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5S, a Japanese Method for Harmonizing Your Workplace (and Your Thinking)


Workplace organization is always reflected in the quality of the results and in our ability to maintain mental order.

Among those who practice Japanese Zen, the term samu, referring to the ability to perform the simplest tasks of daily life with concentration, energy, and order, is a simple method of meditation. 5S – named for the five terms beginning with S – is a modern method of organizing work spaces in which the principles of samu resonate. The technique involves the arrangement of space to work with greater efficiency and speed.

Seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu and shitsuke are the five Japanese terms which make up the 5S method. Developed within Japan’s manufacturing industry, the principles have been adopted by large Western companies to identify and store objects used at work, to regularly maintain their order and to standardize the tasks of each team member. The results of using the method are often amazing.

A Japanese house and garden


These are the five principles that make up the 5S:

Seiri (classification)

Seiri implies the correct ordering of the workspace to avoid possible obstacles while working. The principle also refers to the need to discard unusable material, to remove them from the field of vision and to prevent their acting as distractions.

Seiton (order)

Seiton refers to the maintenance of order in the tools used for work and to a classification of them according to their use so that they can be found when they’re necessary and to avoid their loss. It’s also important to maintain Seiton constantly. The ability to find the tools needed for work is a great time and energy saver.

Seiso (cleaning)

Seiso invites us to clean the space where we work each day. This not only prevents distraction but helps to keep tools in their optimum condition and to prevent them from being worn out. Working in a comfortable, pleasant space will always make work easier.

Seiketsu (standardization)

Standardizing work implies that all team members clearly know what their responsibilities are. Each of the tasks to be performed should have a defined method, and this prevents setbacks and confusion within the workplace.

Shitsuke (discipline)

Shitsuke could be translated to “doing without being asked.” The principle involves personal discipline to regularly review the results of our work and to improve them when necessary, even when no one has explicitly requested it.

Despite the apparent simplicity of 5S, the method a profound discipline. These simple rules also foster a (rather Japanese) ritualization of daily work. This can produce good results in virtually any type of trade. The method reminds us, too, of the deep power of our environments, what we see around us, and of our minds and capabilities.

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