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Lean Life Hack #3: How to Raise Kids -

Some young parents look like extras on The Walking Dead. Others sound like truant officers about to haul their kids off to the pokey. But some seem to have a secret formula for maintaining a high-functioning, kid-filled household.

What follows are some brilliantly simple, Lean visual routines offered by largely happy parents. These tips save time and, if properly applied, can turn the walking dead into the leads in a romantic comedy. These insights are the result of interviews with a number of happy parents including the successful UX Strategist, Holly North, who appears in this month’s podcast. Raising kids is an experience so it helps to have a strategy!

Hacks for Infants and Toddlers

“See” With Your Child’s Eyes

Lean is all about seeing with “new eyes” and in this case it’s through the eyes of your children. Adults put their books in bookshelves to better see and organize them. We can quickly tell the title by the spine and grab what we need (for those who still have actual books). But a small child can’t read yet and is too short to see books up on a shelf.

Put the books on the floor at their level with the covers visible. This way kids have immediate access and can choose the ones they like. Kids select books by themselves without parental intervention (the very definition of judging a book by its cover). They don’t have to endure the Waste of Waiting. They peruse happily on their own and when it’s time for you to read to them, you know all their favorites!

This way kids have immediate access and can choose the ones they like.

Lean Life Hack 3 - How to Raise Kids -

This also means considering their view during troublesome activities like diaper changing and bathing. Have something in their line of sight so they can appreciate shapes and colors instead of squalling as they get pushed and pulled around.  A well-placed mobile can make the difference between an experience-gone south and coos of delight.

Lean Life Hack 3 - How to Raise Kids -

Conduct Single-Piece-Flow Packing

I’ve been told that young parents lack what you’d call a full set of brain cells to operate with much of the time. What usually happens is a frantic attempt to pack for daycare or an outing right before heading out the door. What results is a missing pacifier, blanket or shoe. In Lean we can see the obvious downsides of  “batching.” Instead, place the bag by the door ahead of time and pack the contents one item at a time as come out of the dryer or just come to mind. No pressure and by morning it’s ready to go!

In Lean we can see the obvious downsides of  “batching.”

Lean Life Hack 3 - How to Raise Kids -

What’s key is that the bag by the door becomes a visual clue to keep packing. Just seeing the bag as you pass by serves as a reminder to fill it. Lean is all about visual management and a lot of it is this simple.

Use Signals (aka Kanbans)

Having children means you’ve got less time for yourself and less time for your partner. So when you do get a chance to talk, it’s important to make it about something meaningful or fun, not “did you make the lunches yet?” When the goal is to have kids’ meals prepared for the next day, use specific Tupperware and place it in the same corner of the fridge each time. That way everyone knows when the chore is done. No need to discuss.

That way everyone knows when the chore is done.

Lean Life Hack 3 - How to Raise Kids -

Hacks for Small Kids

Provide Visual Guides (Standard Work)

“Did you clean your room?” Seems like an easy question. But, aside from the obvious issue of kids being more inclined to spend 15 minutes playing a videogame than picking up their toys, do they really know what the room is supposed to look like when it’s clean? With the 5S technique, one step is to take “before” and “after” pictures. The idea is to show improvement, but the “after” photos also provide the new standard. Provide your kid with a photo of what the room actually looks like when it’s clean and keep it visible. It doesn’t solve all the issues, but it gives them a guide.

With the 5S technique, one step is to take “before” and “after” pictures.

Lean Life Hack 3 - How to Raise Kids -

Create Job Aids With Tape

Modern households contain a lot of stuff and it’s not always clear where all the stuff goes. At a minimum that leads to clutter, but if a child leaves a bike in the wrong spot, it could end up flattened by a commuting parent. A little paint or some all-purpose duct tape makes it immediately clear where to park a bicycle. Avoid the tears, the cost of replacement and keep the household peace.

Lean Life Hack 3 - How to Raise Kids -

Use Pictures for Sorting (Visual Management)

The average adult processes images 50,000 times faster than text. Since kids are still developing their vocabulary, images are even more critical for them. Clean up happens more often if it’s easy. Putting “like” toys together in open baskets is a good organization technique and it’s easier if you know which toys go where. You don’t even need pictures if you keep the baskets at their eye level. You just fill each basket with one type of toy and they get the idea.

Lean Life Hack 3 - How to Raise Kids -

The visual management of Lean is particularly useful in processes that involve people who speak different languages. Think of your children as non-English speaking foreigners and the need for visuals becomes clear.

Some of these are helpful whether you’ve got kids or not and the impact is the same. Less time spent on mundane topics and potentially stress inducing questions and more time spent laughing at a good joke, enjoying a fine cocktail or just sitting down on the couch!

Lean is, at its heart, about changing culture.

Lean is, at its heart, about changing culture. A label here, some Tupperware there, a bit of duct tape and these hacks could change your life. You can tap into a these hacks and a few more at ( Consider it Lean as marriage counselor!

What tips and tricks do you use with your kids? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Elisabeth Swan

Elisabeth is a Managing Partner & Executive Advisor at 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.
  • marykparker

    I love this! Some techniques I have used, but others are new. This is very beneficial for providing structure and routine for children, which will also enhance their creativity.

  • Thanks @marykparker:disqus – Glad you found some new ones and I think you’re right. It’s not just the parents who benefit, this helps and frees the kids up too. Thanks again for the feedback!