It’s time to clear out the old!

Happy New Year and welcome to 2013 and if it’s anything like 2012 then it’s going to be fast, exciting and will whizz past!

It would be usual for me to write some words about the New Year heralding change, promise and opportunity, to talk about resolutions and promises that get lost or broken all too quickly. But today I’m not going to do that. Today I’m going to give you something to kick start your year and to make a difference to how you think, feel, work and live. This is something that you can do as just a “one off” and even better than that make it a daily, weekly or monthly habit if you want to. But I strongly recommend that you take at least the first step by completing stages 1, 2 and 3 below.

Now, whether you’re reading this and thinking about work or home doesn’t matter. This activity has equal validity in either and both situations and all you must do is do it in at least one of these situations. Then you may get the taste for applying it elsewhere to.

And the cost of all this? Virtually nothing, just a few hours of focussed effort up front and maybe reaping back some cash if one of your favourite outlets is eBay or to donate some really useful items to your local charity store. Think of the return you might get from this in terms of well being and contribution!
So here it comes, one of the simplest and most effective Kaizen principles that has stood the test of time and continues to provide massive benefit to companies and individuals the world over. I did it to my office this Monday and already when I walk into it, it gives me a completely renewed sense of order, a desire to be more productive and a clearer mind through a clearer office. It’s called 5S and here’s how to do it:

Whether you’re looking at your office, your desk, your PC/Mac, your kitchen or your wardrobe the first thing that you have to do is classify everything in 3 ways – what you no longer need, what you really (and I mean REALLY) need and what you think that you need.

What to do with the first category? It’s easy, these are the things that you can get rid of straight away – shred them, recycle them, delete them or eBay them – just get rid of them!
The second category, this should be easy but be careful that what you say you “need” is not really a category 1 item – data that you should delete, documentation you should shred, clothes you haven’t worn in years or things that you keep holding onto “for a rainy day”. Have no fear here, I fall into the same trap myself so if it helps, get somebody else to help you at this stage questioning as to why you really need that thing that you have 10 of already, why you need something that is covered in a thick layer of dust, how will a 10 year old credit card receipt will help you?

What about the things that you “think you need”. Same filtering questions needed here: when did you last use them, are you keeping them because you are somehow emotionally attached to them (and that might be ok for some things), or are you just keeping them “in case”. You’d be amazed at how much can fall into this category and also how much can fall into the “really need” category when they really don’t belong there. Be bold, brave and ruthless. I always find that once I’ve actually got rid of something I thought I might need I am somehow released from the notion that I ever needed it – and how often have I then discovered that I did need it? Rarely!

Preliminary question for stage 2: have you really got rid of everything that you don’t need. And the things that you thought that you might need have you got rid of at least 80% of all of them? And did you get rid of at least 20% of what you originally thought that you “really need”? Those old emails, that paperwork, those shirts or dresses you haven’t worn in years, those books you never read and never will, that old PC you were holding onto “just in case”, those plates you kept for the big dinner party you are never going to hold? If you can truly answer “yes” to these questions then you’re ready for stage 2. If not, go back to stage 1 and be just a little harder on yourself.

So what to do with what’s left? Well as part of stage 2, we need to do some of stage 3 at the same time or even just before. Stage 3 is “Shine” and before we can complete stage 2 “Set In Order” you may have to vacuum the floor, dust your office and desk, perform a “disk clean up” on your PC or hit “empty wastebasket” so that we remove the dust and clutter that lurks in the back corners of your desk, your kitchen cupboards, your wardrobe – yes, you know what I’m talking about!

So back to Stage 2. Of what’s left, now is your chance to get it back into some order and structure. Those emails that are still left in you InBox, the one’s you think that you really, really need to keep, you need to get them out of there and into an off-line folder. The paperwork that’s left over, how are you going to file it? Your wardrobe, kitchen cupboards or garage, how is that best going to be organised when you put everything back. Spend some time thinking about structure and organisation because you wouldn’t put a dinner suit or cocktail dress in the same place where you keep your work shirts or everyday skirts would you? Or your least accessed files next to your desk whilst those accessed daily are across the room, would you?

We’ve touched on this already above and shine is an activity that needs to take place whilst you’re clearing our all your clutter, before you put back what you’re going to keep (because you really, REALLY need it) and you need to keep doing it periodically (because dust comes back, InBoxes fill up again, paperwork doesn’t get filed). Shine is a “deep clean” in the first round and then an ongoing “maintenance” process to keep things as they were when you finished Sort and Set In Order. Perhaps your Mum was like mine, who dusted almost everything daily in just 10 minutes so that home always looked clean and orderly and then didn’t need to spend twice as long at it once a week?

Many people dislike this term but it’s often because it’s misunderstood. I’m not talking regimentation to the point that you can’t hang a pink shirt next to a blue shirt, can’t have a file named “miscellaneous”, or can’t keep an item that holds special meaning to you (even I keep a trinket that once belonged to my Granny). Choose the “best method” to keep your successful clean up going into eternity (that’s not quite true, at least until you find a better way). How will you file emails from the next new customer? What will you do with new contracts? How will you manage your filing cabinet when the folders begin to get full? What about when you buy a new shirt or skirt? Do you throw an old one away (or recycle it or eBay it)? What’s the method by which you can achieve the 5th and final stage?

The Kaizen philosophy embraces continuous improvement and this is the challenge of stage 5: having reduced the size of your InBox to 100MB and deleted over 10GB of unnecessary data on your hard disk; having filed away nearly a year’s worth of paperwork; got rid of all the accessories from your last laptop; emptied your cupboards and drawers of all the clutter that you allowed to accumulate; got rid of the clothes you haven’t worn in years or the tins of food that are more than 1 year past their “best before date” then the next best thing to do is to maintain what you’ve just done – and regularly. Sustaining your results is so much easier when most of the clutter that dragged you down has gone. Now you’re into “maintenance mode” where you only need 5 to 10 minutes per day to keep things in order. And if you don’t? Well, you’ll be facing the same place of clutter, disorganisation and disarray sooner than you might think. Better to sustain than to start again!

I love 5S because of its simplicity and virtual zero cost. The benefits can be massive and whether from a housekeeping or well being perspective 5S does it every time for me. It has equal applicability in business and in life and is a cornerstone to the Kaizen philosophy of doing something better today than you did it yesterday.

There’s more to come on how to 5S Your Life over the coming months so stayed tuned to my monthly newsletter/blog and above all: Live and Love Your Life!