Five ways to incorporate productivity and efficiency in your home – based on engineering practices!
Before I got obsessed with old houses, chairs, farm animals, and bold paint colors, I was an engineer. Seriously! I trained as an engineer. Went to school for engineering. Worked on production floors for five years as both an intern and full-time manufacturing engineer.
During my time on manufacturing floors, I learned a LOT about how to make processes run more efficiently. Like…A LOT. So much so that efficiency discussions have now leaked into almost every aspect of our home renovation. I just can’t help myself. I LOVE to make stuff efficient.
One of the most frequent questions I get is “how to be more productive at home?” How can I be more efficient in my day-to-day life? Welp. Let’s talk about it. Today I’m discussing five engineering concepts that you can translate to the home to make your life a bit less stressful.
Reduce Decision Fatigue
This is a BIG one. Like a really big one. Huge. I wish everyone knew about this idea. Decision fatigue is the idea that we get mentally exhausted from having to make decisions, but not necessarily from doing work. When you reduce decision fatigue, you reduce the amount of mental energy you expend per day. So your overall level of stress decreases.
Kinda confused? Let’s do an example.
Labeling. I watch a lot of organizational experts on Instagram and YouTube and they put a HUGE emphasis on labeling everything under the sun. Intuitively you kind of know, hey. Organized people label things. That’s better than unlabeled things, right? But have you ever wondered why?
Labels work because they reduce decision fatigue. Imagine you’re walking around your house with two pens and a pencil that you have to put away. If you have previously created a bin for pens and a bin for pencils, when you find spare writing implements, you know exactly where they go.
Now if you haven’t made a designated home for writing utensils, you now have two pens and a pencil in your hand and you have to decide where they go. On the counter or the table? In my purse or in the office? Those decisions add up over time and really wear on your mental energy.
But by creating a designated, labeled location for those items, you made the decision once. And you don’t have to make it in the future. You can just put the items away.
Tip: Pay attention to places in your life where you’re making the same decisions over and over. See if you can automate or label your way out of having to repeatedly make those decisions.
Utilize the Golden Zone
In manufacturing, a lot of people work together in different areas to produce a product. Since they tend to be performing the same actions over and over, you can pretty easily optimize their working space for comfort and efficiency.
Working at home is a little different. You tend to be one person doing everything, and it’s not so easy to streamline the process. However, let me tell you about the Golden Zone.
The Golden Zone (or Goldilocks zone) is the area from your shoulders to your hips and about an arm’s width on either side. This is the most ergonomic area for manual tasks to be performed. Ever wonder why counters are up near your waist? To bring food prep into the golden zone.
If you have tasks that you have to perform regularly, try to set up an area within the Golden Zone for you to do them. If you’re folding laundry, do it on a table or a kitchen island. If you’re filling cat food bowls, pull them up off the floor before you start adding kibble.
By bringing activities into an area of comfort, you’ll tire yourself less than if you are bending, reaching, and stretching to accomplish something.
Reduce Changeover Time
How hard is it to switch from one task to another? How much energy does it take to go from sitting down eating dinner with the family to everyone dressed and heading out the door? A lot right?
This is the home equivalent of changeover. In manufacturing, change over is the time it takes to stop producing one kind of product, switch the components of the machine, and then start producing a different product. At home, this looks more like how quickly you can go from one task to another without adding mental stress.
Let me give you an example. Up until a week ago, I HATED vacuuming. Hated it. Would never make myself do it. I’m not even joking when I say the house got vacuumed once every six weeks. I HATED IT.
I realized that I hated the idea of vacuuming so much, I wouldn’t even bother to get started. So I asked myself why? Why do I hate that so much?
Clearly, something about my vacuuming routine made changing from any task to vacuuming so horrible, I just wouldn’t do it. Eventually, I figured out my problem was that I hated my specific floor vacuum. It was heavy and awkward and annoying to use.
I threw a little money at the problem and purchased this Shark Cordless vacuum. GAME. CHANGER. I have vacuumed three times this week already. The house is so much cleaner. I feel better about myself. And everyone is happier all around.
So how did this reduce changeover? By getting a vacuum I didn’t hate, I drastically reduced the mental energy it took to do the chore of vacuuming. As such, the vacuuming actually gets done. Pay attention to what you hate doing so much it doesn’t get done. And then see what you can do to change that.
Implementing Standard Work
Everything I’ve said so far helps reduce decision fatigue. But this tip in particular is SO helpful in this process.
In manufacturing, standard work is a set of written instructions that explain exactly how to do a job and what to look for to know this job is done. At home, this is SO helpful for delegating tasks.
I did this in our kitchen. I looked around and said, “what tasks do I want to be done that signals the kitchen is clean.” Then I wrote a list of all those things, stuck it in a thrift store frame, and hung it on a cabinet.
This helps in two ways. First, when I am ready to clean the kitchen, I don’t have to think about what needs to be done. I don’t have to decide if I want to put away dishes or wipe the counters. Nope. I look at the list. And follow it. Fewer decisions. Less decision fatigue.
And second, you can have other people help you! If a spouse or friend says “hey can I help?” You say “yup. Please clean the kitchen. See that list? That’s what needs to be done.” BOOM.
Standard work doesn’t apply everywhere. But where it does, it’s a GAME changer.
Continuous Incremental Improvement
Of all the concepts we’ve discussed, this is by far the most important. Absolutely nothing in life happens overnight. Everything great takes time. And you make progress by stacking tiny wins on top of each other, not by fixing everything in one fell swoop.
Manufacturing has a word for this. The word is kaizen, which translates to improvement, but is much more than that. The idea around kaizen is that you can make small changes every day and over time, they will add up to big changes.
If we try to take on too much at once, we will inevitably burn out. It’s simply impossible to make something perfect on the first try. Instead, focus on making little improvements day today. In a year, your life will be unrecognizable.
Manufacturing and the Home
I could go on and on about everything I learned in manufacturing and how fascinating it is to apply it to the home. But I will leave you with that for now. If you’d like to hear more about this topic, check out Episode 8 of The Vernacular Life Podcast. And let me know what improvements you’ve made!