A messy workplace makes for wasted time, but implementing a 5S system in the office can contribute to increased productivity and efficiency. According to Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, a workplace and life organization expert and creator of the Productivity Institute, an unorganized work area can lead to as much as 18 percent of a workweek wasted.¹ Employees surrounded by clutter are faced with near-constant distractions or wasted time spent looking for something they can’t find. So what’s the best way to get organized? As advocates of visual cues and 5S practices, we’ve put together a guide on how to use the same principles to organize your office setting.

What Is 5S for the Office?

The 5S methodology emerged from a study of the techniques studied in Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) and from the Toyota Production System (TPS). The name comes from five Japanese words that all happen to begin with “s” sounds—Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke—hence, the S in 5S. Here are each term’s English counterparts: 

  • Seiri – sort, clearing, classify
  • Seiton – straighten, simplify, set in order, configure
  • Seiso – sweep, shine, scrub, clean, and check
  • Seiketsu – standardize, stabilize, conformity
  • Shitsuke – sustain, self-discipline, custom, and practice

Applying 5S Principles in Office Areas

While the method was originally meant for manufacturing environments, you can apply 5S principles when organizing your office, cubicle, home office, or even a homework nook. Whether you’re in a busy work environment or just trying to declutter and streamline your home office, a 5S approach can help. Consider these 5S examples for the office: 

1. Seiri: Sort Your Office

The first step in any 5S approach is to sort. Start by looking around your office: Take note of things that can be tossed, stored, or placed where you can easily access them. Think to yourself, “What do I need on my desk to get my job done or accomplish my goals every day?” Items that add real value to your everyday routine should be the only things taking up space in your front-and-center workspace—everything else is clutter.

Look in drawers, file cabinets, file boxes, and shelves with the same eye for usefulness, getting rid of anything that doesn’t serve a purpose. As you work through your workspace, consider which items naturally go together, such as writing implements and notepads, files for particular projects or job types, or old versus ongoing documents. This process of sorting and getting rid of unnecessary items will help you in the next step, which is seiton, or set in order.

2. Seiton: Straighten and Set in Order

There’s a reason some of our most popular products are signs that indicate where items go. Designating a space for tools increases warehouse productivity, and the same is true in an office. Establish a set location for everything from pens and pencils to folders for current projects to shared office supplies. Think beyond the desk and set common areas, such as the kitchen or work room, in order as well. Something as simple as having the coffee in the break room organized by type can help cut down on time employees waste when looking for these items.

With the right products, it’s simple to set your office space in order. Start with these ideas: 

  • Organize storage closets or workrooms by using carpet tape to outline areas for copier paper, racks for products or files, and designated workspaces. 
  • In a larger office, floor tape can be used to outline the preferred location for trash and recycling bins; choose two colors to match the bins and make it easy for employees to know where they should be returned.
  • When organizing mailboxes, office supplies, and more, labels and color-coded stickers can help remind employees where items belong. Assign a specific color to each type of supply, so you can recognize its spot at a glance. When everything has a designated place, it’s easier to find what you need—and easier to put it away when the time comes. 
  • Specify the set location of desks, equipment, or conference tables using corner markers. Then, when cleaning crews come in or employees need to rearrange for specific purposes, they know exactly where each piece of furniture or machinery should be returned.

3. Seiso: Clean Your Office

As you’re purging and organizing, clean your office space. Take advantage of empty shelves and dust their surface, wipe drink rings and crumbs from the top of your desk, vacuum the floors, and clean your computer screen. Trash and waste make a space feel more cluttered, so empty the pencil sharpener, garbage bin, and recycling in each office as you work your way through. Wipe down the counters in the kitchen, and sweep up scraps of paper and other litter in the workroom. When each space feels clean and uncluttered, you’ll clear your mind of distractions and be ready to get to work. 

4. Seiketsu: Introduce Physical and Process Standardizations

Create a physical or process-oriented system that contributes to an organized, 5S office. Whether it’s designating different locations to store certain items or coming up with a standardized plan for emptying your inbox each day, these processes can reduce wasted time and help you be more efficient and productive daily. Allocate designated areas to store documents for completed, in progress, and future projects, and come up with a standard timeframe to review completed projects to file away or toss. In a home office or study nook, work with your kids to clear out old papers they don’t need anymore, clean up supplies, and straighten their homework area on a set evening. When this is the standard, they can start the next school week in a clean and distraction-free area.

5. Shitsuke: Strive for Sustained Organization

The final step in a 5S organization approach is to sustain, or keep it up. While it requires discipline and mindfulness, staying organized is not hard and doesn’t take much time—once you have a process in place. With fewer distractions cluttering your office, you can stay focused on the tasks at hand and be more productive in the long run. Taking the initiative to organize your office will pay you back in time saved several times over. 

The same 5S principles that contribute to a well-run warehouse or industrial facility can transform your workplace into an efficient, productive environment, minimizing wasted time and wasted supplies. For more on lean and 5S principles—and using high-quality floor marking products to make the most of your space—explore our Resource Center.

1. https://productivity-institute.com/time-management-facts-and-figures/