I confess I am a success tips junkie.  If I see “The 5 Things Successful People Do,” “How to Be Your Most Productive Self,” “10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Whatever” – anything remotely hinting at a better way – Click, I’m going to give it a read.  I always tell my students looking for process improvement ideas to “steal shamelessly.” If someone else has figured something out, why not learn from them?

According to Wikipedia, “Life hack (or life hacking) refers to any trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method that increases productivity and efficiency.” Lean is not limited to the factory floor so it provides the perfect ingredients for Life Hacks.

You can build your own Lean culture. You can look at your personal processes, see your life with new eyes, root out waste and live a better life. Why not?  It’s not just about how to make things better, faster, cheaper. It’s about focusing on what’s of “value” to you, finding a way to make your day “flow,” finding opportunities to be “pulled” by others and continuing your “pursuit of perfection.” We’ll use the Lean principles – Value, Flow, Pull and Perfection to become better “life hackers.”

This particular Lean Life Hack started with a great piece in Fast Company a few years ago.  I’ve adopted it with a few adjustments that I’ll share with you. I’m hoping that in return, you’ll share some of your Lean Life Hacks, so we can steal shamelessly…

1. Don’t Start Your Day by Checking Email

What!? Okay, I confess I’ve modified this to include a quick scan for urgent matters, but let’s face it – unless you’re in the medical profession, any delay in email responses will not cause anyone bodily harm.

The idea is to identify what’s of value first and once you start reading email, you quickly get sucked into responding to all of it – and that’s an endless task. Most people’s default priority is to answer them in the order they read them– regardless of importance. Even worse, if you start at the top then you are not only giving them all equal weight, but you are running a misguided LIFO or “Last In – First Out” process. Think about how surprised you are when you finally look up from answering emails and wonder, “where did my morning go?”

Even worse, if you start at the top then you are not only giving them all equal weight, but you are running a misguided LIFO or “Last In – First Out” process.

It’s a good question since mornings are when people have the most energy. If you check email first then you’re devoting primetime brainpower to things like unsubscribing, acknowledging or replying-all and, honestly, that can be tended to later. You have to get to email at some point but before you do, it’s time to get a grip on the day.

2. Take A Breath and Be Grateful

This one is recognizing what’s of value to you. Having a Type A personality means that I am happiest when I’m busy so this one was initially a hard sell. It’s become my favorite because of the way it sets the tone for the day. The idea is to take a moment to “gain awareness.” I relayed this to a friend and added, “whatever that means!” But now this means I do some stretching since that provides brain space and has the added advantage of preventing back pain. In terms of Lean, this is like getting a systems view – starting the day getting clear on what’s important instead of acting as if you’ve been deposited on an assembly line like Lucille Ball frantically wrapping chocolates.

After a moment of silence the next step is to write down three things you’re grateful for. Think of this as the opposite of what happens when we focus on life’s annoyances. These are those gripes that, when spoken aloud, often elicit responses like, “here’s a dime – call someone who cares,” “you want some cheese with that whine?” or maybe they just mime the playing of the world’s tiniest violin to provide background music to your petty sorrows. In contrast, writing down the three things you’re grateful for causes you to step back and see the big picture. You can reflect on family, friends, the view out your window or your general health. Once again, it’s a reminder of what’s of value. All the things we take for granted. Now you’re ready for the day!

“Here’s a dime – call someone who cares,” “You want some cheese with that whine?”

3. Figure Out Your Most Dreaded Task (MDT)

Once you’re focused it’s time to identify which action item you are most dreading. What is that lingering, annoying thing that you’ve built up in your mind to be on par with doing taxes or cleaning the garage? Figure out the MDT and tee it up as your first “To-Do.”  Take that precious morning energy and save it to knock out or make a dent in the thing you don’t want to do. It often goes faster than expected and turns out to be more on par with wiping the counter down than cleaning the garage. The act of avoiding the most dreaded task gives it more importance and weighs you down. There’s extensive research that shows if you don’t tackle the tough stuff early in the day, then your will power decreases as the day goes on. We experience “decision fatigue.”

The act of avoiding the most dreaded task gives it more importance and weighs you down.

Once you’ve done the hardest thing the rest of the day is easy stuff. This way your process “flows” and tasks don’t get stuck in the inventory of To-Dos.

4. Plan to Fix What Bugs You

This is a 3-part effort:

  1. Figure Out What’s Bugging You: There’s always some lingering issue lurking below the surface and making you uneasy. The idea is to name it and describe how you feel about. “I’m not happy travelling as much as I am.”
  2. Figure Out What You Like About It: There’s always a flip side to what bugs you, so the next step is to describe your positive feelings about it. “I love helping people build their problem solving muscles.”
  3. Make a Plan: Figure out what you can do to either minimize your negative feelings or increase what makes you feel good  – or both. In my case I planned to look for (and found) some local work.

Use this paradox to come up with at least one one action step you can take to decrease the negative or build on the positive (after you finish your MDT!). Use what’s making you uneasy and plan to address it even if it’s a small step. Consider this your continuous improvement plan.

5. Focus on the Customer

I didn’t really get this advice at first. My immediate thought was of a call center – and I’m just not a Customer Service Rep. As I recall, it was followed by the phrase, “whatever that means to you.” And that made me think of the times I neglected to stay in touch with a happy client. I thought of the missed moments where I should have checked in to see how a particular colleague was doing on a big project. Then I realized it just refers to maintaining your connections. It’s making time for customer focus. How can you hear the Voice of the Customer if you don’t call them? This simple step helps you listen to those around you and and give them a chance to “pull” you into their worlds.

The Pursuit of Perfection

Do I follow this Lean Life Hack every single day? – no. But I do most days. And when I don’t, I regret it. The excuse is that what’s on my plate is just too urgent, but I’m usually wrong. I am still making adjustments to the process because it’s all about the Pursuit of Perfection, right?

What are your daily routines? Do you have a Lean Life Hack you can share? Tell us about it!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at GoLeanSixSigma.com. For over 25 years, she's helped leading organizations like Amazon, Charles Schwab and Starwood Hotels & Resorts build problem-solving muscles with Lean Six Sigma to achieve their goals.
  • Colleen Kindler

    Great Words of Wisdom to operate more effectively in Life and Work! I learned that I am a Lean Life Hack too. Thanks Elisabeth Swan!

  • Carlos

    Very interesting.

    • Thanks Carlos- Did it change how you start your morning?