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So many great productivity hacks come from the world of Japanese manufacturing. The 5S technique helps you keep your workspace clean so you can get more done, kaizen helps you improve the processes and workflow of your job, and kanban helps you schedule your tasks in the most efficient way. These are helpful even if you’re not working within the famed Toyota Production System; they’re adaptable to fit all kinds of work scenarios, which is similarly true for the 3 Ms that originated there, too. The 3 Ms are kinds of waste you should identify and eliminate to keep your work running smoothly.

What are the 3 Ms?

Lean process thinking, or lean manufacturing, is a production method that seeks to save time within the production process. The 5S technique is en elemental part of lean thinking, as are the 3 Ms. They are “muda,” “mura,” and “muri,” and they all refer to kinds of wasteful practices that slow you down and keep you from being productive. By identifying and eliminating them, you can streamline everything you need to do. To get them to work in your daily life, you need to adapt them a little, but once you get in the habit of recognizing where things are getting held up and making the appropriate changes, you’ll be breezing through your work. 

Identifying and eliminating the 3 Ms

Here’s what each of the three Ms is all about:

  • Muda translates from Japanese to mean “futility” or “uselessness.” It’s anything that doesn’t add value to the work you’re doing and it comes in two forms: Type 1 is non-value-added activities in your process that are still necessary for your end result, like safety checks, which don’t give the producers of physical goods any kind of financial reward, but do have a benefit for customers. You can’t really avoid Type 1, but you should focus on identifying and eliminating Type 2: Activities that add no value to the process or the end result. 

  • Mura is any kind of unevenness in your operation. Anything that isn’t uniform, regular, or scheduled is mura. Too much mura will result in muda. For instance, if you’re working on a bunch of tasks for a project at your job and your coworker is only working on one or two, it’s actually wasteful because you’ll be waiting around on them to keep moving forward with yours. 

  • Muri is any overburden on a tool or person. It can result from mura, as in the example above, but can also spring from overutilization. For your purposes, think of it referring to you. When you’re overwhelmed and overworked or lack resources, you’re not as productive. That’s muri. 

To eliminate muda, identify which unnecessary steps you’re taking in your work. Familiarize yourself with kaizen here, as it’s a process designed to get you to work efficiently. If you find that you’re often doing unnecessary tasks that don’t have much value in the end, like changing the colors and fonts on a presentation deck that’s already completed or constantly tweaking your emails before sending, consider that you might be giving yourself too much time to do them. Parkinson’s Law says that the more time you have to do something, the longer you’ll draw it out and complicate it. Reduce the amount of time you give yourself to complete certain tasks so the pressure of getting it done helps you focus only on the elements that are absolutely necessary. 

To eliminate mura, start tracking the process of your work and identify what’s holding you up. Is it waiting on client emails? Is it waiting for a coworker to finish their section of a project? Is it spending too much time in meetings and not enough time actually working? Is it a bad scheduling technique on your end? It might take a few weeks of really diligent time tracking, but eventually, the pattern will emerge. If you’re spending too much time waiting on client emails, develop a system whereby you send emails with questions for the next day’s work during the afternoon, giving them time to respond by the time you need to do it, for instance. If it’s your own poor scheduling, start making better to-do lists using kanban or the 1-3-5 method, which reduces your daily tasks to just nine and has you focus on the most key ones in order of importance.

Finally, to eliminate muri, assess your own burden at work. If you’re missing deadlines, feeling overwhelmed, not being given the right amount of resources, or having too much piled on you, you need to streamline what you’re working on so you don’t completely burn out. Try using the ABCDE method to give a ranking to all of your responsibilities. The A tasks are the most important, followed by the B tasks, but you’ll feel less overwhelmed once you realize the C tasks are optional, D stands for delegate, and E stands for eliminate. Delegate tasks to someone else if you’re overburdened—and don’t do unnecessary ones at all. Some burdens, like meetings, are unavoidable, but when possible, schedule yourself at least one day a week where you have no meetings. Remember to take regular breaks to stay productive, utilizing a method like the time-tested Pomodoro technique.

Training yourself to recognize and eliminate these different kinds of waste will streamline your work, reduce your burden, and keep things running more smoothly so you can actually be productive, whether you’re building a Camry or a new investor spreadsheet.

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