I am that kind of a person that would analyze everything I do and over-think everything that takes place around me looking for better ways to do daily tasks and evaluate the means to improve current processes. No matter what I am doing and regardless of the situation, I believe that everything we do can be done in a better way, either better in terms of better quality or better outcome, less time, or less waste. This can be very challenging, very rewarding and sometimes very exhausting, but the result is always worth the effort.
Lean Six Sigma may be the first thing to cross your mind when I say eliminating waste, and sure it is. Lean is a mindset, an attitude, a culture or even a business style ( or a life style), yet what I want to discuss is more simple and basic than discussing the concepts of Lean.
Have you ever asked yourself whether or not you are using the correct tool to do a specific task? Are you using the correct pencil to draw a new product idea? Are you using the proper software? Are you using the correct screwdriver to put together a new table you just bought? Are you using the correct set of needles to complete your knitting project? Or even are you using the correct measuring cup when you prepare your favorite cake recipe?
Have you ever paused for a minute and took a look at the “tools” on your desk to evaluate if you really need them or not? Or if they really serve you in doing your daily tasks?
We all have a set of tools that we may identify as: “favorite tools”, “best tools”, “tools one is used to”, “available Tools”, but how far are these tools “fit for use”.
Have you guessed how many tools one may be using during his day. I counted 14 different tools that I’ve used only during the past couple of hours, the absence of 10of these tools would have made me less productive while the absence of any of the other 4 tools would have prevented me from completing the tasks I should be doing. These tools include the coffee machine, a cup, the coffee scoop, a light stand, my desk & Chair, a book, my pencil, a block note, my phone, my headphones, my laptop, the MS WORD software, and an internet browser.
The Oxford Dictionary defined the word “Tool” as: “A device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function”, it is also defined as “A thing used in an occupation or pursuit”.
What could be considered a tool in your work setting? Laptop, printer, scanner, fax, stationary products, software, etc..
What about a template that would save your time, prevent error and give a consistent standard output each time you fill it out, what about means of communication that will provide on time clear & concise information, or may be using and understanding industry related symbols on a package or in a process sheet.
I can list endless examples of what can be considered a tool, things that we have and use without even identifying them as tools, or tools that may be wasting our time, or giving us an 80% acceptable output but we never question if there could be a better tool out there which can give a better output or one that could be easier to use.
In the pursuit to mastering ” The Art of Using Tools” the first step is to understand what needs to be done. This can be achieved by
1. Identifying the required output, for example shape, size, time frame to complete it, quantity, quality, complexity of the output
2. Determining the steps needed to obtain the output, in other words the tasks that you have to complete to obtain the output. Is it a one task, a set of independent tasks or interrelated tasks that have to be performed in a specific order.
3. Evaluating the current/ existing way(s) to perform this task, this will help you identify the currently used tools.
4. If needed, you can search for new, advanced or different tools that are used to carry out same tasks. You do not have to re-invent the wheel, search the internet, there are plenty of virtual communities in almost every industry or specialization where members share their experiences, give advice or discuss the new trends pertaining to this specific specialization. This includes LinkedIn groups, Local Chapters, Professional Blogs, online professional and educational institutions, subscribing to newsletters, and following manufacturers or products online.
“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them. ® Steve Jobs
For example, since I like my coffee to be strong, I got myself a new coffee scoop that will help me get the same taste of coffee each time, it saved me a couple of seconds because now I use only one big scoop instead of adding two and half small scoops, I can never get confused in counting how many scoops I’ve added in the coffee machine and finally it makes it easy for me to give instructions to anyone to prepare a cup of coffee for me ( just use one scoop instead of please use two and a half scoops of coffee).
Another example is the use of a new software to convert Word documents to PDF ( of course that was long ago before MS Word is updated with the feature of saving any document in PDF format). One of the tasks that I used to carry out long ago was to prepare price quotes for our customers. Usually price quotes were submitted as hardcopy to our customers by the sales person, as the business grew we had to submit our price quotes electronically. It was essential then to send the quotes in a format that cannot be override. For the first couple of weeks, we used to print the document then scan it as a PDF files or use the print screen feature to save the file in a JPEG format. Not only was it a time consuming process, it was also a disrupting multi-step process as it required moving from one work station to another, where one had to come across plenty of side conversations and chats. For me this didn’t seem to be right, I was sure there was a better way, and the solution was to invest some money to purchase software that can directly convert from Word documents to PDF file format. Not only did we save time, but also we increased the productivity of the employees by preventing the never ending disruption, and we obtained a standard professional output.
It could be even more simple than that, think of the free resources on the internet where you can attend a free webinar to learn about a new software, a new tool that is used in your industry, to see some live examples showing special features of a product, or even a template that you can use..
The second step in your pursuit to master the “Art of using tools” is to create your own “Tool Pool”, where you can list, store or save the tools that you have evaluated and identified as “Fit for use”, those tools that you can use to carry out your tasks. Regardless of the nature of these tools whether it is a physical tool or an e-tool, it is recommended that you do the following
Tag the tool with a Name, a function and list the task(s) which you can use it for. For example save the template you use to create your monthly report in your Template Folders with a name “Monthly Report Template”. Use name cards, or sticky labels on physical tools.
If it is a consumable tool you must determine your stock limit, so you have to identify how many of this particular tool you should have at hand and when you should buy more, you may even need to write down the name of the supplier and the cost. If it is an electronic template, make sure you take a copy of the template each time you use it.
Store the tool where it can be accessible whenever you need it.
The third step in your pursuit to master the “Art of using tools” is to practice the use of the tool as often as you can. For example if the tool was nothing but an additional feature of a software that you just learnt, you must practice the use of this feature often enough to ensure you remember how it works and how to use it, think of how one would feel if he has the tool and he knows that it can help in doing the task but he had forgot completely how to use it.