Kaizen: consistently improving

Rob Liu

Rob Liu,
Founder ContactOut

4 mins read

Kaizen is a combination of two Japanese words – kai which means change and zen which means good. The Kaizen approach believes that small, continuous changes have the power to make huge improvements in the long run. While it is a popular concept in business, Kaizen is also very much applicable to individuals who aspire to do great in life. This conversation I had with a friend shows how we can use Kaizen as a means to achieve both our small and large scale goals in life.

Friend: I’d rather die than miss a day at the gym

Me: That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?

Friend: What I found is, if I miss one day, I will miss every day. Whatever set of excuses I have today that stop me gymming, they are going to be there every day.

Me: Yep I always have the same excuses: I am too busy, I am too tired. There’s never a convenient time.

Friend: Right, so since I’ve decided to go to the gym, I am going to stick to it, because if I don’t, I will fail at my larger scale goals. I say to myself: if I can’t make myself do this, how am I going to live my dreams? If I can’t carve out time and do the work, then how the hell will I achieve anything? I’ll be completely unfit and die. I might as well die right now, because that’s what I am doing to myself every time I give some bullshit excuse.

Practice Inbox Zero

Inbox zero ties into Kaizen because oftentimes, dealing with an email right away means it won’t weigh on our minds and slow us down while we should be focusing on other things – which can even happen subconsciously. It’s good to close loops and get it off your mind.

  1. After you read an email if it requires no response archive it immediately. This will de-clutter your inbox, and prevent you from rereading emails that you’ve already read.
  2. If a message requires a simple reply that you can write in less than 1 min, respond immediately and archive the message.
  3. Only leave messages that need to be actioned. This way you can clearly see what you need to do every time you open your inbox.

So you have your email sorted and you’re working steadily towards your goals.

Can I outsource it?

You can outsource parts of your business process that take up a lot of your time but don’t necessarily require you to be the one performing them. Getting better at outsourcing and training can free up more of your time to focus on the tasks that do require your special touch.

Outsource any task that is repetitive and doesn’t require a lot of thought. For example: data entry, online research, office admin, and calendar scheduling.

Write instructions and give the task to someone else to do. Tony Robbins was a teenager when he hired his first assistant. You should only be working on tasks that require thinking. Outsource all mechanical tasks.

If somebody else can do the task satisfactorily, then let them do it. You might be able to do the task better yourself, but your time is more valuable.

Read four hour workweek and biz30 blog on how to outsource effectively.

Practise makes perfect

When I just started learning how to code websites, it was really hard. I struggled through hours of tutorials by computer nerds with Russian accents. Code seemed so alien to me at first.

I kept on coding my website. Thing started coming together, I finished my first prototype. It was crappy, but hey, it worked!

When I got to 50% completion, I could imagine what the completed website would look like. Things were starting to fall into place and make sense.

I really wanted to finish. I got addicted. I spent days on end coding. I’d forget to eat meals. I was in the zone. Time just flew by and before I knew it, my website was finished.

I got into flow.

According to psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is when a person doing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energy, focus, and enjoyment. Flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one is doing and loss of one’s sense of space and time.

The more you work on something, the more you exercise your willpower, the easier it is to get into a state of flow. Then the work becomes easy.

But if we don’t exercise our willpower, if succumb to our addictions, then it becomes a lot harder to get back on track. That’s why light smoking never worked for me. If I had let myself have a few cigarettes, it would have weakened my willpower, and led me to have more.