The agony and the ecstasy of continuous improvement.
The Japanese call it kaizen. Depending on which definition you subscribe to, kaizen can refer to continuous improvement in everything from personal efficiency to manufacturing processes to the overall way one lives one’s life – and probably everything in between.
If you think about it, this is a very comforting approach to growing a business. It keeps you from perfection paralysis, or acting as if you’ve only got one chance to get it right (whatever “it” is). It also makes it much more difficult to beat yourself up if you don’t anticipate and address every single potential obstacle in advance; after all, you expect to be continually improving, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not getting it totally right the first time.
By taking an approach of kaizen, you can acknowledge and celebrate what you’re currently doing well, and at the same time be comfortable knowing that you’ll probably discover ways of doing these activities even more efficiently and effectively as time goes on. It’s a way to deftly avoid the dichotomous, good/bad, black/white thinking that’s so common to American business (and, I would argue, to American life in general).
Although I’ve got a system worked out that allows me to stay on top of e-mails without letting them take over my entire day, I find myself experimenting with ways to improve that system. For example, I belong to a Mastermind group with a very active Facebook presence. Our FB group has over 100 members who post questions, answers, and observations. Since there’s always information to be gained by reading the posts (and information to be shared by responding to them), I always check out my e-mail notifications of activity on our group page.
As I look back over the last several months of membership in this group, I realize my method of handling these e-mails has evolved:
- I started out by succumbing to the lure of reading and responding to messages as they came in. This naturally prevented any backlog, but it played hell with my focus on other, more mission-critical tasks.
- Then I experimented with letting the messages accumulate until the end of the day, so that I could deal with them all at once. This allowed me to stay focused on other tasks, but it made me feel overwhelmed when I saw I had dozens of e-mails to get through at one time.
- Now, I’m enjoying the best of both worlds. I allow myself up to 15 minutes to clear my inbox of these FB-update messages each morning. (Yes, I know – many people advise against this. However, by using my trusty online stopwatch, I save myself from falling down the inbox rabbit hole.) I then ignore incoming messages for a couple of hours, after which time I once again set my stopwatch for 15 minutes of intense read-and-respond activity. After that, it’s a matter of “wash, rinse, repeat.”
What are some activities where you’ve continuously improved your performance? Please share them with us, so we can all grow through kaizen.
(By the way, thank you to Brandon LLW for his image of the kaizen scroll. If you like it, you can find it on flickr.)
This entry was posted in implementing.