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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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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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