An ancient Chinese proverb goes “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.”

Kaizen is all based upon this single principle. Begin with just one little step and then continue to improve. The definition of the word Kaizen, in Japanese, is “improvement.”

Kaizen has five simple ideas that support it:

1. Tidiness, also known as Seiri. Keeping your surroundings free of litter is the first small step that can help you accomplish a task.

2. Seiton, or orderliness, is the second idea of Kaizen. If your surroundings have order, it becomes easier to function within them.

3. Cleanliness is the third basic idea of Kaizen. Cleanliness is also known as Seiso.

4. Seiketu, or standardized clean-up, is the fourth small step in Kaizen. Having an organized clean-up method will help maintain the environment that was created by steps 1 through 3.

5. Discipline is the final small step of Kaizen. Discipline, or Shitsuke, is the glue that holds all of these small steps together. It allows one to persist in these small steps with an eye on the larger goal they help one achieve.

We are people of habit. We tend to like things the way they are; the way they have always been. So making a big change in our life can be a difficult, and often impossible task. Yet so often, we see a person who has made a large change in their life. Often, if you were to ask that person how they managed to make that change, they would tell you that they did not change all at once. They made small changes over time. Small steps, the basic principal of Kaizen, can help you to change your life for the better.

People who manage to reach objectives probably will say they did it by effecting minor changes over time. Little changes bring success because new habits are formed. Let’s say, for instance, that your objective is to reduce the amount of clutter in your house. You might begin by using just five minutes each day to sort through mail and throw away anything that you do not need without hesitation.

You can get real outcomes when you apply focused practice. Minor modifications made gradually really produce results. If you’ve ever resolved to make a change and fell short, you are aware of how difficult it is to succeed in making major transformations. For instance, if you want to de-clutter your house, you might begin simply by taking a few minutes daily to sort through your mail and throw out any junk mail at once.

Ponder the unsavory habits you might have: maybe you began eating a Danish every morning and currently you are 30 pounds overweight. Fad diets probably won’t help you, but substituting an apple for a Danish, as time goes by, will help you.

In the workplace, Kaizen has practical applications. It can seem overwhelming to tell workers “be efficient.” Kaizen shows how. For example, I saw a poster at a supermarket of tasks that workers can do with a spare five minutes: straighten the counters, wipe the counters, etc. It all adds up. Let’s say you need to learn a new software package for your job. Spend just 10 minutes a day and you’ll be on your way to learning it. The best way to learn a language is not to study 2 hours a week, but 20 minutes a day.

Challenge yourself with some problems:
In what way do you wish to become better? What goals do you wish to set for yourself? How will you know when you have completed what you aspired to do?

You must determine what it is that you wish to take a bite out of and then you can accomplish your objectives. After all, the answer to the riddle “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” is this: “One bite at a time.”

Steve Wilheir is a project management consultant and expert in Kaizen. I hope you like and apply the Kaizen concept in your world wherever you can.

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