The term 5S Methodology refers to a Japanese system for achieving and maintaining order, particularly in the workplace. The idea behind this methodology is that standard processes and standard measures of organization can help workers develop a workplace of order and efficiency.
5S Methodology is named as such because the words describing the five areas, in both Japanese and English, begin with the letter S:
- Sort (Seiri)
- Straighten (Seiton)
- Shine (Seiso)
- Standardize (Seiketsu)
- Sustain (Shitsuke)
While 5S Methodology originally referred to standardization among employees and how each team member supports the sense of order and structure by completing activities that fall under each of the five areas, this idea can also be applied to solo-working situations for greater personal organization. Here are examples of how each area can be applied to those who work alone.
Picture your desk at the end of a busy workday. You may have papers, pens, sticky notes and other materials scattered about. Now think of what your desk looks like after a week of busy days. It won’t take long for you to lose all sense of order.
One way to stay on top of the mess that quickly accumulates, and to make the process of finding information more efficient, is by taking time to identify your most important materials, sort them in a way that works for your workflow and get rid of the rest. This may mean keeping a mini-filing system on your desk, organizing and filing the documents on your computer’s desktop at the end of each day, and/or being ready to throw away or recycle anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be kept — right away.
Set in Order (Seiton)
Once you have an idea of what should be kept, where it should be kept and what can get trashed, you should take time to put things where they go at the end of each day. Don’t let it accumulate; make this part of the process a positive habit.
No, you don’t have to get out the furniture polish and shine your desk when you shut down your computer for the night. This step is really just about adopting a mindset that allows you to consistently think in terms of having a clean and clear area to do your work. It also helps you avoid the distraction that comes with a messy (or dirty) workspace.
The process for maintaining organization shouldn’t be a once a week activity, or worse, something you only do when the mess and clutter get so bad you can barely work. It may seem overly simple, but by taking just five minutes at the end of each day to sort, straighten and shine your workspace, you’ll be saving yourself much more time and stress later on.
You also want to avoid many different approaches to organization, because believe it or not, too many organizational tactics can be one of the biggest causes of disorganization. Find the one or two systems that work best for you and apply them across the board.
This can be the most difficult of the steps because it requires a consistent effort. The only way to make the rest of the steps effective in developing structure is by committing to executing and maintaining them every single day.
Many of us who consider ourselves organized probably already use a similar system, potentially with modifications that work for our individual preferences. One of the variations I add to the process is to Step Back (yes, another S!). Stepping back every so often gives me a chance to look at the big picture of my organizational system to see where I can adjust and improve.
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