Do you ever find yourself weighed down by the everyday shuffle of life? Too tired or distracted to apply your talents, creativity, and insights to things you care about?

I do. Keep reading if this describes you as well.

I’ve written before about the process improvement world of lean thinking and how the concepts and methods can help in our home lives, saving time for things that matter to us. This time, let’s go a step further about how being laser-focused on the lean fundamental—waste—can help liberate creativity in our everyday lives.

Lean as a process improvement discipline started in manufacturing (cue what is now known as the Toyota Production System). It has since spread from cars to many industries. When I worked in healthcare, the early refrain was, “We don’t make cars.” Then people realize manufacturing industries aren’t the only ones that involve waste in how they go about things.

This is true in our everyday lives, too.


What is Waste?

Lean process improvement professionals around the world spend their time helping their organizations recognize and remove what are known as the eight types of waste.
While you’ll find some variations, the most commonly accepted list is:

  • Transportation – the unnecessary movement of materials
  • Inventory – supplies or products that could go unused, expire, or need to be returned, costing money and taking up space
  • Motion – unnecessary movement of people or of bodies (ergonomics)
  • Waiting/Time – in various ways
  • Overproduction – of products, information
  • Extra processing – more work, features, or quality than needed
  • Defects – in safety, service, information, production
  • Transportation – wasted talent and knowledge

What happens when teams successfully remove or reduce one or more wastes from various processes?

Quality goes up, including consistency, safety, service, and satisfaction. The cost of business goes down or is at least maintained. Physical and virtual space is freed up.

Taking out burdensome waste also liberates creativity and innovation. That can feel counterintuitive when you’re eyeball-deep in lean techniques that involve data and standardizing procedures. But lean done right focuses on reducing the burdens on people.

I’ve seen it work firsthand. You standardize things that make sense to standardize. That frees up mental capacity for activities that need critical thinking and new ideas.

When you confront the slow slog of tedious time wasters, you feel lighter and energized about the interesting aspects of work. And if you remove the emotional burden that comes from error-ridden processes, especially ones with grave consequences, this boosts your own sense of safety, confidence, and pride.

The Value of a Waste Walk

Okay, how do we liberate creativity more in our personal lives? Start with the same exercise that organizations use: a waste walk.

This can include a literal walk-through of physical spaces and/or a virtual exercise. The point is to observe with a critical eye and find examples of the different types of waste.

This could be for a certain aspect of your life or everything—you decide. And if you’re too close to the situation, ask a family member or friend to help. Give them permission to notice things and ask questions without you biting their head off!

You can find different templates online, but you also can just take messy notes. See if you can identify at least one thing for each category.

I did a waste walk a while back specifically about my writing practices. I’m juggling multiple dimensions of my life, from a full-time job to complex family needs to being a writer and wanting more time to volunteer. It’s easy to feel scattered and distracted. I always need to liberate creativity in my life.

My Waste Walk

Step 1: From my waste walk, I found opportunities in six of the eight waste types.

  • Motion (of people)
    • Searching for files in digital and physical folders or paper piles I haven’t kept organized
  • Waiting/Time (in various ways)
    • Researching nonfiction without capturing full bibliography details (just saving a link, for example, with plans to go back later and capture more)
    • Enduring the often painfully long wait for a response from publishers or agents
  • Overproduction (of products, information)
    • Going too far down a rabbit hole in research
    • Gathering more information than needed (this one’s a judgment call)
    • Printing things and then not using them
    • Signing up for webinars I might be okay without (FOMO!)
    • Feeling overwhelmed trying to stay on top of emails from writing organizations
  • Extra processing (more effort, features, or quality than is needed)
    • Navigating the dance that comes with polishing a piece of writing: improving it without torturing it to death, or being stuck on a certain revision track that isn’t improving the piece
  • Defects (errors in safety, service, information, production)
    • Having to detect and fix sneaky POV and grammatical errors
    • Submitting a piece for consideration and then realizing it has quality issues
    • Finding publisher or agent websites with missing important information (error of omissions)
    • Missing a submission opportunity due to challenges keeping track of deadlines
    • Experiencing challenges with the timing of agent/publisher research—sometimes put on a submission list during initial research but then learn they’ve closed when finally ready to send out a piece
  • Under-utilized skills
    • Not getting opportunities to show my capabilities to editors and, therefore, young readers who might enjoy my stories

Step 2: I sorted the list by what’s in my control and feels the most burdensome for now. I landed on these five things to start:

  • Researching nonfiction without capturing full bibliography details
  • Missing a submission opportunity due to challenges keeping track of deadlines
  • Signing up for webinars I might be okay without (FOMO!)
  • Feeling overwhelmed trying to stay on top of emails from writing organizations
  • Searching for files in digital and physical folders or paper piles I haven’t kept organized

Step 3: I generated ideas about how I might reduce or eliminate these problems. Then I started to try some of those ideas.

  • Researching nonfiction without capturing full bibliography details
    • I remembered reading about reference management software that helps you save and organize bibliography details.
    • I prioritized getting this in place, installing an online tool called Zotero that has made a huge difference!
    • I’m kind of mad at myself for not doing this sooner.
  • Missing a submission opportunity due to challenges keeping track of details
    • I came up with several ideas and tried some of them.
    • The one helping the most is using a project tracking tool called a kanban board. I update this weekly and it keeps me on top of priorities.
  • Signing up for webinars I might be okay without (FOMO!)
    • Webinars can be an affordable means of professional development. But even affordable ones add up. And I often find myself multi-tasking while I’m watching them, robbing myself of deeper learning.
    • I made a commitment in the presence of my writing critique partners to stop and think hard about whether I need the knowledge from the webinar before signing up.
    • This one is still challenging me. Guess I’m a sucker for good marketing.
    • I am still working on new ideas for this one.
  • Feeling overwhelmed trying to stay on top of emails from writing organizations
    • My main practice is to read emails daily and actively manage my inbox. This works for keeping the volume under control.
    • My challenge is when there’s an interesting lengthier article hyperlinked. I save these to read later but they’ve become a digital version of the pile of magazines waiting to be read.
    • I consider this part of my professional development, so I’m working on new ideas. Let me know if you’ve found something that works for you!
  • Searching for files in digital and physical folders or paper piles I haven’t kept organized
    • When I go over my new weekly kanban board, I also sweep through any paper piles.
    • When I am actively working on a project, I invest about thirty minutes to organize files into sub-folders if that hasn’t been done yet so it’s faster to find what I need.

Don’t try too many ideas at once. And give your ideas a sporting chance. Sometimes you need to tweak the first idea so it works better.

Still, not all will work, and you’ll need to keep at it, just as I’m doing with some of mine. And I will go back to my bigger list at some point.

Not everything is in our control, and life will throw us challenges.

Still, every time I succeed in eliminating an unnecessary burden, my load feels lighter and I have more energy. That liberates creativity for the things that matter to me. And I am more resilient to handle life emergencies and things beyond my control (or have the energy to take some of those on).

This process is something I try to do in other dimensions of my life as well. Lean professionals will tell you the journey never ends. You’re never done being a waste-buster.

What do you think? Could a waste walk help you find ways to liberate creativity in your life?

If you give it a try, let me know how it works!