What is kaizen, have you heard the term before or are you a kaizen virgin?

Let me tell you a little story…

You know that feeling when suddenly everything clicks into place? Like a massive 50,000 watt lightbulb suddenly pops out of your head as you just out leap of the bath screaming “Eureka” or in this case “Kaizen, I’ve got it!”

Well, that is what happened to me, and not so much of a leap out of the bath, more like a wet scramble, but let me digress….

If you have worked with me in any capacity or done any of my free programs, read my blog posts etc. you will know that I’m a big fan of baby steps. This is how I’ve always done things,

  • Taken the end goal
  • Broken it down into bite-sized chunks
  • Tackle each individual chunk or step
  • Continue until the job is done

That is my secret to getting things done and getting them done fast!

I wasn’t actually in the bath when the big A-HA happened, I was listening to a podcast, something I had it on in the background and was only half-listening if I’m to be honest. The guy being interviewed mentioned the kaizen method a couple of times and because it was a Japanese word, my ears pricked up.

Hmmm kaizen, it felt familiar but I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

So I did what any sensible modern day person would do, I hit the google…

Most of the hits threw up explanations along the lines of the kaizen philosophy or method as being continual improvement or lean manufacturing. But as a dug deeper and asked more questions, I discovered that the first explanation that comes up, isn’t very accurate.

Now you are probably wondering what they heck I’m waffling about and how it’s connected to being a mom and/or an entrepreneur, stay with me, the juicy stuff is coming…

The History Of Kaizen

The word kaizen is Japanese, derived from Chinese but for argument’s sake let’s stick with it being a Japanese word. It is made up of two kanji kai 改 which means change and zen 善 which means good. (this isn’t the same zen as the sitting under a tree saying “ohmmm” zen!)

image with the kanji for kaizen

If we translate that into English, the cleanest translation would be “improvement”.

This threw me for a while, if the direct translation is improvement, where does the “continuous” bit come from?

WWII and the rebuilding that followed….

The Americans had been working on a small-step work improvement approach, instead of making big radical changes, small changes that couple be implemented quickly and easily were being used instead. When the rebuilding of Japan started after the war, the Americans introduced the system to Japan.

Toyota went on to build their company back up from the ashes, using the small step system as one of the core principles for it’s success. It’s not clear how and when the term kaizen was attached to the method but many would say Toyota were the ones to make it a worldwide phenomenon.

There is a story that says that an American officer asked a Japanese worker how to translate this baby step system into Japanese and the Toyota worker, not really sure said “kaizen”. And so it was born!

In business, using the small step system, employers are asked to think about the manufacturing and running of the company and what small changes can be made to make the company more profitable or better in some other way.

For example, changing supplies for printer paper, if it is just $0.01 cheaper for a ream of paper, but the company uses 10,000 reams of paper a month, that would be a saving of $1200 a year. Multiply that with all the other small savings the company could be making and those tiny savings soon add up.

Another way to look at it, changing the order something is done in production, maybe shave 1 second off each item produced, it doesn’t seem like a big deal but that is a lot of extra time generated when generating thousands of product a day.

So in this new definition of the word, kaizen has become to mean continuous improvement and the Japanese have katakanarized the word to show the difference. カイゼン vs  改善.

But how can moms use kaizen?

This is why I LOVE this method, you can apply it to anything!

Here are some examples to get those brain-cogs working…

Want to tighten up those flabby bits but signing up for the gym or going for a 10km run isn’t going to happen… start small.

  • Get off the bus one stop early
  • Park the car furthest spot away from the supermarket door
  • Use the toilet on a different floor of your house each time you want to pee
  • Do a few squats as you prepare lunch
  • Plank for 30 seconds before you get onto Facebook
  • Find a 5-minute yoga routine that you can do when you first wake up
  • Dance to a song that you love once a day

You want to declutter your home but the thought is so overwhelming you find yourself not doing anything…

  • Pick one small shelf and just declutter the shelf
  • Pick a number, I like 3, and find 3 things to throw out each day
  • Start a one in two out rule… if anyone in the family wants to buy something, let’s say a new t-shirt. Then 2 items of clothing have to go out.
  • Choose a drawer in your kitchen and chuck out 3 things that are out of date or you don’t use
  • Find a home for a vagrant item (those things that just keep getting moved around the home!)
  • Challenge each family member to find something of theirs to throw out or donate
  • Pick one small place to organize, a countertop, the junk drawer (admit it, we all have one), the shoe cupboard. If that feels too much, break it down further.

If this system appeals to you, then you should check out my decluttering program, Clear The Clutter which is built on the kaizen system, I do all the hard thinking for you, you just have to implement!

You want the family to help out more so there is less for you to do…

  • Slowly add in micro routines by asking the kids to do ONE thing such as put their dirty lunch box in the sink to be washed each day, as soon as they get home from school
  • Help them to get organized by picking one shelf or basket in their room, talk to them and decide the best way to keep that shelf organized
  • Give each child an age-appropriate job to do each day, it could be to feed the dog, set the table, bring in the mail… (there is a free guide here to download)
  • Too many toys? Each day get the kids to pick one toy or book that they no longer want or have grown out of (less toys means that it is easier to keep the house tidy)
  • Laundry out of control? Assign each family member s laundry job, pairing socks for the little ones, folding t-shirts, folding towels, putting away clothes etc. Break the mountain into smaller piles!

There are more ideas for tiny tweaks you can implement at home here.

mom and baby sitting on the floor playing

How Can Moms Use Kaizen In Their Business?

Oh there are so many ways!

And this is where I get ridiculously excited!

I love to help moms build in systems to save them time and all of them are born from the kaizen way of doing things. Even each masterclass we have in The Wonder Mom Success Club comes with an implementation system based on kaizen.

A few ideas…

  • Create stock replies to your most commonly asked questions, set them up in your email system
  • Create short cuts on your phone so you can quickly drop comments on social media that point people to your blog posts/referral link/product
  • Use the Hit List and ditch the to-do list!
  • Templates! Start with one template, for example for a Pinterest pin, brand it in your colours and fonts so that all you have to do is add in the new image and tweak the text.
  • Use Airtable (one of my all-time favourite apps) to keep your business organized, have bases for your social media, testimonials, clients, stock images…
  • Set yourself a mini-goal, if getting visible is difficult, comment on 3 posts a day. Or post your own post once a day. Break it down to the smallest, easiest step you know you can achieve.
  • Check all your purchases, is there something you can get cheaper? Especially important if you are a maker of some kind.

No matter what your business is there is a way to use the kaizen system to make things flow better, reduce costs and reduce your time!

Help! I can’t do baby steps!

If you have read this far and want to throw your device and me out of the window… please wait!

We are all wired differently, some people are awesome when it comes to all things musical, some rock at languages – I do not rock at either of those things!

Some people find breaking things down into baby steps super easy <– yes, you guessed it, that is where my superpowers lie, others just can’t get their head around it.

If that is you, then ask for help!

I seriously suck at languages, it just doesn’t stay in my head, I get frustrated that I spend hours studying only to forget the sentence as soon as I shut the book. It took me a long time to admit it, but as much as I’d love to be a linguist, my brain isn’t wired that way.

Now if I need language help (and living in Japan, I often do) I ask for help.

If reverse engineering a problem or breaking a big task into smaller ones is hard for you, don’t beat yourself up about it, just ask for help!