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Continuous improvement: Not just for the workplace

Asking people if they misplace their keys regularly can reveal fundamental weaknesses in people’s habits

At the beginning of my Time Management and Organizational Skills class, I ask a series of questions, such as, “How many people here are stressed?” “How many people here need more time?” “Do chores take longer to do than they should?” “Who here forgets things when you go shopping?” As you could imagine, a lot of hands go up for all of these questions.

Then I ask one of the cornerstone questions that sets up the rest of the program: “How many people here lose or misplace their keys regularly?” The hands go up. This may not seem like such a profound question, but it does reveal fundamental weaknesses in people’s habits.

Of the people that do not raise their hands to this question, I ask, “Why don’t you have a problem with your keys?” The answer is obvious and unanimous: “Because I put them in the same place every time.”

Here’s why that question is important: It illustrates the difference between having a system and not having one. It is one of the cornerstones of Continuous Improvement.

The people that don’t have a system for their keys – and misplace them frequently – are already stressed out before they even get to work. They also tend not to have systems in place for other activities. Waking up late, being unaware of road construction on their route, failing to check the weather reports, not anticipating a traffic accident, and they have set themselves up for a day of frustration. As a mentor once used to drill into my brain, “Leave in plenty of time to get there in plenty of time.”

It may seem that the little frustrations in the course of a day are uncontrollable – just part of life – or someone else’s fault. We may shrug them off, telling ourselves, “Well, it was only a 20-minute setback.” But, how many of those setbacks are we having each day, week, or month?

Taken together, the total ripple effect of not having a system can be significant and even influence the direction of your life path. Failing to put in place the right systems will impact how you clean the house, cook dinner, talk with your kids, and interact with people around you. Without a system in place, we frequently say “yes” to things when we should be saying “no.” And all of this will impact how you perform in the workplace.

I’m reminded of the old adage: A place for everything and everything in its place. Review your own situation: What are the sources of aggravation in your life? Do you have efficient systems in place? Do you have a place for everything and everything is in its place?

Once you go through this exercise with every aspect of your life, you will have more time to dedicate to the things that truly deserve your time. Your frustration is likely to subside. And I would bet that your perspective on your life will begin to change. Go ahead, give it a shot. What do you have to lose? Not your keys.

Dr. Joe Serio is a popular and sought-after criminal justice speaker and trainer. He is currently delivering a series of classes on time management, emotional intelligence, leadership, customer service, and other topics at the Harris County (Houston) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. Dr. Serio is a featured speaker at SHIELD, Sheriff Institute for Ethical Leadership Development, at the Travis County (Austin) Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. He also speaks at adult and juvenile probation departments as well as police departments.