The power of kaizen

I have had The Bullet Journal Method on loan from the library for a few weeks now. I tried to return it recently – when I pushed the book across the loans desk, with 8 pages tabbed and marked with scraps of paper, I said “I’m not sure I’m done with this one yet.” Marilyn just laughed, extended my loan and pushed it back at me.

Forgetting to complete my on-line order for my 2019 planner turned out to be the best thing. I started my own, customized planner, using bullet journal methods, and am now a convert to the cult… Bullet journal is really just a selection of organizational systems – ways to next level your to-do list… but there’s insight built into the system, which founder Ryder Carroll originally crafted to combat – or manage – his ADD.

A big takeaway I’m getting from the whole approach is: take the time to write things down. In one place. Consistently. Take the time to write your list. Take the time to reflect.

The pause is incredibly valuable.

Also: the system is not rigid. It flexes and adapts and evolves as you discover new things, priorities, values, what works, what doesn’t. It’s in process. You just take a blank page and begin. You don’t have to know where you’re going before you start. You just start. And as things become apparent, as your tendencies and values are revealed, you turn a new page and accommodate that.

This, obviously, is speaking right to my slow-the-freak-down soul:

A dear friend once told me, “The long way IS the short way.” In a cut-and-paste world that celebrates speed, we often mistake convenience for efficiency. When we take shortcuts, we forfeit opportunities to slow down and think. Writing by hand, as antiquated as it may seem, allows us to reclaim that opportunity. We start filtering the signal from the noise. True efficiency is not about speed; it’s about spending more time with what truly matters.”

Or, as my kid would say, “the shortcut is actually a long cut.”

I think perhaps I’m not ready to let go of the book yet, because this concept is still working away at me:

Change is critical to productivity and growth – personal, professional, or otherwise. It can be a powerful way to alter our circumstances, but it can backfire. Large changes trigger our fear response. The more afraid we are, the more we need to calm ourselves. Many a great productive gesture or action has resulted in an equal or greater measure of inactivity…

So how do we effect change in a way that is sustainable without stressing ourselves out? In Japan, there is a concept known as kaizen. Kai translates roughly to “change” and zen translates to “good” – thus, “good change.” Another translation is “continual improvement.”

Unlike in the West, where “disruption” is a buzzword for our favourite flavour of progress, kaizen focuses on surfacing opportunities for incremental improvement. It’s an approach to problem-solving that takes the form of small questions like” What little thing can we change to improve the situation? What could be done better the next time?

Or, as a teacher involved in reconciliation said, when asked how do we transform and heal our relationships after decades of colonization: small steps, often.


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