Do you ever wish you could just push everything on your desk into the garbage and start fresh? Have you ever spent too long looking for a “lost” document, only to find it under a pile of paper? Are you frustrated by clutter and disorganization? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you are wasting time and losing money.
The solution? 5S. Five simple steps that will help you become more effective and efficient in your legal practice. 5S will restore order to your workspace, preserve your sanity AND increase your productivity. Think how your clients and your business will benefit!
5S is a business improvement strategy developed in Japan and used in the Toyota Production System. The five Ss come from five Japanese words meaning: Sort (Seiri), Straighten/Store (Seiton); Shine/Sweep (Seiso); Standardize (Seiketsu); and Sustain (Shitsuke).
At its core, 5S is based on the old adage: a place for everything and everything in its place. You can apply it to your computer, the rest of your office, even your whole law firm. It’s particularly useful for shared workspaces. But for now, let’s just focus on your desk. Upcoming blogs in our series Going Lean: 5S for Lawyers will talk about applying 5S more broadly in your practice.
On a factory workbench, with multiple shifts and workers, 5S can be extremely rigorous, with shadow outlines around every tool. We’re not suggesting you go there. You’re likely the only one using your desk, so you have to set it up for you, and you probably don’t need a tape outline around your coffee mug or your stapler.
The key to 5S for lawyers is to find the most effective way of organizing the tools you use in your practice every day.
So here is 5S for your desk:
Sort: Sort through everything on and in your desk–documents, files, books, the half eaten Danish, the candy wrappers–EVERYTHING. Throw out the garbage, get rid of extra supplies (do you really need 13 pens, 5 rulers and 7 erasers?), remove anything you don’t absolutely need or routinely use. Get some cleaner, wipe out your drawers and clean off your desktop. Wipe down the phone and the computer keyboard.
Don’t just dump your unwanted stuff somewhere else in your office, on your assistant’s desk or in the supply closet. If you clean up your space but make a mess of someone else’s, then you aren’t achieving anything lasting for your business.
While you’re sorting, make a list of everything you need but don’t have. Collect it if available. Order it if not.
Straighten/Store: What’s left on your desk is what you keep. Arrange your drawers and the surface of your desk so that everything you need, from phone to computer to sticky pad, is organized in a way that promotes the efficient flow of work. Store like with like. Use labelled bins and organizers if that helps you. Some people use fine tape to create “crime scene” outlines on their desks and in their drawers to show where items belong and make it easy to see if something is missing or out of place. If that appeals to you, give it a try. Store less frequently used items, such as that box of extra staples, at the back of a drawer or away from your desk.
Three keys to good organization:
- visual controls (e.g. organizers and labels) so you can see what’s running low, or what’s missing;
- immediate access, so you can retrieve frequently used items safely and ergonomically; and
- immediate return, the habit of immediately putting items back in their proper place.
Shine/Sweep: Make cleaning your desk a daily routine. Take five minutes at the end of each day to put things back where they belong.
After the bomb attacks in the Docklands financial district in London in 1996, many offices adopted a “clean desk” policy requiring desktops to be cleared of all papers, books and files every night. Everything had to be secured in drawers or cabinets. While most of us (thankfully) won’t ever have to worry about the resulting chaos of a bomb blast, the idea of putting away all your documents each night is still a good one. You get a few seconds to check you did not forget to do something important, everything is organized for the morning, and you protect the confidentiality of your clients’ matters.
Take a few minutes at the end of each week to wipe down your desk, your phone, your computer screen and the keyboard. You will be all the healthier for the cleaner environment.
Standardize: Make sure that everyone you work with respects your new approach. Items borrowed should be returned promptly to the right location every time. New matters go in one place, completed matters in another, and so on.
Sustain: Make the other 4 Ss part of your routine. Repeat them and maintain them.
5S is a simple way to make your workspace more efficient by removing everything you don’t need; organizing and storing what you do need in a logical, easy to access fashion; and sustaining the result by taking a few minutes at the end of each day to maintain and improve the order you have created.
The benefits are obvious: less time wasted looking for misplaced files, messages, memos, or iPad chargers; less frustration and better morale; increased productivity; higher client satisfaction; and, yes, increased revenues! Check here for what Boeing has to say about the impact of 5S in their manufacturing plants and their offices (and then check out what they charge for their training videos -- this blog is free!).
Lean Six Sigma and 5S are all about the relentless pursuit of efficiency and improvement. You are never done getting better. Spread the word and encourage others in your office to practice 5S. It is a first easy step towards becoming a lean law firm.
If you want to learn more about 5S in the office, check out the books listed in our Bookstore or contact us directly.
Don’t delay–start today! Be more productive and add greater value for your clients.