Taiichi Ohno had the same 24 hour day that I do. Jeff Bezos and Larry Page only have 24 hours a day as well.  They find the time to understand the customer, innovate, and engage people to execute. There must be a way to clear the clutter, know the customer and business well, innovate, and get things done that is superior to what I have been doing.  One of the most frequent concerns I hear from clients around the world is “I don’t have time.”

I have been experiencing growing frustration with waste in my week and waste I create for others due to misplaced emails and commitments not making it to my calendar correctly. I decided to turn this frustration into an opportunity to leverage my lean skills on my own work.

It is my belief that I can create a more productive week using personal lean thinking. I also may learn something that is useful to my clients.

I chose to do direct observation of how I use my time and process information for a week. It was revealing.  There were some large gaps between what I expect and what actually occurred:

  • 38 emails flagged for action older than one week compared to a target of zero.
  • A very high number of emails in my inbox 3 weeks to 1 month old pending my assessment of action required for the email (target zero).
  • 2.3 hours were spent collecting information to support scheduled work output.  I have not defined a target for this, but it seems that this is a lot of time.  I found notes and information in notebooks, on Post It’s, in picture files, in email, in notebook aps on my iPad and in my head.
  • 15% of time available was spent on projects that are interesting to me, on a longer term project list, but not on my list of commitments for the week. This came at the expense of completion for items on my list.
  • 1.5 hours were lost to distraction. As an example, I scheduled time for reading blog posts. I followed interesting links from one blog post spending more time learning and researching than budgeted.  I believe distraction is a higher waste point than measured. At times I believe that I have “shiny object syndrome” because my head is full of ideas, projects, and interests that are easy to chase leaving many started but unfinished projects and notes in a lot of different places.
  • 1.8 hours were used for unplanned events (downtime?).

In addition to my observations from the week, I have ample evidence to support two problem statements:  1) Information flow is unpredictable and variable; 2) Actual time usage varies from calendar schedules.

I spent about 1.5 hours jumping straight to solution, reading about the latest organization apps and calendar tools.  Then I realized that I had fallen into the very trap I coach others to avoid – jumping to solution and starting with tools.

As a next step I observed that my process for turning information into results and staying schedule was erratic.  I defined a target condition – email inbox empty at the close of day; inputs (electronic, verbal, hard copy, photographic, brainstorm, and other “noise” cluttering my thinking) would be sorted, set in place, and standardized in one place, simple with limited locations at the end of each day; items selected for action would be on my calendar; there would be one calendar which would be followed with discipline; my thinking and practice would be in place rather than adding more tools.

My first action was to identify a process that has been used rather than taking time to invent one myself. Once I am on my feet with a tested standard I may allow some experimentation. I selected Master Getting Things Done the David Allen Way with Evernote by Dominic Wolff.  The process has logical specific tasks, simple flow of information, and passes the common sense test.  I also have Evernote and could bypass some initial learning curve pain.

The steps are simple. Follow Wolff’s steps for email. Stick to the calendar. I should expect reduced wasted time. Critical process control points include clearing all emails by the end of the day using Wolff and Allen’s steps and having my actual work match my calendar. I should expect more completions from my project list this week.  Next week I will post a second blog report on my progress.

If you have personal lean projects that you are working on it would be great to hear about them in comments on the blog or on the Lean Learning Center Facebook page.