Increasing Workplace Productivity, Part I: Organizing Your Workspace with 5S

There are days when just keeping on top of your email can be a struggle; and that’s before even considering all the items on your to-do list. Most of us need any extra edge we can get in the quest to stay productive. Thankfully, others before us have faced similar problems, and they’ve devised some pretty clever solutions. These methods include 5S, kanban, kaizen, and pomodoro.

While these methods might have unusual names, they are all based on simple concepts and are quite easy to put into practice. Although I can’t guarantee they will transform your productivity, I can promise you that I and many others have found them to be effective.

The 5 Pillars of 5S

Today I’d like to discuss 5S, a method that originates in Japan. 5S focuses on arranging your workspace to increase productivity. Originally developed as a technique related to “just in time” manufacturing (also called lean manufacturing), 5S can be applied both in the workplace and at home. The pillars of 5S, as one might suspect, are words that start with the letter S. In English these are: Sort (Seiri), Set in Order (Seiton), Shine / Sweep (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu), and Sustain (Shitsuke). In the future, I will discuss the 5 pillars in more detail, but for today, I would like to simply outline the general ideas behind the 5S pillars.

Sort, Set in Order, and Shine

The first three 5S pillars are Sort, Set in Order, and Shine. Basically, these pillars focus on organizing and cleaning your workspace. At any given time, you should have only the tools needed for getting the current task done. Any other items should be removed; these things are just distractions from the task at hand. Furthermore, you should organize the workspace in such a way that you can not only access needed tools, but also also spot potential problems. You should be able to tell whether essential components to your business require attention just by looking things over. Whether you need to preemptively replenish the stock of a part, or replace a broken or missing tool, a well-structured organizational system helps you quickly obtain vital information about your business.

Standardize and Sustain

Finally, with the last two pillars, Standardize and Sustain, 5S emphasizes process. Making your 5S process standardized and sustainable not only lead to consistency, it also allows the process to be refined through multiple iterations. In other words, don’t wait until the mess grows unbearable to organize things, and don’t focus on whether your first attempt at 5S is absolutely perfect. Instead, create a schedule, and make sure that your workspace not only gets organized the first time, but actually gets even more organized over time. You also want to make sure that your attempts to sort actually improve efficiency. If a particular method of sorting isn’t working as well as you hoped, you should optimize it or find a better way.

Stay Tuned for “Increasing Workplace Productivity, Part 2: Personal Kanban”

As you might guess, this article has barely touched the surface of what 5S is all about, and I plan to revisit the topic in more depth in the near future. In the meantime, be on the lookout for part 2 of this article, where I discuss the Personal Kanban method.