Hi, and welcome to the Vernacular Life Podcast, where we talk about anything and everything that goes on in our 1905 Vernacular Farmhouse. 1905, 1906, we’re just gonna jump back and forth between those two, because I don’t actually know what date the house was built. I’m your host Paige and today we’re gonna be talking about a highly requested topic and that is Engineering Efficiency as it pertains to the home.
So for a little bit of background and I guess credibility, I am an engineer. That’s what I went to school for. I studied for five years, I got two engineering degrees. I worked on production floors for eight years, either as an intern or as a full-time employee. So I’ve been around a decent amount of efficiency and production planning.
And my main job while I was working as an engineer was a process engineer or a manufacturing engineer. A manufacturing engineer, or a process engineer is focused on finding inefficiencies in the production process and suggesting ways and improvements to fix them.
So what I would do is I would look at a process where we make some part and I would say, “Okay, where are we wasting time? Where is there too much time spent? Is there a solution that could make this job happen faster? Can we rearrange something so that we don’t have to walk as far?” And I learned a lot of different techniques there that turned out to be quite applicable to the home.
Now, the main difference between a production floor and your home is that on a production floor, you have many people doing different parts of one large operation to make a product. At home, it’s typically just you. And that means that it’s gonna take you a little bit longer to do things because you’re doing every single step.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some ways to change around your process, to change around how you’re doing things that will make things a little bit easier on you in the end. So we’re gonna talk about five different aspects of efficiency and these aren’t the only aspects of efficiency, these are just five ones that I thought of that I think really translate well into day-to-day life.
The first one is a very big concept and it’s something that if you just have a name to it, I feel like it makes life a little bit easier. And that is decision fatigue. Now, decision fatigue is the idea that mental fatigue and mental tiredness and feeling totally drained at the end of the day, actually comes from having to make tons of little decisions.
Because decisions require your mental energy. “Do I do this, do I do that? Do I go here, do I go there?” That takes a lot out of you. And so decision fatigue happens when your job or your day or whatever activity you’re doing, takes so many decisions to execute that by the end of the day, you’re just drained. And we want to pay attention to decision fatigue, because if you can reduce the number of mindless decisions that you make during the day, you will generally reduce your mental stress overall.
What’s an example of something that eliminates decision fatigue? Labeling. I watch a lot of organizational, you know Instagram accounts and YouTube videos and I find them really fun and relaxing. And you see that they always label everything. And you just kind of know that, you know, organized people label stuff. And if you wanna be organized, you have to label stuff.
But why is that work? It works because it reduces the decision-making when keeping your home tidy. So if you have a basket that’s labeled pens and you have a basket that’s labeled pencils if you’re going around your house tidying up and you were trying to make your house look neat and orderly, and you come across two pens and a pencil.
If you don’t have a basket that’s labeled pens and pencils, you have to sit there and decide what to do with those pens and that pencil. You have to decide, “Am I going to put this in my purse? Am I going to put this away in the desk? Am I going to take this upstairs?” It wouldn’t seem like that takes a lot of energy, but it really, really does.
So instead, if you have already decided, you’ve made the decision once that the pens go in this basket and the pencils go in this basket, when you find a pen or a pencil in your house, you don’t have to decide what to do with them. You see them and it reminds you, “Oh yes, I have a pen basket,” and then you can just go do the thing.
You can go do the action of putting the pen away or putting the pencil away instead of deciding how you’re going to organize things. And that really is the benefit to keeping things orderly and tidy is that you don’t have to decide how to keep them tidy every time if you put the system in place, if you put the labels in place, you reduce the decision-making when it comes time to maintain those systems.
And the result is that you have fewer decisions to make. Another example of this is with grocery lists making. Grocery lists, for me, there’s always certain things I need every single week without fail and I almost always forget one of them because it’s just like, “I have to get this every week.” I know I do, I know I need to write it on my list, but I just forget to write those standard items on my list.
So what you could do instead is have a permanent grocery list on your refrigerator and that grocery list is your staples. So every week you buy milk, eggs, and bread, instead of remembering, “Okay, I have to buy milk, eggs, and bread and then the rest of my grocery list.”
When you go to make your grocery list at the beginning of the week, the first thing you do is just copy down that standards list. Even if you know what they are, you look at the standards list, you copy it down and you don’t have to hold space in your brain to remember any of those standard items.
So when you look around your life, your home, look at decisions that you are having to make every single day or every single week. If your vacuum doesn’t have a standard place, you have to decide where the vacuum is gonna be put after you use it every single time.
If you don’t have a standard way of doing dishes, if you don’t have a standard way of making the bed, anytime you have to make a decision about how to do something, try to pay attention to that and then try to see if there’s a way that you can make that decision once, like making a label or picking a spot for the vacuum so that you don’t have to keep making it every week.
And if you do this throughout your entire house, I really think you will be shocked at how much less stress you have, because then your brain is not focused on making those little decisions, it can be focused on actually doing more value added activities. So decision fatigue is the first concept.
It’s really helpful, it’s really useful and it is really eye-opening when you start to pay attention to where it is in your life. The second one is more of a area specific rule. And this one is very big in manufacturing because manufacturing associates so often work with their hands in a very specific area.
So this concept is called the Golden Zone, or sometimes the Goldilocks Zone, depending on who you ask. The Golden Zone is an area from about your hips up to your shoulders and about an arms with on either side, not quite a full arms width. And this area is what is considered the optimal placement for tools.
You want your tools and your workspace and everything you need to complete a certain job within that reach. Now, because like we said earlier, you are typically one person doing everything at home versus a bunch of people dividing up all the tasks like on a manufacturing floor, this is gonna be a little bit harder to implement for everything in your life.
So the way this is implemented in manufacturing settings, where there are less associates or each associate has more responsibilities has to do with organizing the items in a workspace around where the associate typically works. The kitchen is a really good place to do this. The goal is to put things that you use all the time, very frequently as close to a central location as possible.
And then as things are used less and less frequently, they can get farther and farther away from that central area. So if we’re thinking about the kitchen and you make coffee every single day, that would probably be something that would be good to be kind of near the central working area in your kitchen, wherever you are most frequently, wherever you spend most of your time, that would be a good spot to put your coffee maker.
But something like maybe a countertop deep fryer, you may only use that once a month or twice a month, so that doesn’t need to take up the same immediate space as a coffeemaker. So instead you could put that in a cabinet or in a pantry or somewhere else that you know, where it is. You can go get it, but it’s not taking up valuable real estate.
So in your kitchen, look around areas where you do a lot of work. So around the sink, around the stove and look at the drawers and cabinets immediately to the sides of both of those. You want the items and utensils and foods in the areas closest to those working spaces to be stuff that you use all the time.
There’s no sense in having, you know plastic wrap and food bags right next to the stove and having all of your stove, utensils like tongs and wooden spoons on the other side of the kitchen. Because then every time you need something at the stove, you have to go all the way across the kitchen.
And there’s no real right way to do this you can figure out what changes are going to make the most impact for you and are going to actually give you the best results because all of these changes are just incremental and we’ll talk about that in a little bit. So the next concept is, it’s a very big concept in manufacturing, it’s one of the biggest things that we have to worry about, especially when we have machines that are making certain products.
At home, it looks a little bit different, and this concept is called Change Over. Change Over is essentially the time between the last item of one part and the first good item of the next part. So you can imagine if you have a machine that is pressing something or is using melted plastic and injecting it into a mold to make a specific shape.
If you have to change that mold, or if you have to change the plastic material, that’s time that’s just down. You’re not producing anything, you’re not making any product. You know, you’re just sitting there waiting for the machine to be usable again. So reducing change over time is a huge focus in manufacturing.
At home change over time looks more like the time it takes to switch between different tasks. For example, how long does it take to switch between you know, having dinner and leaving the house? How long does it take to switch between, you know playing with kids and family members in the living room to getting in the car to go get dinner?
These activities and these switches, I think can eat up a lot of time. Another way to think about changeover in the home is to reduce the effort and the mental energy it takes to switch between tasks. Now, I discovered this in particular with vacuuming. Forever, I’ve told myself that I hate vacuuming. I hated it’s so terrible, I just never do it.
The rugs always look filthy, but I really hate vacuuming so I don’t really care. And then I started to actually analyze, what is it about vacuuming that I hate? Because in my house there are two kinds of vacuuming. There is vacuuming the rugs, and then there are vacuuming the hardwood floors.
And I decided that I don’t really hate vacuuming the rugs that doesn’t bother me too bad, but I hate vacuuming the wood floors. Okay, so then again, we ask why? What is it specifically about vacuuming the floors that I can’t stand? Well, I discovered that it was the vacuum that I have. I have a canister vacuum with a very short cord and I have to unplug the cord all the time, move it from room to room.
I always have to use two hands when I use that vacuum because it’s a canister. So you have to hold the canister with one and you have to hold the vacuum end with the other and it’s really loud and it’s really shrill and I just hate the entire experience of using that vacuum. So I said, “Okay, if I didn’t have a vacuum that I hated using, do I think I would vacuum the wood floors more?”
And you have to be honest with yourself. And I said, “You know what, I think I would.” I really think I would use a vacuum that I didn’t hate because I do value having a clean home, I just hate using that vacuum. So what I did, and I don’t always advocate throwing money at a problem, but I threw money at this problem and I purchased a Shark upright cordless vacuum.
I have owned this thing for two days and I have vacuumed like twice, already because it eliminated the annoyance of doing the chore that I was fighting so hard to get myself to do. I eliminated the change over time. I eliminated the changeover stress between what I’m doing and the task that I want to do.
And it worked beautifully. So in your own home, look for ways to streamline switching between processes, because if can quickly switch between processes, then you can get more done, obviously. But also, if you find yourself resisting switching between processes, if you find yourself resisting a particular task or particular chore, do some analysis and figure out exactly what it is about the chore that you can’t stand, because you’re probably well, I know this, you’re not a lazy person.
The fact that it bothers you, that you aren’t doing a specific chore is an indication that you want to do the chore well. So figure out what it would take to make you not hate doing that chore. And so you can go from, you know, sitting in bed reading to vacuuming without any mental stress, without any mental annoyance, because you’ve eliminated that annoyance factor.
Now, the next concept is actually something that does help with changeover, I’ve found, especially in cleaning. And that is the idea of standard work. Standard work is basically a list of tasks or steps that outline what a good job is. So if you want to say, “How do we clean the kitchen?”
We know the kitchen is clean when the floors have been swept, the counters have been wiped down, all the dishes have been washed and put away. The table is clear and the cat’s water bowl is refilled. So you decide that ahead of time, what it means to have a clean kitchen to you.
And then you can write that down somewhere and hang it up in the kitchen. I actually have one hanging on the side of a counter, or I actually have one hanging on the side of a cabinet in the kitchen that just lists out what I think a clean kitchen should have. This helps two ways.
One, it lets you know when you’re finished. So when you come into the kitchen and you say, “Oh my gosh, I need to clean the kitchen.” You don’t have to make the decision of what you need to do to clean the kitchen. You don’t have to decide, ‘Do I need to sweep the floor? Do I need to wipe off the counters? Do I need to do the dishes? Do I need to wipe down the stove?” You don’t have to make all of those decisions.
So we’re reducing the decision fatigue because past you has already decided, “This is the list of items. This is the list of tasks that means that this kitchen is clean.” So you can go immediately to the doing aspect. We’re not wasting any mental energy, we’re not increasing our decision fatigue. We can just immediately get to producing the result that we want, which is a clean kitchen.
So that that’s the first way it helps, is it reduces that decision fatigue. It reduces that change over time between tasks because you don’t have to do any deciding, you don’t have to do any planning, you just get to the actual doing. The second way that it helps is having other people help you because it creates very clear expectations of what is wanted.
So say somebody comes over and they say, “You seem like you need help, what can I help with?” You can say, “You see that list on the kitchen wall, that’s what I need the kitchen, you know that’s what I need to make the kitchen clean, go do that.” And they know exactly how to do a good job, they know exactly how to clean properly, they know exactly how to do it to your standards and then your kitchen is clean and you didn’t have to do it and you can delegate.
So standard work doesn’t necessarily work for everything. It works for things that you want done repeatedly in a certain way. So folding clothes, cleaning up your room cleaning the house, dusting, mopping, cleaning the bathroom. It works well for cleaning routines, especially if you’re gonna get other family members involved.
And it works because it’s reducing that decision fatigue and letting you get directly to the action portion of whatever you’re doing instead of thinking about it every time. This is also why cleaning schedules work, because it gives you something to follow and it gives you something to basically adhere to and say, Okay, if I do all of these things I’ve done a good job.”
We don’t have to think about it, you just have to do it. So you can either do this with a cleaning schedule that somebody else has printed up or one that you like, or one that you have modified or adapted. You know, whatever cleaning schedule you want but I tend to like to know why things work.
And this is why cleaning schedules work is because it’s a version of standard work that reduces decision fatigue. Now, the last thing that we’re gonna talk about is probably the biggest concept in lean manufacturing and in manufacturing engineering. And it’s the concept of Kaizen. And this word means continuous incremental improvement.
Nothing in the world becomes efficient overnight. Even if you’re setting up a brand new process and you have the best intentions and you follow all the steps and you want to make it as efficient as possible, nothing comes out perfectly the first time. It requires paying attention to what works, paying attention to what doesn’t work, making changes, making improvements, making suggestions, making tweaks, and then seeing what happens.
And over time, you’re going to iterate that process. You’re going to do it over and over and over and eventually you will get a very streamlined, organized system. So if you’re looking at your house or your life or your job, or whatever and you are overwhelmed by how much stress you have and how many decisions you’re making first off, we’re gonna take a deep breath ’cause it’s okay, but second we’re going to just tackle something that you hate.
Like, okay, look around your whole life. Like mine was vacuuming. I’m not kidding that I have been working on this vacuuming problem for probably three years. I have not been able to figure out why I hated and couldn’t keep up with the vacuuming. So you’re gonna look at something that you hate, and then you’re gonna do something, it’s called a five why analysis, but you don’t have to necessarily do five why, but basically you look at a problem that you have.
So my problem would be, “Man, I hate vacuuming.” And then you say, “Okay, why?” It’s like, “Well, I don’t really hate doing the rugs, but I really hate doing the wood floors.” And then you ask yourself why, again, you say, “Okay, why do you hate doing floors?” Well, I really just don’t like using the vacuum that I have.”
“Okay, why don’t you like using the vacuum that you have?” You say, “Well, you know, it’s annoying to carry around and it’s cord too short and it’s just really a pain to use.” So at that point you can say, “Okay, what are some solutions that I could have to make this vacuum less annoying?”
You know, you could get a longer cord, you could maybe fashion a backpack to carry the canister around so you don’t have to drag it behind you, or you can do like I did and buy a different vacuum. So if you’re looking for places to start, look at things that really, really bother you and really, really just make you mad and then figure out what it is about them specifically that you hate doing.
And then find ways that you would be okay with doing them and give yourself some grace, it’s probably gonna take awhile. If the first time you do it, your first solution might not produce good results. I’ve had such a hard time sticking to a cleaning schedule, and I still don’t have a good solution for it.
I’ve tried printing out other people’s schedules, I’ve tried doing it a little bit at a time, I’ve tried doing it all at once, I’ve tried doing it once a week. I investigated how much it would be to pay somebody to clean. So I’m in the process of problem solving that situation. And I don’t have a solution yet.
So, Kaizen and this idea of continuous improvement just means that you are going to work at this constantly. And eventually you will find little knacks and little tricks and little systems that work really, really well for you and then you can eliminate that annoyance or that pain point as an issue, and you can go and do something else and work on something else.
So those are five of the manufacturing concepts that I used quite a lot in manufacturing and have kind of leaked into my home of their own accord, because it’s just the world that I’m used to. So there will be a full blog post written up on this that you can refer back to it and that’ll have some tips about how to implement each of these in your life.
And if you do implement these and they help you in any way, send me a DM on Instagram, send me an email, leave me a comment on the blog. I would love to hear how these have worked for you, and if they’ve made any improvements in your life. So thank you so much for listening. I’m so happy to have you here and I will see you next time, bye.