5S to Relax, Part Deux

Kevin Meyer recently connected his own experience using a smaller desk with a Wall Street Journal article on an architect who believes that a lack of visual clutter allows you to relax. Both of their feelings echo what many of my clients say when we clean off their desks and start organizing their information: they can concentrate, they can focus, they can “breathe.”

Now, I’ve been preaching the virtues of 5S for both your workspace and your information for a long time (here, here, and here, for example), but recently I’ve been wondering whether I’ve been pushing that too hard. Jamie Flinchbaugh has written persuasively that reflexively rolling out a 5S program at the beginning of a lean transformation because “it’s always the first step” doesn’t make a lot of sense. He argues that it’s far more important to understand the problem you’re trying to solve, and then choosing the right tool to solve it. 5S might be that tool. Or it might not.

Kevin’s post and the WSJ article reminds me that (for many knowledge workers, at least) one of the most serious problems is the inability to find blocks of uninterrupted time for concentrated thinking. Maintaining focus amidst the maelstrom of distractions and interruptions is incredibly difficult. But there’s no reason to make it any harder than it has to be. A robust 5S program for all the information that washes up on your desk like white collar flotsam and jetsam is a great way to help increase the amount of concentrated work you can do.

As Kevin says, “minimize to achieve the elegance and peacefulness of simplicity.” Or in other words, 5S it.

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