10 Ways to Find Time for Lean Six Sigma

One of the most common challenges I face when working with belts, primarily part-time green belts, is they seldom tell me they are looking for more work and this Lean Six Sigma “stuff” has come at a perfect time to fill that gap! The challenge typically comes from finding time to do their “normal” day job in addition to a Lean Six Sigma project. I find that most organizations don’t send the people who have a lot of free time to training, but instead send those who are already overloaded.

This should be no surprise because those who are busy (at least appear to be busy), from my experience, tend to be perceived as high performers, and those who are looking for work tend to fall on the other end of the spectrum. The problem then centers on how someone who is already busy 40-50 hours a week finds time to successfully take on a project and get certified.

I’ve personally faced this challenge many times throughout my career working full-time while going to school, taking classes for certifications, building my own business, writing a blog and working on a book, speaking at conferences, teaching classes online, publishing papers in academic journals, and not to mention all the time I’m traveling to and from client sites. People often ask me how I find time to do all of this and keep my sanity, which has led to this post and the sharing of how I find time to get it all done at a level both my clients and I find acceptable.

The following are my top 10 tips for finding time in your day, specifically focused on getting more Lean Six Sigma activity complete, but they can also be used in a more general sense of simply getting more from your time each day.

1. Select a project that is linked to your “normal” job.

When Lean Six Sigma becomes that “extra” objective on your annual performance plan it starts to take on a life of its own. Instead work to find projects that are linked to what you do each day; better yet, look for projects that are linked to what your manager is challenged to do each day! I often find that one of the roadblocks to getting a project completed is a belt’s manager who does not allow ample time for a project to be completed. Often the manager views the project as low priority work that should be done once the “important” stuff is completed. To alleviate this issue find out what your manager is being challenged with completing and center a project around it and you’ll be amazed at how much time you will be given to succeed.

2. Learn how to say “no” more often.

Sometimes it’s hard to say “no” because we want to help, but saying “yes” all the time can lead to disappointment and stress. The challenge becomes how to say no without being perceived as not being a team player and wanting to help others. When someone comes to me with a request I like to start by asking them why they want what they want. Often times you don’t even need to say no once you help them determine what they are asking for is something they really don’t need in the first place. A second tactic is helping them find a way to accomplish the task themselves by asking them “have you considered doing a, b, c, etc.”. Finally, if you just can’t say no, gain clarity around when they need what they are asking for and commit to a realistic completion date based on your current workload.

3. Schedule a meeting with yourself.

This is a simple way of making time for yourself and letting others know you are busy. Most organizations I work with use some type of shared calendar system (Outlook, Google, etc.) that let’s others know when you are free and busy. A simple tactic is to schedule time for yourself each day to focus on project activities. I like to schedule time at the beginning and the end of my days when I’m less likely to be interrupted by others. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish with 30-60 minutes at the start and end of each day dedicated to meeting with yourself!

4. Determine what you should stop doing.

I found this tip reading Gary Harpst’s book Six Disciplines. In the book, Harpst is focused on helping organizations succeed in which his first step is to decide what is important. From there he suggests they stop doing anything that is unrelated to those objectives. We can apply the rule to our personal and work lives much the same as Harpst suggests organizations do. A simple way to do this is to review your key objective (tip #8) and determine what you are doing that adds little to the chances of accomplishing them.

5. Quit chasing perfection.

After reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries it became quite apparent that I, like most process improvement professionals, am a perfectionist. This should come as no surprise, especially if you prescribe to the fifth principle in Womack and Jones’ Lean Thinking of constantly pursing perfection. The problem with perfection is that it’s a huge time killer, and realistically you can never achieve perfection. There is always room for improvement!

The concept Ries describes in The Lean Startup is what he calls a minimally viable product (MVP) that is essentially something that is “good enough” to get started. Much like the traditional concept of lean, Ries argues that we should not spend an excessive amount of time strategizing, planning, etc. because these are all waste in the value stream of getting something started. What I have found is my reason for striving for perfection is that I’m a huge competitor and want my work to seem better than that of others, but what I’ve come to realize is that in many cases just getting something done puts you ahead of most others who are doing nothing at all.

6. Log out of distractions and into focused activity.

Technology has made us a 24/7/365 connected world, which has led to a virtual leash we carry around with us almost everywhere we go. I’m talking mostly about the smart phones almost all of us use to communicate with one another, but tablets and laptops also fit into this problem. For some reason we feel the need to be connected to one another at all times, which in and of itself is not an issue.

What is an issue is that many of us feel the need to react to each and every text, email, and phone call as they come to us throughout the day. I have yet to find anyone working within the Lean Six Sigma space that needs to react to these distractions. There is no such thing as a Lean Six Sigma emergency! Stay connected when you need to, but when you really need to get things done log out of email, put the phone on silent (not vibrate which is just as distracting as ringing), log out of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. and focus on what is in front of you.

7. Spend time reflecting every week.

When was the last time you spent time quietly thinking by yourself. When you’re going 100 mph every day finding time each week to take a mental break can create greater clarity around what is important in both your personal and work life, which can lead to greater productivity. For myself I find that Saturday mornings is the best time to reflect on the week and review the progress I made in achieving my key objectives. Much like an athlete needs recovery after a hard workout, we too need time to re-energize to perform optimally.

8. Set 3-7 high level objectives to gain clarity and focus then plan your day around them.

I’m always surprised to find that most people I work and play with don’t set personal goals. I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions type goals; lots of people establish those, and most fail to go beyond a month or two in progressing toward accomplishing them (go to a fitness club in January then visit again in April if you want a visual example). What I am talking about is looking out several years at where you want to be both personally and professionally, and working backwards to what you need to do in the next 90 days to succeed.

Keller and Papasan created a great road map for doing this in their book The One Thing that illustrates what I’ve been doing for the last several years in setting short-term goals that lead to long-term results. The authors describe the process as living by priority. It starts with a “someday” goal and works down to a “right now” goal. Having right now goals will lead to better use of your time because you will be able to evaluate what you are doing right now in relation to the goal. Try setting one some day goal and break it down into a right now goal and work it into the other tips outlined in this post.

9. Share your objectives and progress toward completing them with others.

Research done by Dr. Gail Matthews suggest that those who write their goals are 40% more likely to complete them. Those who share goals and progress toward them are 76% more likely to achieve them. This does seem to make logical sense doesn’t it? We don’t want to look like a failure by telling others what we are going to do and then not accomplish what we said we were going to do. Having a “buddy” to share your objectives with is one simple way of keeping each other focused.

Another simple tactic is posting to Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn for the world to see what you’ve set out to accomplish. I’ve also found an interesting, but kind of spooky in a way, website that allows you to send yourself emails in the future. For example, I sent myself an email that will arrive next year describing my current feelings about life, work, etc. and outlining where I want to be in relation to my goals when the email arrives in my inbox next year.

10. Start your day earlier.

Sleep is overrated! Just kidding, well, sort of anyway. We all need to get proper rest, but early mornings, is a great time to get things done. Stanley and Danko in The Millionaire Next Door found that income only explains about 30% of the variation in wealth. There are myriad other factors that determine wealth, one of which is how millionaires spend their time. Despite what we see on television, most millionaires in the US are first generation. In other words, they’ve worked for what they have, which translates into-if you want to succeed you have to put in the time!

While your goal may not be to become a millionaire we can learn from their success by simply starting the day earlier. One of the ways I’ve been able to manage mentoring dozens of belts, writing this blog, working on a book, teaching online, etc. is by getting up most days at 6 AM. Those extra few hours before the “normal” day begins have been a huge boost to what I get done. Of course this also means you need to go to bed earlier to ensure proper rest, but believe me when you’re up each morning at 6 you won’t have any trouble getting to bed earlier. I’ve also found that starting my day by making progress on my goals also boosts my energy level throughout the rest of the day.

Keep in mind getting more done doesn’t happen on its own. It takes deliberate practice to become a master of your time. Pick a few of these tactics, try them for a month, and measure your progress. You’ll be amazed at how much more you get done by simply focusing on using your time well.

Also keep in mind these tactics are all antecedents and / or behaviors that need to be reinforced (see my previous post about ABC’s). Without the proper reinforcement you are unlikely to sustain this behavior long-term. Find a way to reward yourself or have someone else reward you when they see you taking these steps to become more productive.

There are a multitude of other ways of finding time to do Lean Six Sigma, and I’d love to hear your comments on what you have found to work well. I’d also like to hear where you have had struggles making time. What keeps you from being successful? What challenges have you faced in making time for Lean Six Sigma?

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