Most productivity methods give you tools to tackle specific projects or to-dos in an organized way. Kaizen, which translates roughly to “good change,” is a Japanese productivity philosophy that helps you organize everything you do. In short, it means “constant, continuous improvement,” and is a mindset you can apply anywhere, at any job.
Kaizen is a way of thinking and organizing everything—from the way you work to the way your team works together. While Kaizen translates just to “good change” and doesn’t really have much implied meaning beyond that, in productivity circles the term means “constant, continual improvement.” Put simply, every aspect of an organization should, at all times, strive to do what it does better.
The philosophy first appeared when several Japanese businesses, shortly after World War II, embraced the idea that doing things the way they’ve always been done was a bad idea, especially when better options were available that would make them more competitive. Inspired by western competitors and manufacturing methods, “Kaizen” came to be synonymous with company-wide efforts to improve upon and intelligently streamline business practices and manufacturing methods while simultaneously respecting the product, craft, or the people involved with making it.
This kind of continuous improvement can be broken down into six steps:
1. Standardize: Come up with a process for a specific activity that’s repeatable and organized.
2. Measure: Examine whether the process is efficient using quantifiable data, like time to complete, hours spent, etc.
3. Compare: Compare your measurements against your requirements. Does this process save time? Does it take too much time? Does it accomplish the desired result?
4. Innovate: Search for new, better ways to do the same work or achieve the same result. Look for smarter, more efficient routes to the same end-goal that boost productivity.
5. Standardize: Create repeatable, defined processes for those new, more efficient activities.
6. Repeat: Go back to step one and start again.
It may seem exhausting, but once it’s part of your mental approach to work, or your company (or team) culture, it’ll feel very natural. If you’re always looking for better ways to do things, and you’re always willing to give them a try, it’s just a step up to formalize it and make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Of course, I want point out that Kaizen is not change for change’s sake. It’s deliberate, constant improvement, and changes that don’t actually bring you rewards shouldn’t be made. Productivity is a double-edged sword after all. You can spend more time trying out new things and researching new tools than you would actually doing your work. Remember, the best productivity system is the one that helps you get things done, and the best apps are the ones you’ll actually use. Keep that in mind when you’re looking for ways to optimize your work.