It’s time to get very dirty. Let’s talk about waste – the groundwork we have to lay and understand if we want to start living an abundant agile and lean life.
We all intuitively know very well that waste is not something good, neither in business nor in our personal lives. We can define waste very simply: as something unwanted, poor or bad, something that doesn’t bring anything good, usually appearing after a specific process has been completed.
In slang, a waste is also a person who has done nothing with their life, ironically more or less due to being unable to eliminate waste from their own life. The more you want to achieve in life, the more cleaning you have to do. That’s why lean is all about focus, speed and eliminating all distractions. And waste is a distraction.
A very important task for all of us who want to live a more quality life is to eliminate as much waste as possible, with the end goal of making room for the things that really matter to us – bring value. Eliminating waste is an endless process and, in addition to that, it’s also not an easy task to carry out.
Eliminating waste in business
The purpose of this blog are ideas on how to apply the most advanced business management techniques to personal lives. Thus let us first look at what eliminating waste in business means. The principle is part of the lean production or, more specifically, the Toyota Production System (TPS).
In the lean production, on which the lean startup philosophy is also based, we know of seven different types of waste. Every process either adds value or waste to the production of goods and services. Value in business means any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Lean is about highlighting the things that add value by reducing everything else.
When you eliminate waste, quality improves while production time and costs are reduced. There are many tools for doing it, such as Value Stream Mapping, Kanban, Five S etc. The Japanese word for waste is muda and it is the foundation on which the TPS philosophy (muda, muri and mura) is built.
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A very interesting thing that the inventors of TPS found is that that even if products being produced in factories are totally different, the types of waste are very similar.” The situation is no different in our lives. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you live, you have to face similar kinds of waste as other people.
You need a strategy for how to reduce or eliminate the effect of each type of waste. That brings us better quality and performance (productivity).
The seven muda (types of waste) in TPS are:
- Over processing
- Over production
We can use the acronym ‘TIMWOOD’ to remember the 7 Wastes of Lean.
Eliminating waste in our personal lives – live more with less
We can easily find many parallels for how these principles can help us in our personal lives.
Everything you do and have in life (material things, relationships etc.) either adds value to your life or drags you down. There is no third option.
Things that add value to your life are things filled with positive energy; that means doing various different things that make you happy, doing things that lead to creativity and greatness, having loving and empowering relationships, being a part of the group in which you fit in and blossom, doing things that make you healthier and more energetic, performing things that lead to building up your assets by providing value to the world, developing your talents and so on.
Things that take value from the quality of your life (aka waste) are the things that bring the negative into your life, to the environment or the society. This list contains bad relationships, negative thoughts, clutter, overspending, throwing food away, spending time watching TV, hanging out on social networks etc.
Once you’re aware of your thoughts and surroundings, it’s not hard to find out which things bring value to your life and which ones drag you down. The problem is that some stuff is quite easy to get rid of and other quite hard – especially if you have an emotional attachment to it.
The solution is fairly simple. You have to see that the pleasure (reward) is much bigger than the emotional attachment to a specific waste in your life. The reward we are talking about is of course having more time, energy, money and other resources. Imagine what you could do with your life if you were able to double all of your key resources.
Well, it can be done. Let’s systematically look at all seven types of waste complete with ideas on how to eliminate them.
Unnecessary transportation is one big obvious waste, easy to notice, but quite hard to eliminate. Transportation is the movement of materials from one location to other. The obvious thing is that transportation adds no value to the product. Just think of the shipping costs you don’t like to pay when shopping online.
In business, what we consider a transportation waste is when we are moving products that don't have to undergo any processing. In addition to producing waste, every time a product is transported, it is at risk of being damaged, lost or delayed.
The longer the product moves around, the longer there isn’t any value being added to it. Part of the transportation waste is also handling of the products. The solution is clear: you have to minimize all transportations in the production process.
It’s no different in your personal life. Transportation takes time, money and energy. It doesn’t matter if you are driving a car, taking a train or boarding a plane. Excessive transportation drains all your resources. In order to be more agile and lean, there are three things you can do about it:
- Removing the waste – The first and the best option is to remove the waste, if possible. You can move closer to your office. You can cancel your expensive holiday trip, if you have to indebt yourself for it or you are too exhausted to enjoy it like you should. You can do a skype talk instead of meeting in person, you can enjoy a Friday night at home every now and then.
- Reducing the waste – The second option is to reduce the waste, especially from a financial and time perspective. You can share a car, you can fly with low-cost airlines, you can take a train or a bike instead of your car, maybe a taxi is a better option than owning a car. You can buy a membership for a gym closer to your home.
Downgrading your car may be slightly painful to your ego, but it can be a big relief for your wallet. That’s what I did and it was a life changing decision. Owning an expensive car got me very mad every time I visited the mechanic, the gas station or the insurance company. It had a big effect on my wallet and also on my good mood.
- Turning waste into value – Another option you have is turning waste into value. You can ride a bike instead of driving a car. You know the saying that a bike runs on fat and saves you money, while a car runs on money and makes you fat. You can listen to audio books while riding the metro or you can work on your laptop while taking the train.
Instead of wasting time listening to radio stations while driving, you can learn a new language or a new skill. You find listening to audio books odd? Driving in a car with people you want to get to know really well is also an option. When you are in a car with someone, you just have to talk. Talking usually means building the relationship.
There are many ways of turning waste into value, you just have to be a little bit inventive.
Let’s go to the second type of waste – inventory. Inventory are all components, works in process, and finished products not being processed.
Every piece of raw material, all finished goods and every other item not being sold is actually a cost for a company. Additionally, inventory takes place because it has to be stored, it needs to be transported around and sometimes it needs packaging. It can also be damaged.
The inventory type of waste in business is also cash not used to generate income, space not completely utilized, storing unnecessary paperwork etc.
Oh yeah, there is a lot of unnecessary inventory in our lives. Every item in our lives takes time, place, energy and money. If you go to the average home, you can find tons and tons of clutter with only one purpose: to make residents feel “safer”. You know what (a) safe also means? Something you definitely don’t want to be stuck in.
Collecting things just for an emergency or to feel safer is something we all do, but at a big cost – having less money, less time and less resources. We are accepting big “fake security” compromises for something that has no real value. It doesn’t make any sense. Have no mercy for rubbish.
A simple solution for this is the mindset of minimalism. Have as little as possible in life and only things that you really need. For me, that is a laptop with an internet connection and a few not-fancy comfortable clothes.
In the future, we will talk a lot about minimalism, but now let’s look at some of the most common excessive inventory in our lives:
- Owning too much apparel, bags, shoes and accessories. Based on the Pareto principle, you wear 20 % of your clothes, 80 % of the time. You simply don’t need 20 pairs of shoes if you wear only 4 pairs of them, 80% of the time.
- Items you haven’t used in years and keep them just in case. You can simply borrow that kind of things when you really need them.
- Old computers and devices you don’t use or need. Just sell them.
- All the broken stuff you have just because you like it or someone important gave it to you. Free yourself from unnecessary emotional attachments.
- Just open one of your drawers and I bet you can find a handful of items you can simply throw away.
Go on a cleaning spree. It’s better to have less and that what you do own is of higher quality. When you throw things away, you make room in your life for new things.
Steve Jobs did, and Mark Zuckerberg wears the same outfit every day in order to keep the focus on important things and not waste any energy, time, money or decision power on things that don’t bring any real value to life. I can imagine that you can’t have the same perspective if you are a fashion model, but you get the point.
You can sell, give away or throw away all excessive inventory in your life.
The waste of motion includes all movements that are not as easy to achieve as possible. It’s similar to transportation of products, but movement refers to the motion of equipment and operators. We are talking about people or equipment moving or walking more than is required to perform processing.
All excessive motion represents a big stress. In business, there is a saying that even machines wear out. You want to save as much energy and resources as possible, even at a micro level. Examples of motion waste in business are non-ergonomic office layouts, walking to deliver paperwork, searching for things, lifting heavy things etc.
Motion waste usually disrupts the workflow and delays the start of work.
Motion waste in your personal life primarily concerns your environment, the place where you live, work and create. You want to have an environment that supports you and enables you to spend as much time as possible on things that add value to your life.
We all love excessive motion, since it is an easy task and gives us a feeling of being busy. Next to that is excessive motion many times the source of procrastination and disruptions. The hardest thing is to start a new task, since we have to actuate a new workflow, and excessive motion is a good surrogate for feeling productive.
Here are some examples of excessive motion:
- Untidiness of the work desk that leads to searching for things
- Unstructured directories that result in searching for files on your computer
- An uncomfortable chair that makes you nervous very quickly
- Going to the bathroom, back to the working desk and then to the fridge 2 minutes later
- Staring through the window just because you don’t feel like starting to work
- Gossiping, taking too much time for lunch etc.
There are two main solutions for reducing excessive motion:
- Organizing an environment that supports you – The first step is to organize an environment that supports your productivity. That means everything from a comfortable chair and an organized desk, to a clean computer, no distraction signs and everything needed for the workflow easily accessible.
- Preparing mini plans to accomplish more with a single motion – The second step is to organize your motions into “productivity loops”. This can best be explained with a few practical examples. Every time you go to the toilet, you also refill your water bottle and check your phone; but otherwise your phone is on silent. The idea is that you fill all your trips with mini unproductive tasks, before and after you reach the working flow. Minimize unnecessary motion in your life.
An important part of excessive motion are also health and safety issues as part of the risk to your life. You don’t want to do anything dangerous or stupid that would put your health or safety at risk. Your ability to think and work is the greatest ability you have in life.
Driving too fast, using a mobile phone while driving, lifting too heavy weights, visiting dangerous neighborhoods etc., are all very unnecessary motion and waste in life that can lead to immense decrease of resources and potential of every individual.
Reducing motion waste is quite a hard thing to do in life, so let’s continue with an easier case. Waiting, also known as queuing, is another type of waste. It simply means waiting for the next production step or dealing with interruptions of production during a shift change.
When two interdependent processes are not synchronized, idle time is produced and we get the waste of waiting. An example of this is waiting for an answer from another department so you can take action, system downtime or waiting for shared equipment.
Most of us hate waiting. All of us make other people wait. We have to eliminate waste in both cases. Here are some ideas how:
- Always be on time. If you are not early, you are late.
- Establish a personal renown that you don’t wait for people. If someone keeps you waiting, just leave and people will never do it to you again.
- Buy a faster computer or equipment to the one you are currently using.
- Reduce the number of activities that lead to waiting, such as meetings and appointments.
- Don’t drive in traffic rush hours. As mentioned before, try to drive as little as possible.
- Don’t do things that include a lot of idle time, such as conferences. You can watch the talks online, with no transportation and waiting needed. You can just skip the parts you don’t like.
But sometimes you simply have to wait. In that case, you open a Kindle app on your phone and start reading. It’s the way to turn waste to value.
Over-processing means putting more into the product than is valued by the customer. The goal is to do only the level of processing that matches usefulness and necessity. Similar to motion, this type of waste is very hard to notice and eliminate in business.
An example of over-processing in production is painting unseen areas. Machines that are over-processing because all process flow is directed through them are also an example of this kind of waste. In lean, small is beautiful. Over-processing can also be a result of unnecessary production steps or using older, outdated methods or not having standard work plans.
In our personal lives, over-processing is quite easy to notice. It’s called perfectionism – wasting time, money and resources on small details that nobody cares about. No product is perfect, no task can be done perfectly. If you want to be lean, you have to shut down the inner critic telling you that nothing is ever good enough.
To avoid over-processing, you have to constantly be asking yourself what are the really important elements of a specific thing that you are doing, and what is the refined unnecessary decoration. Using outdated procedures in the process is also a waste of over-processing.
Here are some examples of over-processing:
- Studying for an exam when we have already mastered the topic
- Being too anxious and worried about something
- Analyzing too much instead of applying and testing
- Using old versions of computer software
- Writing long and boring e-mails
The sixth type of waste is overproduction. It means producing more and faster than needed. The waste of overproduction is the waste of making too much or too soon. It’s the worst kind of waste, since it also leads to other kinds of waste and devalues the need for constant improvement.
Overproduction leads to excess inventory, because it is production ahead of demand. Overproduction is usually based on the “just in case” mindset, many people thinking that inventory are assets and have value, but in reality their value is very low or doesn’t even exist.
Over-processing in your personal life means devoting too much time, money, energy and other resources to one task. Over-production, on the other hand, means doing too many things too fast, without being sure if they are bringing any value at all. You do it just in case. An example of overproduction is learning things that you don’t need, just in case they will become useful someday. A similar example is also buying a books that you never read.
We have come to the last type of waste – defects. Defects are the most obvious type of waste. Every defected item requires rework or replacement, it creates additional paperwork and wastes resources, materials and time. In business, it can even lead to loss of customers.
It’s better to prevent defects than to try to detect them. Examples of defect wastes in business are missing information, errors and client complaints. The effort accompanying this type of waste is inspecting for defects and fixing defects as fast as possible.
Defects in our personal lives could mean many things. Let’s start with missing information. Knowledge is power. Well, actually, applying knowledge is power. But first we need knowledge. Investing money without knowledge usually means only loss. Fitness training without proper knowledge leads to injury. Not empowering ourselves with knowledge means defect.
The second most common defect is our mindset. We all have errors in our mindset. Beliefs that hold you back and are nothing but flaws that need to be eliminated. Having bad feelings about money, facing low self-worth, indecisiveness or negative thoughts are all mental and emotional defects you have to work on, if you have them.
Based on the seven types of waste in TPS, other authors have added additional types. Let’s look at some of them:
Underutilization is a waste of talent, and it means failing to make use of the people within an organization. Well, people in your life and your own talents are the greatest assets by far. Underutilization of those is the biggest waste possible. Constant improvement is one of the very important lean and agile principles that we will talk about in the future.
You have to strive towards developing and applying your talents in order to provide as much value as possible to the world. If you don’t create value, somebody else has to do it for you. Eliminating all other previously mentioned types of waste enables you to invest in yourself and develop your knowledge, skills, competences, more accurate beliefs etc.
And of course, you are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with. Thus if you want to develop yourself, you have to be surrounded with people that empower you and help you with your personal development and achieving your goals.
9. Waste of resources and materials
Waste of resources and materials in business is the failure to make efficient use of electricity, gas, water and other resources. A waste of resources doesn’t only cost a lot of money, but also has many other downsides, like negatively affecting the environment and the society as a whole.
There are many potential ways of wasting resources and materials in your personal life. It can be anything from spending too much money on coffee, not turning off the lights, closing the water pipes when you don’t need them to driving not very economical vehicles and so on.
If you want to be lean, you have to be frugal. Frugality brings control over assets and resources.
In your personal life, you can waste resources that are even more precious than money and material things. It’s your time and energy. Never waste your time and energy. You have a limited number of heartbeats. Make sure every one of them counts.
10. Other types of waste
There are many other types of waste, such as:
- Unclear communication
- Lack of information
- Lost opportunities
- Equipment breakdown etc.
I am sure that you can find other types of waste that you are facing in your life. But eliminating even half of the things we talked about would bring a miracle to every life.
Steps to eliminate waste
There are five steps to eliminate every type of waste. The steps to eliminate waste effectively are:
- See it: Make waste visible
- Recognize it: Be conscious of waste
- Who is responsible: Be accountable for waste
- Define size and magnitude: Measure the waste
- Eliminate or reduce the waste
First you have to know what is causing waste in your life. If you have read this blog post this far, you are well aware of the things potentially causing waste in your life. Now you have to specifically identify the biggest waste that is draining your resources – what type it is and what it is.
After that you have to decide if it’s only you who is responsible for the waste or if it also affects other people, such as your partner, parents or kids. It’s good to measure the waste, to clearly see the price you are paying, and determine the priority and difficulty of eliminating it.
There are four actions you can take when you come to the last step of eliminating waste. That is the most important final outcome of this process:
- Delete it
- Delegate it
- Automate / Reduce it
- Merge it
Examples and tools
I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don't intend to waste any of mine. Neil Armstrong
Below you can find an Excel spreadsheet that will help you identify waste in your life as well as help you set the strategy for eliminating as much waste from your life as possible. You can also find an example of analysis and strategy for eliminating waste in my life.
Here is also an example of my analysis and strategy for making more room in my life for the things that are really important to me.
I will post regular updates about my improvement.