Small Improvements Make Big Differences

Lessons from elder care that can increase your productivity

A Two-Second Improvement

Yay me! I set my computer to bypass the welcome screen open to the desktop when it wakes. Sure, clicking the picture of the cute kitten on the locked button to get to my desktop only took a moment, but it was an unnecessary step that I performed several times a day. Those moments add up.

That change is what Lean Manufacturer Paul Akers calls a two-second improvement. He advocates making an improvement each day that saves you two seconds. Saving two seconds doesn’t sound like much, but the time savings adds up. You probably need your computer to be password protected, so my improvement isn’t one you’re likely to copy. But there are a thousand things like that that you can do that will eliminate unnecessary steps in your work.

Magnifying the Waste of Extra Steps

I’d intended to make this improvement for months, but only just today took the time to figure out how. What motivated me now? My father. At 94 and with macular degeneration, he magnifies the computer screen to 10 times its normal size. That means only a fraction of the desktop shows on his screen at a time. Finding the locked icon in the middle of the screen isn’t simple. For him, bypassing the computer screen when it wakes up could make the difference between my father being productive and getting blocked before he really starts. What is a minor time-waster for me could be a deal-breaker for him.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to eliminate small unnecessary steps for myself. I do. I’ve been making adaptations for my elder parents lives so they can continue living independently as long as possible – and every adaptation I make for them out of necessity gives me a clue to how I could streamline (I call it streamLEAN) my own work out of choice for flow and efficiency.

From Elder Care to Office Flow

I helped my dad find a cane when he needs one by getting him a dark cane that contrasts with the oak and light carpet. That’s a visual improvement. It got me wondering how I can make it easier to find what I need at a glance. The purple tag on my suitcase makes it jump out on the luggage cart. What simliar visual improvements can you make?

I helped my mom get what she needs by moving bowls she uses to a lower shelf. She resisted because she thinks she’ll get better and be able to reach the higher shelf someday soon. I promised her I’d move them back later if she wants me too, but even then, why not have the things she uses most close at hand? I’ve already been organizing my kitchen and office so the things I use are handy, but speaking with her, I thought about how I often don’t staple papers because the paper clips are closer. I committed to moving the stapler to my main desk drawer. How can you arrange things so your employer has what he or she needs close at hand?

I helped my hard-of-hearing father hear me by paying attention to what tones and kind of language he can most easily hear. It got me thinking about the different ways we all understand and how to adapt my communication to others’ styles. Of course, that is something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, and write about in my books. If you want some tips on that, take my communication style inventory at

Improvement Communication

Of course, almost everyone knows one of the biggest challenges of making changes for elders is resistance. Few elders readily admit the need for changes, no matter how poorly their systems function. The glare from my parents when I bought them a tray for the walker they keep on hand could have frozen boiling water. The resistance dissolved when my father fell and the tray came in very handy.

But elders aren’t the only ones who resist change. Improvements and adaptations don’t just require observation and creativity. They also require Speaking Strong. It’s not so different telling your original authority figures (parents) that they need to listen to you when they don’t want to, and telling your current authority figures (employers) the same thing. It takes grace, skill and determination to keep talking past the first dismissal. Great phrases help too – phrases like:

  • Is that a reason not to do it, or an obstacle to overcome?

  • Try it, and if you don’t like it, we can put it back.

  • What you’ve been doing has gotten you this far. Now it’s time to adapt to current needs.

  • My goal is to help you live independently as long as possible (stay competitive in this fierce market) and every small improvement we can make, and every wasted step we can eliminate will help that happen.

Be the Change

Of course, the best way to effect change is to model it, and celebrate your own experience with it. So, it might sound like a small thing – and actually it is – but I will tell you anyway. I smiled to myself several times today when I woke my computer from sleep and didn’t have to go through my welcome screen. It’s a simple pleasure that I will continue to appreciate for the rest of my computing years.

May your day be filled with similar simple pleasures.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *