The 5S

Declutter with 5S in 20 Minutes Per Day?

By Jon Miller Updated on May 20th, 2017

In modern society there are many promises of something in “only 20 minutes per day” whether it is flat abdominals, riches or perfect happiness. In fact what many people miss is that it is “20 minutes per day FOREVER” that guarantees success. The same is true for sustaining lean culture as demonstrated by a neat, safe, organized and clean workplace evidenced by what we call 5S. The habit of removing unnecessary items from our actual or virtual work space, putting everything back in its place after use and generally sustaining this condition is a daily challenge that should be familiar to all lean thinkers.

I spent a couple of hours doing 5S on my laptop today. After a few weeks of travel, many documents created and files downloaded for review or revision, my desktop can get cluttered and need a bit of work. The image above is the result of today’s desktop 5S activity. It may still look a bit busy but many files, folders and shortcuts were sorted out, deleted or put in their correct place.

The arrangement of folders was set in order according to a system I have, with priority projects bring in the top left section, training materials-related folders to the right of that, sales related folders to the left of that, and Gemba branch-related folders to the top right section. The lower left is related to writing, the lower middle are a few dashboards and the lower right are consulting project and travel related folders. These 40+ files and folders may feel like a few too many, but as they take up no physical space and allow me to quickly retrieve nearly any file I need at any time, this system seems to work.

I wouldn’t dare show you what it looked like last week, after weeks of gathering clutter. This raises the question of how we can maintain good condition of 5S, whether it be in an office, factory or the electronic desktop? Many companies have people do 5S as a daily clean up exercise with 10 minutes at the start and/or end of each day dedicated to cleaning. This is the classic “success in 20 minutes per day”. This approach is good so long as cleaning does not become mindless and automatic. Cleaning should be a thoughtful process, asking “why am I having to clean or organize this?” so that it leads to root cause corrective action.

The ideal way to maintain 5S is “clean as you go” where the natural placement of goods, tools and materials is the correct point of use and unnecessary items have no place to go, immediately and visually standing out as being in the wrong location. Practically speaking, this doesn’t work as not all of us clean as we go. Should we dedicate 20 minutes per day cleaning or not?

In a 5 day week of 20 minutes per day, we are investing 100 minutes per week in cleaning per person. These numbers are certain to raise any watchful financial controller’s eyebrows. There is nothing in fact wrong with this time investment in itself. The productivity lost by having people work for days or even weeks in a cluttered work environment is far more than 20 minutes per day. If 10 minutes at the start and end of shift is too disruptive, 2 minutes or 3 minutes per hour, or 5 or 6 minutes every 2 hour after a break may be a good approach.

I sure need to find a better way to keep my desktop free of clutter in 2010. Don’t even get me started on the contents of those 40+ folders. How do you manage to de-clutter and sustain 5S in your personal work space?

  1. Simon Cunnane

    December 23, 2009 - 3:22 am

    There are a serious lack of “Fences” in your life. (
    An excellent 5s tool for anyone’s desktop. 🙂

  2. Ron Pereira

    December 23, 2009 - 6:56 am

    My personal philosophy, which I admit to failing at more than I succeed, is to try to constantly make things better. For example, instead of using the 20 minutes to sustain or maintain the system how about spending 20 minutes, even 5 minutes, making it just a little better. Easier said than done… I know… but who said 5S was easy! Nice post, Jon.

  3. Daniel Markovitz

    December 23, 2009 - 9:59 am

    Given that searching for information on a computer is becoming increasingly fast and easy (viz. Google desktop search), I think the real value of computer 5S comes from making decisions about the stuff that you’ve collected over time.
    Most people have collected a huge amount of stuff — emails, files, reports, magazines, websites, etc. Some if it is useful for getting your job done. Some of it is useful. . . but realistically, you’re not actually going to use it, because you’re just too busy, or your job focus has changed. And some of it was useful at one point, but now it’s obsolete garbage.
    Applying 5S to this collection of information means making decisions about what to do with it. Whether you choose to actually use it for something, archive it for the future, or toss it, you’re finally assessing your work and analyzing your needs. And this analysis will give you greater clarity about what you need on a daily basis to move forward with your responsibilities.

  4. Steven Levy

    December 23, 2009 - 10:30 am

    I put nothing on my desktop. I have the dozen or so programs/folder-links I use the most on the quick-launch bar at the bottom of my screen — which is set to AutoHide mode. I have set my Office programs to retain the 18 most recently used files. And I use Vista search to find anything else; it’s pretty much instantaneous, certainly faster than switching to my desktop, locating a file, and double-clicking on it. Thus I spend virtually no time cleaning my personal workspace (other than nightly backups) because there is no need; it self-cleans.
    I also keep my inbox folders empty with one-touch — read and delete; respond/delegate and file; or move to my calendar as an action item. I have a single History folder in which to store any mail I want to retain; it’s far faster to find something via search than to locate it by going through a folder, and thus there filing EMail is also a no-cleanup operation.

  5. Jamie Flinchbaugh

    December 23, 2009 - 11:57 am

    This does raise a question as to the return on investment of some lean efforts in general. Why invest hours if you only save minutes as a result. If you had to spend 100 minutes a week straightening then that would be a problem.
    I think the real answer is to develop habits and procedures so that it takes no additional time at all. By using email rules, simple copy and paste practices, save as, and some renaming of files protocol, you can do it without recurring investment, just one time investment to set everything up.
    Thanks Jon.

  6. Rob

    December 23, 2009 - 12:07 pm

    I tend to store everything in one of three folders: Action, Waiting, Reference. Action is for stuff I need to do which takes longer than a few minutes to process. If it takes less then a few minutes, I just do it. Waiting is for stuff I’ve delegated and need to track its completion. Reference is a folder full of everything else. I don’t try to index it, I just use Google Desktop to search it if I need it. It’s that simple and it works brilliantly.

  7. Jon Miller

    December 23, 2009 - 3:07 pm

    Wow. Lots of great comments. Thanks. I will have to make better use of Google Desktop as well as try that Fences software.
    Jamie’s comment hit the nail on the head: it’s more about developing habits than about maintaining a high 5S score or even a certain level of cleanliness.

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