“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Einstein.

Well, we’re not disputing Einstein’s genius, but we wonder if he’d have come up with that quote if he worked in the modern-day construction or manufacturing industries?

A disorganised workspace may well be the sign of a brilliant mind but when it comes to running your equipment workshop, or any business for that matter, a lack of order could contribute to greater health and safety risks, reduced productivity and ultimately less profit.

Is your clutter costing you money?

How many times do you find yourself searching high and low for a missing tool?

Or cursing as you reach for something that should be right at your fingertips but has somehow migrated to the other side of the room?

Or tripping over a piece of equipment that shouldn’t have been left there?

It’s infuriating. And it’s a major time waster. You know the lack of efficiency is costing you money but when you have an overflowing work schedule, spring cleaning isn’t exactly high on your list of priorities.

If you can relate to this, you’ll love the 5S system. Originally used by the Toyota Production System (TPS), 5S is designed to help you organise your space for maximum efficiency, productivity and safety. And if Toyota uses it, you know it’s going to be good.

First Impressions Count

Don’t forget that your customers will be watching you and forming opinions on how well organised you are. Would you give work to someone who is untidy and disorganised?  It doesn’t give confidence.

By using 5S to get organised you will create a good impression to your customers who will feel confident that they are giving work to safe, well organised and efficient people.

What does 5S mean?

The main thing to get to grips with is what each ‘S’ actually stands for. Roughly translated from the Japanese, we have Sort, Set in order, Sweep/Shine, Standardise and Sustain.

How does it work?

  1. Sort

This is where you go to town getting rid of everything you don’t need or use. If it’s broken, out-of-date or you’re sure you won’t have any future need for it, get rid. For those tools that you’re not sure about or you use infrequently, tag them with a label or even a post-it note that will remind you to re-evaluate that item at a later date. The things you know you will need at some point in the future should be put in storage to leave space for more frequently used equipment.

  1. Set in order

Next you need to decide where everything is going to be kept from now on and it should be much easier now you’ve cleared some clutter. Have a think about how you work day-to-day in the space. Which tools will you need to use, and in what order? It’s generally a good idea to keep frequently used equipment close at hand so you don’t waste time finding and fetching things. Remember to label storage areas so all staff know where everything should go.

  1. Sweep/Shine

This is an easy part to overlook, particularly when you’re busy, but maintaining a clean and tidy workspace can hugely boost staff morale and motivation as well as making their jobs much easier. Cleaning and tidying routines should be established so that every staff member knows what’s expected of them, and this shouldn’t be restricted to the end of the day. Work processes flow much more efficiently if workspaces are cleaned and tools returned to the proper space after each stage of the game.

This is also a valuable opportunity to look over any equipment, checking for wear and tear and performing regular maintenance, before you tidy it away.

  1. Standardise

How many times have you sorted, ordered and shined only for chaos to return by the end of the week?

By standardising the new levels of organisation, you stand an excellent chance of maintaining the order you’ve managed to create. To help with this stage you may want to create a schedule, a chart or cleaning checklist or use visual guides, posters or labels to remind staff where tools are supposed to go. Whatever works for you and your business. It won’t be long before these processes become ingrained habits that require minimal effort or reminders.

  1. Sustain

This is about making the 5S system a part of your company culture, not just a quick fix, and it’s essential if you want to enjoy the benefits of 5S. An audit schedule can help here. Regular evaluations will help you see what’s working and what could still be improved. It’s also a good idea to track any positive changes — increases in productivity, reduction in accidents etc — that will help motivate staff and show them that following the system is worth any extra effort.

When you break it down like that it sounds like a no-brainer — finding a spot for everything and keeping your workspace clean is the best way to help people do their jobs safely and efficiently. But sometimes the simplest ideas are the ones we never quite get around to implementing. The 5S system is definitely the best solution we’ve found to boost our workspace organisation. Einstein would’ve hated it but we’re fully on board!

If you’re tempted to give 5S a try, or you’re already using it, leave a comment. We’d love to know how you’re getting on.

If you would like to know more about 5S, this is a useful link: