Tracked Systems Improve

I was aiming for 300,000 miles on my last vehicle before the Mini; that Dodge got to 297K before I had to trade it in on the Paceman.  If I stay on track with my preventive maintenance, perhaps the Mini will last that long too.

Working in Continuous Improvement, I help my company find small ways to keep making processes better.  Whether we are increasing yield or decreasing cost or even making sure we are maintaining our focus on the most important projects, a “CI” mindset keeps us going in the right direction.  One mantra that we have benefitted from many times:  “A watched system improves.”

I believe this stuff.  And in my efforts not to be seen as a hypocrite, I’ve tried applying this way of thinking to many little parts of my life outside of the manufacturing environment.  Tasks are tasks, goals are goals, and there have been a lot of things in my life that I’ve wanted to see get better.

When I had a paper route for several years in the early 2000s, it was a no-brainer for me to think about how I could engineer the route to avoid late deliveries using the fewest miles.  If someone is cutting the grass, he or she usually thinks about how they can cut the grass more efficiently, often to get out of the heat sooner!  What about when it comes to health?  I know there are point systems to help folks lose weight, tech devices to track fitness data, and I can download data from my CPAP to see how my mask is fitting.

For the first couple of years since my diagnosis, I was not thinking creatively about how use these skills to help with my autism issues.  My wife knew I was spinning my wheels, and we both were frustrated with my failures to stay diligent on all the therapies that had been recommended to me by my health practitioners. 

One day, my son recommended a white board for the refrigerator to remind me of my goals and track my progress.  The light started to come on in my head.  “I know how to do this,” I said to myself.  The white board, or dry erase board, is a tool used by professionals for various types of information sharing.  I was already using them at work to share, prioritize and track progress.  Why hadn’t I thought of this before? 

Even once we looked at several designs, decided on a set that would fit our refrigerator, and they arrived, it still took me a while to get my head in the game.  I’m ashamed to say that it took too long, and it took some major pressure from my wife.  But I eventually relented and sat down with her; we color-coded the aspects of my life that I wanted to keep moving forward.

Using a chart that has space for a list of items for each day of the week, we plotted out what activities I would aim to do on specific weekdays.  For example, I am aiming to do some barefoot grounding every day, but a chore like cleaning the oven I only need to accomplish once a month.  I aim for exercise 4 days a week, but deep breathing every day.  We listed all the things we could think of that were needed and helpful.   This chart helps me when I need to remind myself of what I originally wanted.

This week was a good week, but always room to improve, both my performance and the measuring tool.

Then I track every day’s accomplishments and mealtimes on the main weekly chart as shown in the picture.  A high bar of 13 possible points per day motivates me to get as many as I can.  Has it kept me on track?  Regretfully, I’m not 100%, but I know that I am closer to doing the right things than I would have been if I weren’t tracking. 

I collect the points at the end of the week and give myself a percentage.  Our hopes for next steps are to meet again and look at what might need to change and stay encouraged in the things that are working.  It is easy to get excited over huge wins that happen in short bursts, like a home run, but Cal Ripken was celebrated for his long streak of showing up and being in the game.  This is where I’m actually using some of my strengths to strengthen other parts of myself. 

Just like my hopes for a long life out of my car, I want to also enjoy the remaining decades of this body before I have to “trade it in” for another.  Charting my progress helps me stay in the game – and enjoy the miles.  Keep shiftin’.

Published by Bart Shoaf

Blogging about victories and challenges as a middle-aged man with a late diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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