Lean talks a lot about inventory. A major tenet of Lean is to reduce inventory. Companies that stock up on too much stuff have to maintain that stuff, manage it, and then deal with it when it is no longer useful. This is why companies end up having huge sales at the end of the year – they’ve amassed warehouses of stock (or their suppliers have) and now that merchandise needs to be sold fast.
But inventory isn’t just “stuff.” Inventory for us as individuals includes anything we have that requires maintenance or on-going attention. We have responsibilities, they aren’t going away. We will have a yard, it will need to be mowed. Dishes need to be washed. Children need to be raised.
Other inventory comes in the form of stress. Stress, I would argue, is inventory. Your brain is like a factory, you take in information, you create value. Stress slows your factory down.
I’ve written about “Existential Overhead.” Stress is a big part of that overhead and it is totally inventory. The question is, how much of our stress do we manufacture ourselves? Certainly there is stress that comes from outside our control. Illness in the family, natural disasters, economic crises – we can’t do much to stave these off.
There’s other overhead we create for ourselves. Lean teaches us to save action until the last responsible minute, but procrastination teaches us to ignore action until someone yells at us. Procrastination is not responsible. The more you procrastinate, the more you know someone is going to yell at you. So, even when you are doing something else, you are fretting about what you aren’t doing and that lowers your productivity.
Focus for you as an individual comes from an understanding of what you are doing and why. Existential Overhead, inventory, stress all combine to make you question what you are doing and why. That muddies your understanding, you lose focus, and your effectiveness decreases.
The biggest problem here: if you stress about things that can be relieved, when big problems come along, your capacity to absorb that extra stress is reduced. And if the new big problem is too big, you lose your cookies. But all we needed to do to keep our cool and rise to the occasion was some work up-front to relieve those previous stressers.
I invite you to look at what is going on in your life, identify stressers and other inventory that you know routinely keep you awake at night, and start to figure out ways to mitigate them or even remove them from your life. Especially look for stress you are manufacturing yourself.