Written by Molly Bennett
The basic idea behind “continuous improvement” is to identify small changes that can be made in order to reduce waste (time, energy, money, material) and to increase value in all you do.
It’s embodied in the saying,
“Work smarter, not harder.”
Continuous improvement practices are popular among businesses to streamline processes, gain efficiencies, and reduce costs. But these principles can also add value in our daily lives.
It’s easy to get caught up in our regular routines, rarely stopping to ask ourselves,
“Is this really a necessary step? Could there a better way?”
Small changes can make a big difference. Reducing the amount of time and energy you exhaust doing non-value-added activities will give you more time back in your day to do the things that you enjoy and that DO add value to your life.
I’ll give you an example. . .
While I was in Indiana this past April visiting family, I met my sister at her downtown Indianapolis office. Shortly after, we both left her office at the same time in separate cars.
Not having done the drive before, I put her address in my GPS and drove off. When I arrived at her home, I waited about 5 minutes until she pulled in. She asked how I could have beaten her home.
It turned out my GPS took an alternate route that was 5 minutes quicker than the route she was in the habit of taking to and from work every day.
In case you’re counting . . .
10 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 1 year adds up to about 43 hours of time saved each year! That’s an entire workweek of extra time gained just by breaking out of a travel routine and finding a faster way.
A lot can be accomplished by pausing for a moment, taking a step back, and asking yourself, “Is this the best way?” — not just in regard to the routes you drive, but also with the household tasks you routinely do.
Below are a few time-saving tips that I’ve used at my home that might inspire you to make some changes to your daily routines . . .
7 Tips to Save Time & Energy at Home
- PET FOOD ORDERING — I drew a line about 1/8 of the way up the side of the large, plastic container that I use to store dog food. When the dog food gets down to the line, I hop online and order more. It takes about 2 days for the food to arrive and about 3 days to get through the remaining food once it reaches that line. This little trick means I don’t have to store excess bulky bags, and I never run out of food for my adorable dog.
- PERFECT PARKING — I drive a long vehicle but have a very short garage at my new home here in Marathon County, so my TourX just barely fits. Finding that sweet spot between hitting the garbage and recycling carts at one end and not being able to close the garage door at the other was a little automotive dance I did each day. It often took me a few tries — and few taps of the front bumper into the carts — to get my placement just right. Finally, I remembered an age-old parking trick: Hang a tennis ball on a string from the ceiling of the garage in just the right spot so that as soon as it hits the windshield, the car is in the perfect spot. Goodbye, dented carts. Hello, closed garage door — every time.
- DISHWASHER HACK — I have a fork, a knife, and a spoon each zip-tied to a different compartment in the silverware basket in my dishwasher. When I’m loading it up, I put spoons in the Spoon basket, forks in the Fork basket, knives in the Knife basket, and anything else in the others. When I’m unloading the dishwasher, I can just grab everything in each basket and easily put it in its proper slot in the drawer — without taking the time to identify and sort the utensils. BONUS TIP: I also have a flip magnet on the outside of the machine that I turn green when I start a load (GREEN = CLEAN) and turn red after I empty the machine. No more guessing if the dishwasher has been run or not!
- NO MORE SOLO SOCKS — I have a separate laundry basket lined with mesh that I put all our socks in. I can throw the entire bag in both the washing machine and the dryer. Socks stay together in the same load as their mate. Never lose another sock again! BONUS TIP: Using small partitions in a sock drawer can help to separate dress from sport or short from tall socks so they’re easier to “grab and go.”
- STREAMLINED SHOPPING — I keep my grocery list on my phone so I always have the list with me and can add things as I think of them throughout the day. I add items to the list by category so I can get in and out of any grocery store quickly. (If you shop at only one store, even better — you can make your list even more efficient by putting your categories in an order that matches the store’s layout.) Produce is typically at the top of my list because it’s usually at the front of the store; canned goods are in the middle; and I keep frozen food and nonfood items toward the bottom. Having your grocery items listed by category on your phone helps you get everything you need from a given area without backtracking. Having your list on your phone also means you can easily send the list to a spouse or child that asks if you need anything from the store. Also, you can quickly delete an item once you have it in the cart at the store. No need for a pen to cross off each item as you go!
- PROJECT PREP — When doing at-home projects, I lay out everything I need for all the project’s steps BEFORE I even start. This helps me avoid stopping to search for a certain tool or material or, worse, having to make a trip to the hardware store mid-project. (It also reduces the chance of leaving a half-done project lying around the house!)
- CLEANING UP THE CLUTTER — When cleaning a common area in the house, rather than making multiple trips to multiple rooms by taking every individual item that I find back to the room the item belongs, I create piles (or you could have a decorative basket) designated for each room (or one for each child, if you have kids). I can simply put the things I find in a pile, remain in the room I’m cleaning, and then make just one trip to each other room where the stuff belongs. (Less time spent cleaning means more time to binge-watch Marie Kondo helping other people “spark joy” by cleaning and organizing THEIR homes!)
The possibilities for improvements in your daily routines are endless. You just have to be willing to ask yourself:
“Is there a better way? A faster way? An easier or more enjoyable way?”
“The greatest of faults is to be aware of none.”
— Thomas Carlyse
Organizational Excellence Program Manager | Marathon County Government
Molly Bennett is the Organizational Excellence Program Manager for Marathon County and facilitator of IDEAS Academy, which seeks to provide all employees with the tools to innovate through education and mentorship on the principles of continuous improvement. Molly is also responsible for Marathon County’s Leadership Development Programs. In her free time, Molly likes to take advantage of all the natural beauty North Central Wisconsin has to offer, spending time outdoors, hiking, biking, camping, and skiing. Email Molly Bennett.
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