shining, Standardizing, and Sustaining


Sorting (Seiri)

Sort things into categories:

  1. Use all the time
  2. Use sometimes
  3. Use once a year
  4. Don’t use any more.

You want to make the things that you use all the time very easy to find, and everything else is stored or discarded.  It’s almost funny sometimes as I do this step – I’ll have to move the tin snips that I haven’t used for a year to find the box cutter that I use weekly.  Not very logical, but if you don’t manage it, that’s how it will happen.  You have to purposefully identify the items that you really need on a consistent basis.

Setting in Order (Seiton)

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.”  Once you have identified what to keep handy and what to get rid of, then you arrange your area in a way that will make you the most efficient.  For example, you might want to hang your car keys on a hook by the door to the garage.  You always know where to find them, and they are on your way out.  It’s a little thing, but it prevents a big hassle (as anyone who has frantically searched for their keys while running late can understand).  Perhaps this may mean that you lay out your desk in a way that helps you to be more efficient with your work.  Or you keep your coffee filters right by the coffee so that you don’t have to walk around to 2 different cabinets in the morning.  You are basically setting up your physical environment to support your goals.  In my garage I found that all of my commonly used tools fit into one box.  The rest could be stored in a less accessible place where they weren’t in the way of the ones I used all the time.

Shining (Seiso)

Clean it up!  Do ‘preventative maintenance’ to keep things running smoothly.  It is so much easier to work in a clean, tidy and organized area, whether that is an office or a pharmacy or a kitchen.  Periodically, clean your desk and be sure everything is restored to its place. This is the daily or weekly process of cleaning up and keeping things maintained.

Standardize or Systematize  (Seiketsu)

You can apply this principle to different areas of your life.  At my job it means that we have Standard Operating Procedures that everyone follows consistently.  That way the work is done the same way, no matter who is doing it.  At home this may mean that you do tasks the same way consistently so that you establish habits that make it comfortable to get things done.  It might also mean that you communicate these processes and expectations to your spouse or kids.  If you can take some of the thinking and decision-making out of a chore that you don’t really like to do, that usually helps you to actually get it done.  (More on that in another post.)  Bottom line for this is that even though “variety is the spice of life,” consistency is probably the meat and potatoes.

Sustain (Shitsuke)

Now that you’ve identified the most commonly used tools, made a place for them, cleaned up the area, and decided on the best way to do things, you just have to keep it going!  If you are not careful, things will slip back to the messy way that they were before. (My garage is starting to get messy!)  Don’t backslide!  Be disciplined.  Remember how great it was to have everything you need.

5S Example:  Bible Study

Sort out what you really need: Bible, Journal, Pen.  (Clear out everything else.)

Set in order:  Decide where you will really have the time and take the time to do your Bible Study. Perhaps the perfect time is in the morning, after you make your coffee, before you eat breakfast.  So you will want to store the Bible, journal and pen in a convenient location that will make it easy for you to grab it.  If you have to hunt around for your Bible that you left in the car after church, you may just skip it that day.  Same idea about a pen – when you are in a hurry in the morning you may not write in your journal if you can’t find a pen quickly.

Shining:  If your junk drawer looks like mine, you will need to clean it up regularly.  You will also want to have the kitchen table cleaned up every night, or else you will have to stop and wipe it off in the morning.  And then it will be wet, so you may just skip your Bible reading.

Standardize/Systematize: In order to have Bible reading time in the morning you will need to get up early enough to do it.  I have 2 cell phone alarms that are set for the same time each day, so that it is just a part of what I do each day.  I don’t sit around and decide each day what time to get up – I just get up at the same time.  That way I don’t have to muster up will-power.  I just do it.

Sustain:  You will need to clean up the junk drawer again and again, and you will want to monitor your consistency.  What else can you do to make it happen consistently?

Dana has talked about organization already.  It is so important to organize our physical spaces where we live and work and play and study.  Next up, my junk drawer!


Which of the Five S’s is the easiest for you?  Hardest?  What area of your house or workplace that you use every day do you need to tackle with a little 5S magic?


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