Conquer back to school chaos with collaboration and Kaizen

There are so many blogs, tips and checklists on how to cope with the back to school chaos – and most of them are targeted at mums. But this piece doesn’t just have women in mind (let’s face it, so often the burden of home organisation falls to the mother). Since I’m elite-trained in optimism I hope it will be read by all kinds of family dynamics: mums, dads, couples and single parents.

Have you been worried about the mayhem of getting the kids back to school? Do you start to feel distress and discomfort by the end of the summer break at the mere thought of all the school paperwork, new routines, planning and preparing lunchboxes, the logistics around after-school activities and horrible, hectic mornings? If the answer is yes, the likelihood is that you’re a woman. If you are a man and the answer is yes – then hurrah! – you should be proud that you are modern dad.  

However, if you haven’t worried at all about the prospect, then there’s a risk that you may have, (unintentionally) abdicated from your important role to emotionally participate and contribute to the everyday life of the people who matter most to you – your children.

Here is an opportunity to change that.

The memories of our wedding faded away into stormy everyday life with 3 kids aged from 2 to 8. Out of pure survival instinct we started to work with the Japanese lean concept. After less than a year we saw astronomical result. I believe that it is our closest relationships that help us evolve, but they can also cause us to come to a standstill, to get stuck in established roles, or to give up on what we really want from life – but please don’t! 

Some years ago our family started to use the Japanese Lean philosophy, out of pure survival necessity. At first it was unintentional, but when we saw a pattern emerge, like interwoven threads forming figures in a tapestry, we realised we were using some tools from Lean. Then we decided to try it in a more strategic, systematic way. After less than a year we saw an amazing, astronomical impact; for instance, we cut our expenses in half, the environmental footprint was one third of what it used to be and we had flow and fun in our everyday life – instead of being frustrated and trying to escape it. Today this approach has inspired thousands of families and I get feedback every day from readers, many of whom are fathers who have started to be much more involved in the home. Lean and lean living is quite straightforward and is rooted in common sense. It has traditionally been applied in business with the aim of making make systems flow smoothly within an organisation. And the home is a kind of organisation – actually the organisation we can impact most.

Imagine this – you have a team at work with four or five colleagues, and only one, always the same person, fixes everything. That organisation is doomed. This is quite often the case in the family, you have one person, that often involuntarily falls into that role. If this is ringing a bell for you, here’s how it can be reversed – Kaizen. 

Kaizen is Japanese and means continuous improvements. Reflect on how some of the critical back to school streams work at your home, for instance, the morning stream (from the time you wake up until you are where you are supposed to be). Here’s a mother’s example of her four-member family morning stream, it is from a feedback from a reader.

Every morning the word “Hurry!” echoes throughout the flat. The stream starts from the time she finally falls asleep at 1am after scrolling through everyone’s picture-perfect lives on Instagram. Five hours later, the alarm wakes her up and she starts immediately checking her work emails before a leisurely ten-minute shower to wake herself. Her mind elsewhere the whole time, she shouts at her kids to ‘hurry!’. In her haste, she forgets their homework and drops them off late to school. When she finally arrives at work, she is distracted by thoughts of her children, their lateness and forgotten home- work. When she gets home in the evening, she is welcomed by that morning’s mess: breakfast dishes on the table and unmade beds, which makes her angry at her partner, who avoided having any responsibility. It was a vicious cycle that needed to end and here’s how Kaizen came in.

With the help of Kaizen the family agreed they needed to change the morning stream, it just wasn’t sustainable. The first step was working out that one parent could cycle with the children to school and then on to work instead of driving. They sold one of their cars, reducing their carbon footprint. The other parent now takes public transport, using the free time to listen to audiobooks, and arriving to work feeling more calm. They have agreed as a family not to use their mobile phones or tablets in the morning apart from as an alarm. In the evening before they pack and plan the outfit for the next day. Together they have transformed waste to value, and the morning stream is something they look forward to.

Everyday life is full of these kind of streams; the bedtime stream, homework stream, lunchboxes stream, activities stream, dinner stream, laundy stream etc.

So sit down and reflect on which of your daily streams need attention. If we focus on the back to school chaos it is probably the morning,  homework, every day dinner  and bedtime streams that are some of the most important,

Kaizen is built on five steps. Adopt these and you’ll notice a big change at home:

STEP ONE: asses your current set-up – what works and what doesn’t – and try to identify the real reasons behind the problems.

STEP TWO: agree on your desired solution, i.e.  how you want things to be. This should be a reachable and inspiring goal.

STEP THREE: decide upon new habits, that are easy to maintain.  

STEP FOUR: start practising the new habits within that same week.

STEP FIVE: follow up after approximately 30 days, because that is, according to many researchers what it takes to create new habits. Make sure your changes are lasting and sustainable. And don’t forget to celebrate!

You could say that The Lean and Happy Home is a manifesto for the modern home, where both parents want to be involved and have an impact in their children’s lives. It’s about creating a sustainable home: sustainable relationships, a sustainable society and to sustain as an individual in a time where there is so much pressure on us.  This book gives you the tools to change your unique reality. Lean helps us to live and contribute the best and kindest way we can, all that it requires is love, intention and some perseverance. Go on – give it a go!

Be inspired by Eva’s own story, understand how Lean works and start to apply her small changes to your everyday life – you will be delighted with the results.

By Eva Jarlsdotter and Mattias Norell

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