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  • Writer's pictureChristy Murdock

How the Japanese art of Kaizen can make you more productive

The clients and colleagues I work with are a motivated group. They are always looking for ways to improve their websites, their social media platforms, their marketing and their businesses overall. For those who are driven to succeed, it's important to remember that you can do it all -- you just can't do it all at the same time.

Yet, the type of person who becomes a real estate agent, an investor, or any type of entrepreneur is usually devoted to the idea of improvement and goal setting. Instead of resting on our laurels, we are always looking ahead to the next challenge and the next target. That's where the Japanese productivity technique of kaizen comes into play.

What is kaizen?

Kaizen is a Japanese word that roughly translates as "continuous, incremental improvement." It is the technique that big companies like Toyota and Canon use to improve their processes in order to ensure that they are constantly growing and improving as a company.

For individuals, kaizen can be applied to a variety of goals, helping you to make improvements personally and professionally that will help you reach your bigger, long-term goals. How can you make kaizen work for you?

Make it manageable.

One of the things that I hear in consultations is that people want to go from zero -- no content creation, a minimally functional website -- to 100 overnight. They want to revamp their site, get active on multiple social media platforms, and start both a blog and a podcast. This kind of ramp-up is not manageable or sustainable.

Instead, kaizen teaches that you can start slowly by focusing on one project -- say, the website re-do -- then continually improve your online presence through small, sustainable changes over time. That may mean that after the website, you add just one social media platform and you only post to it once a week. Then, you add another day until you are posting as frequently as you wish.

Subsequently, you add additional platforms in the same incremental way and so on with your other goals. By growing slowly, you'll build habits that help you automate your new activities rather than making them feel like a burden you have taken on.

Make it personal.

Many of us make professional resolutions or goals without realizing that it is our personal behavior that would have the biggest impact. How much does it help you to post to Instagram every day if you are losing hours at home dealing with a chaotic environment? How much does it help you to take on new clients if your health is already suffering from a poor diet and lack of exercise?

While you will certainly have some goals that are solely professional, don't forget to take a look at how your personal life is impacting your professional life -- and how you can make positive changes. You may need to hire a housekeeper to bring some order to your home or institute a new practice each week to help streamline the bedtime routine for your children.

You may need to work on improving your diet through just one meaningful change at a time -- for instance, eating breakfast every day or keeping healthy snacks on hand. Maybe taking a short walk after lunch -- just five minutes around the block -- can help put you on the slow and steady path to better fitness and loftier goals.

Create accountability.

You'll make better progress towards your goals if you incorporate accountability. You don't have to book a life coach or consultant -- though you can if you choose. Share your goals, both long-term and short-term, with a trusted colleague, friend or family member. Bonus points if you find someone who wants to incorporate goal-setting into their daily routine as well so that you can encourage each other.

In addition, you can create accountability through phone reminders, calendar items, time blocking strategies, and a host of other techniques. By setting aside time to work on your goals you make them a priority and reinforce their importance in your own mind.

If you are a visual person, consider creating a vision board or other visual reminder of your goals so that you are more likely to stick to your new routines. Something as simple as a Post-it reminder on your bathroom mirror can help you keep up with your small mini-goals as you work toward your larger one.

Track your progress.

One of the biggest reasons people stop working toward their goals is because they get bogged down in the process and don't see the progress they are making. If your long-term goal is to grow your social media presence, a week or two without forward momentum will probably occur -- and it can undermine your motivation.

Keep track of your progress and of the techniques you're using as you go along. This will help you figure out what is working and what may be stalling your progress. In addition, it will give you consistent, actionable ways to improve your performance and help you identify situations that keep you stuck.

Review past successes.

In addition, tracking your progress allows you to review your past successes and see how far you've come. Looking back offers you perspective and helps reinforce the path you're on, giving you the willpower to keep going toward the accomplishment of your goals.

Examining the process you've used to move toward and achieve your goals offers you the chance for metacognition -- an examination of your thinking and assumptions. This helps you identify strengths and weaknesses in your planning and execution so that you can constantly improve your improvement strategy, as well.

Ultimately, kaizen does more than help you achieve your goals. It helps you get out of your own way and stop blaming yourself for what doesn't get done while giving you the tools to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Stop saying, "I can't" and instead say, "I this one, small thing to set me on the path. Then the next small thing. Then the next...."


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