Metal wheel concept

It’s Always the Right Time for Improvement

Jan. 10, 2022
The arbitrary passage of time has less importance than what we actually do with the time we have.

It’s traditional to get both sentimental and optimistic as a new year arrives. Both are valuable emotions, particularly in these days, but neither have much to do with the changing of the calendar. Optimism isn’t seasonal; neither is sentiment. It should be among our daily tasks to embrace both whenever practical.

Practicality is the key to it all. It is the clear-eyed assessment of our problems and the available solutions that drive process improvements. Where solutions aren’t available, innovation is the typical outcome. It is the completion of the problem solving that drives our optimism. It almost never works the other way around.

There are several theories around the concept of time. Most people see it as linear, and while there are theories from Einstein to Newton that perceive it in other ways, the simplest way to account for time is that it continuously moves from one moment to the next. The inventions of calendars and watches are human constructs that measure time, but they are not time itself.

So the arbitrary passage of time—in minutes, days, months and years—has less importance than how we spend the time we have.

Improvement is another concept not bound by the calendar. We always have the opportunity to improve. We can analyze the world as we find it and see ways where we can be more efficient. For some of us, the new year is a time for resolutions, but for the person focused on continuous improvement, those resolutions are less about timelines and more about goals and objectives.

We should, of course, resolve to get better at everything we do. The program we put in place to achieve improvement can be time-based and goal-based, but when we achieve the goal, is that the end of time? Continuous improvement advocates say it is not, and I’d tend to agree. We have to keep reaching for what is next, and we have to keep searching for better.

I’ve spent my entire career on deadline, and I can tell you those occasions where I’ve bumped up against a deadline are almost always a function of poor planning or poor execution. There always are exceptions; a few late nights in the newspaper industry were driven by external events instead of internal deadlines. The solution was to move the deadlines, but that required a process in place to adjust operations. It also had the effect of creating a plan for the next such event. We practiced continuous improvement without even knowing it.

Time is not the enemy of improvement; it also shouldn’t be the motivation for it. If your continuous improvement plan begins in January 2022, great. If you’re in the midst of such improvement, time-based benchmarks are one way to evaluate those projects. The focus should be on the improvements, however.

When it comes to getting better at what we do, there’s no time like the present.

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