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Michelle LaBrosse


Setting Up a Productive Workspace

Try using 5S

Published: Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 14:31

Your project teams seem to have all the right pieces—team members with technical proficiency, good internal communication, an organized project manager—but something still isn’t quite right. Your team still struggles to get projects done on time and isn’t as productive as it could be. What’s going on here? It might have something to do with your physical work environment.

I’m a big fan of using the Japanese technique of 5S to improve productivity with my project teams. 5S is a way to get your workspace organized so that your environment is set up in a way that will best improve your productivity and efficiency. Do these tasks in the following order to organize your workspace.

1. Sort 

This means going through and getting rid of things you don’t use. You can also remove those items in your workspace that you don’t need right at your fingertips. Though it may seem like a trivial detail, the amount of visual clutter in your work area impacts your ability to concentrate on the task at hand and can subtly affect your sense of feeling stressed. A clean, organized environment helps you maintain a calm and focused mental state, which is the first step toward increasing your productivity.

2. Set in order

Make sure all the materials you need for your day-to-day work are right where you need them. When our workspaces are poorly organized, we impede our ability to shift gears between activities, and waste an astonishing amount of time just locating what we need to start a new task. Having what you need for your day’s activities requires a small investment of prep time at the beginning or end of each work day, but ultimately saves you time.

3. Shine  

Set up your workspace so that it’s not only clean, but more important, it’s easy to keep clean. The initial effort you put toward making your space easy to clean quickly pays off by saving you cleaning time later.

4. Standardize  

People who follow standard routines for beginning and ending their workday tend to be more productive. Distractions are the biggest productivity losses for project teams in all organizations, so having a standard process to shift into a working mindset can create a more productive environment. Our minds naturally crave consistency and stability—think about how little thought you need to put into tasks that are a habit for you (like brushing your teeth in the morning) compared with tasks that are not habitual (like waking up earlier than usual for a morning meeting). The more we can make our daily work tasks part of a routine, the less time we need to spend deciding what to do next and transitioning between tasks.

We recommend starting your day with the most important task for that day, for several reasons. First, this ensures that your most important task gets done. Second, after you’ve completed that important task (especially if it’s something you dread), the rest of the day’s tasks will seem easier and you’ll be more motivated to complete them. Finally, this routine forces you to consciously and strategically prioritize your tasks each day; knowing which of your daily to do’s matters most helps keep your actions aligned with your larger and longer-term goals.

5. Sustain

Entropy is a natural state of affairs; it’s how our offices get so chaotic in the first place. Taking a few minutes every day to keep your workspace tidy and organized pays off in big productivity dividends long-term. This also ties into the importance of following a standard routine each day; setting a time to maintain the cleanliness and organization of your space is a simple and easy task to integrate into your daily routine.

Transitions in your organization are a great time to implement the 5S strategy with your project team. Some transitions where you can take a few hours to implement 5S are:
1. When the days get longer and warmer (the reason for “spring cleaning” rituals)
2. When we move to new office space
3. When we add or lose a team member


About The Author

Michelle LaBrosse’s picture

Michelle LaBrosse

Michelle LaBrosse is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun, and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring project management to the masses. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program and holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton. Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. More than 50,000 people have used Cheetah Learning’s project management and accelerated learning techniques.