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What Toyota can Teach You about Personal Productivity

What Toyota can Teach You about Personal Productivity
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Toyota has become the world’s largest automobile manufacturing company this year, overtaking General Motors which reigned supreme since the 1930s. Before then, Ford was the global leader. Toyota’s market capitalization is more than five times that of Ford and General Motors combined. Toyota must have been doing something right these past 20 years since it has become the most productive manufacturer in the world. The company owns the newly created market in hybrids. Toyota’s example offers an excellent insights and a guide toward improving personal productivity.

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The two main pillars of Toyota’s approach boil down to: 1) respect for people and 2) continuous improvement; constant and never-ending improvement in all areas. Toyota made a major innovation over the American automobile manufacturers in the process of how the company viewed its people. General Motors and Ford viewed factory workers as a replaceable variable cost component – labor as a commodity. Toyota viewed its workers as the main place to turn for productivity and quality improvements. Toyota further innovated by challenging the planned obsolescence approach. The company started producing cars with fewer defects that were more durable and would hold their value longer. American car companies were forced to respond in kind by producing longer lasting, better quality cars with greatly extended warranty packages. This is not all Toyota has done in terms of process innovations. American accounting methods valued inventory the same as cash, without any incentives for reducing inventory.

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Toyota pioneered “lean manufacturing” based in large part on creating value in the eyes of the customer and having products being “pull” or demand-based that would be responsive to the customer rather than “push” or supply-based from the production end. Lean manufacturing also includes identifying and minimizing waste (including inventory), empowering employees and aiming for perfection in the processes. This is an evolutionary change in the way cars are made that is currently sweeping through the other modern manufacturing sectors of the global economy. The ‘Toyota Way’ can also be applied toward improving personal productivity. The Toyota Production System (TPS) works as a complete philosophy. It is a consistent set of processes and principles applied over a long period of time. The following principles form core parts of the highly effective TPS that can be used to enhance personal productivity.

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  • Create manual systems first, then use technology as a tool to assist the process. Toyota people are often found making signs and putting them up all over the place and using them along with manual lists to coordinate activities. Once the manual system is worked out, then technology is brought in to assist and improve the process. There is a strong aversion to acquiring and using technology just for the sake of the technology. Hold off of the expensive software until the basics are worked out.
  • Create an environment where constant learning occurs. Toyota is full of people who strive to be teachable and who are very willing to share information and be involved in the learning process. Put aside some time for focused learning – a course, book-a-week, seminars, workshops, reviewing articles, etc.
  • Eliminate – don’t just reduce waste. In the U.S. system, the production line has slack built into it so that there is extra time and stuff available to ensure the line stays running. In the Toyota system, there is not. Unplug the television set and cut the end off the cord.
  • Build quality into everything. Standardizing to create consistent quality while constantly working to raise the standards. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Aim for “great” rather than just “good enough” wherever there is opportunity to do so.
  • Create systems to respect and treat partners well. Self-improvement toward increased personal productivity is a two way street. Toyota’s people work on self improvement but consider that to be tied to helping others improve – for mutual benefit.
  • Work with others but maintain core competencies. Do not outsource the important decisions. For Toyota’s cars, electronics has become a big part so the company has decided to make that a core area. Take the time to learn the areas that can impact life. Understanding tax planning and basic financial matters are a classic area of neglect that many people should put more effort into.
  • Chose friends and associates carefully. Toyota is very picky. Employees are often hired through a one to two year process. Partners and suppliers similarly go through extensive processes. Associate with people who can help you and that you can help in a two way manner.

Toyota has pioneered its process and one of the great outcomes was becoming the world’s first mass producer of hybrid automobiles, with over half the world market for hybrids. The Toyota process itself is a hybrid of best practices that have evolved over time that can be used to enhance personal productivity.

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Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group, a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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Last Updated on March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

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Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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