Kaizen Your Workspace For Ultimate Productivity

by Brad Isaac on May 31, 2007

For everything needs its place

I’ve been steadily working my way through the Lean Business System course. It is the course that gives the layperson a system for implementing Kaizen in their own small business.

Kaizen, is a term that basically means “consistent improvement”. Now you might be thinking “Brad I don’t have time for more improvement, I’ve got enough to do…” Well, some of the early tips are easy to get going. They can take some time and seem a little nonsensical. You may think it’s dumb, silly, or TRIVIAL, but hang in there. I found some surprising early results that really have me excited about learning more.

I think especially the people into David Allen’s Getting Things Done will benefit greatly from it.

I have been slowly and meticulously putting the system to work in my own business. But not only that, I’ve been doing it at home too. Here is some of the early observations of what it’s like and what benefits I’ve received so far.

True, it is a bit time consuming.

Keep in mind as you read I’m only in the beginning stages. It is easy to implement. So far, the time issue is the only drawback. But in going through all your stuff using Kaizen is curiously satisfying. It makes me feel better to organize my things using the Kaizen techniques. The concepts on efficiency and organization are not only lean, they are worthwhile in that they save oodles of time and brainpower – so I can think about more important things.

My first Kaisen task was to arrange a few desk drawers in my office. I have to admit that I thought some of the techniques the course recommended seemed ridiculous – at first anyway. Using labels and partitions and tape? Why do I need to label everything? I know what it is!

But something happened about mid-way through my first desk drawer. I realized as I was carefully arranging my work items in the drawer suddenly, the arrangement of the items didn’t make sense. It was confusing. I kept forgetting where I decided to place the paper clips. I forgot where I was going to put my tape.

Then an AHA moment occurred. If I only had labels, then I’d remember! So one of the immediate benefits of correcting one desk drawer is you don’t need to think and remember where that stuff is ever again… just read And you’ll be organized.

I can almost hear you asking “So what? So what if you forget where the stapler belongs, just put it where it fits.”

Ahh… and that is the rub. Kaizen means constant improvement. If I have to think about where the stapler goes, then it will drift in it’s location. Eventually, it will be lost and I’ll have to go searching for it. What happens if I need my tools and I can’t find them? Inefficiency. Plus, you are going to find out about my “Kaisen Awakening” in a second.


I hate losing stuff. Yet, nearly every day I misplace something I need. Search is one of the most used applications on my computer. I guess I have too much stuff — too many projects.

What would life and work be like if I didn’t have to search for everything? That is one of the benefits Kaisen promises. No wasted time fumbling for a necessary tool. How much time do we waste looking when we could be doing? How much time does it take to clean and arrange your office if 80% of the time it is disorganized? Say you have a business meeting – company’s coming. Some people would need an entire day to arrange their office beforehand.

The Lean Business System promises an easy route to easy organization that you don’t have to worry about. Day after day you find yourself wanting this organization.

I have to say that one of the early “slap my forehead” moments occurred right after I finished my first desk drawer. I was getting ready to move onto another project when I saw my stapler conspicuously sitting out on my desk. I was sort of annoyed with myself for pulling it out and not putting it back where it belonged so soon after organizing. I disdainfully picked it up and opened the drawer to put it back. Surprisingly, there was an identical stapler sitting there!

So, for some unknown period of time, I’ve had two identical staplers masquerading as each other. That implies that at some point I misplaced one of the staplers and thinking that I didn’t have one, went and bought another. I’m a tech guy, I can barely justify owning one stapler, let alone two!

I guess my wife gets a new stapler.

One of the benefits of this meticulous organization is human laziness is factored right into the system. In labeling everything, the lazy side of me starts to ask some pertinent questions. Do I really need this item or can I throw it away? Do I really need that magnet? I’d really hate to make a label for 3 pieces of chewing gum… and so on.

So in an effort to do the tedious thing (make labels and partitions) you opt to throw out a lot of stuff. :)

Ultimately, your workspace becomes focused and optimized for work. For those of you who are into David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Kaisen is similar to his filing system. Using a nice system feels good, labelmaker labels look good and once you have your stuff organized in a nice way, it’s strangely satisfying.

It has only been a few weeks, but when I’ve been tempted to just throw something in my desk drawer, I see the partitions and think “Do I really want to mess up my system?” The visual cues are great.

A few times, I’ve actually surprised myself. I’ll pull out my scissors to open a box, then notice the scissors on the floor. I’ll think “I need to put those back,” as I am unpacking the box. Then, it will occur to me later in the day I forgot to put those scissors back, yet low and behold, I’ll open my desk drawer and they are right there where the label and partitions say they should be! So on some level, new productive habits are developing.

Most times, the system works better than an occasional surprise. Usually, when I grab a tool, I see my system and it reminds me I need to put the tool back when I am finished with it. This is a nudge that reminds me to put stuff back, so that is a welcome by product.

Overall, I am impressed by what I’ve learned so far. For my readers who feel hampered by organization or lack thereof, Kaisen seems a great way to get to a new level of productivity. This obviously isn’t a complete guide by any means, it’s a baby step you can take toward becoming less stressed and more productive in your work space. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

More information: The Lean Business System Course

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May 31, 2007 at 9:27 pm

I also have the same thought about labeling things in the office. It may sound ridiculous and that it will also be a waste of time to label everything, but it’s indeed useful, especially when you are in a hurry and you forget where you put it.

Melanie June 1, 2007 at 2:48 am

Great article. I love to use my LabelWriter (office and home), too. Alas, my LW model doesn’t work with Vista which means I have to boot a second computer to print them at home. Once you get a solution for a problem, the next problem immediately comes up.

When I went to the Lean System Business Course site, I started wondering about the little info on it about the author and what I’d get for the money. Yes, I peeked into the video (not the whole though). Can you give more information as you did the course?

Brad Isaac June 1, 2007 at 4:05 pm

One other advantage of labelling stuff – especially around the house – is kids and spouses alike can get the hang of where stuff goes.

Melanie, as I work through I’ll be sure and post experiences. I don’t know a whole lot about Jim Sansi except he runs The Kaizen Business Blog – which is an interesting read.

June 2, 2007 at 1:14 pm


Glad to see you are putting the information in the course to action! Now I would challenge you to step up your office 5S by not putting tools that you need/use in drawers or other places (remove cabinet doors) that are not in plain view. For loose items cheap clear plastic bins or small totes work extremely well.

It’s all about productivity and reducing waste, if the tools a person needs to perform a task are not at their finger tips it’s wasting time having to look for them…


June 4, 2007 at 1:15 am

I think there are also disadvantages with labeling. One would be for snoopers. If the things in your office are well labeled, they wouldn’t have any problem finding things. Either way, the main point is to find things in our office or home more faster.

Brad Isaac June 4, 2007 at 10:23 am

Hi Jim, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I can do some of that, but can there be a balance between style and substance and still be lean?

June 4, 2007 at 5:46 pm


Of course… if it’s going to irritate you then don’t do it. Assuming your a one person show the effort may not make that much difference and you should do what makes sense. Take the scenario for your typical “mail room” though and try to find something, with drawers and cabinets it’s really difficult and if every item doesn’t have a defined location in plain sight they tend to wander and drift.

Here is how I look at an area when I walk in: Without asking someone at a glance can I tell what the status is or whats going on? What supplies need to be replenished (from raw materials to office supplies like paper), how much work (queue) does a person or machine have? These questions can typically be answered through solid 5S activities and visual controls.


joejean July 24, 2007 at 1:17 pm

“For everything needs *its* place.”
Not it’s……

In order to continuously improve your writing, copy editors are worth the price– that is, if you want your piece to be taken seriously.

Brad Isaac July 24, 2007 at 2:47 pm

Joejean, thanks for pointing that out, I’ve corrected it. Currently, I can’t afford a copy editor for this blog, but I appreciate the suggestion.

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