The Japanese 5S Method for Increased Productivity and Happiness

Las 5s japonesas.

Marie Kondo came into our lives to teach us that order and cleanliness at home are synonymous with tranquility and happiness. Now another Japanese method aims to achieve the same in our minds and in our workspace.

Marie taught us to declutter our homes by getting rid of what we no longer use and takes up space. The Japanese 5S method follows a similar principle: removing the unnecessary to keep our minds clean and clear while working. This translates into a calmer and happier state of mind.

Regardless of our individual differences, there’s one thing we all want: less stress, more calm and more joy. With this method, we can redefine productivity, freeing ourselves from the notion that it requires feeling overwhelmed and ending the day exhausted and frustrated with the world.

What is the Japanese 5S method?


This method involves getting rid of what’s unimportant, useless and doesn’t contribute to our goals. To accomplish this, they suggest following five S’s:

1. Seiri – Separate: 


The first “S” stands for the physical space where you’ll be working: a cluttered and chaotic environment will affect your concentration and focus. The concept of “seiri” is about separating everything that is not essential from your workspace.

If you’re someone who finds it difficult to let go of things, it’s not about throwing them away and saying goodbye forever. The Japanese method suggests that you temporarily part ways with them while you work and store them in a separate space from your work activities. It also encourages you to try an experiment: if, after three months, you realize that you don’t need them and don’t miss them, then it’s time to do a “Marie Kondo.” Let go of those items for good.

2. Seiton – Set in Order: 


Once you’ve completed the first step, it’s time to move on to the second “S,” which is all about organizing the items you identified as essential. The key here is to set up your workspace in an efficient way so that you don’t waste time searching for materials.

To ensure you can quickly locate what you need and avoid unnecessary back and forths,  consider labeling them with tags, signs or drawings.

For example, if today involves meetings and sending emails, having your computer and charger readily available should suffice. And for those who prefer a more traditional approach, keeping a notepad or paper agenda within easy reach can also be helpful.

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3. Seiso – Shine: 


And now, it’s time to grab the broom, rags and mop. Working in a clean and tidy space not only helps clear the mind but also promotes a sense of clarity. That’s why the 5S method encourages you to eliminate dirt, trash and anything that adds clutter to your workspace and your mind.

In fact, many mental health professionals suggest that individuals dealing with anxiety, stress or a chaotic life situation should engage in cleaning, decluttering and organizing their physical environment. The act of cleaning not only helps declutter the mind but also brings about a greater sense of motivation.

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4. Seiketsu – Standardize: 


The brain operates based on repetition and habits. It’s similar to brushing your teeth — it doesn’t require effort or conscious thought. After finishing a meal, you automatically go and brush your teeth. Well, that’s what we hope. The idea is that repetition helps the brain conserve energy for other tasks. This is where the fourth “S” comes in: creating repetitive strategies to save time and minimize excessive thinking.

Here’s an example: the night before, prepare your workspace with all the tools you’ll need Your brain processes that everything is ready and the next morning it will be  time to dive into your tasks. By repeating this day after day, you’ll train yourself and starting will become easier and more efficient.  

Another strategy to establish habits is to associate new tasks, which require more brain energy due to their novelty, with enjoyable rituals or elements. For instance, when introducing new office habits, you can start by incorporating something you love, such as playing your favorite song or lighting a scented candle that brings a sense of calm and joy.

5. Shitsuke – Sustain: 

It’s not helpful to do all of this one day and then go back to a disordered, dirty workspace and an unorganized work system the next day. Marie Kondo wouldn’t approve — and neither would your brain. This fifth “S” is the most crucial because it’s about sustaining what you’ve achieved and avoiding reverting to old habits that caused stress and hindered productivity. Studies suggest that a behavior becomes a habit in 21 days. So, dedicate 21 days of conscious effort to make these 5S principles a natural part of your workday.

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