A quick search of the phrase 5S Methodology brings up 1000s of confusing and information fuelled articles. Diagrams laden Google images’ results on the phrase and some websites descriptions of the concept read like a 1950s mechanical handbook. Case studies and working examples of the concept in action can mainly from manufacturing and engineering, production and the scientific and food technology industries. in short, 5S feels quite unapproachable for us “lowly” students. It’s certainly nothing I’ve heard about in college lectures and my first introduction to the ideals of 5s came from my supervisor during my internship where I was given articles to read about the methodologies. Quite frankly I felt a little like I was reading about a “secret concept” I’d have to pay a small fortune to understand at one of the many Lean/5S classes I’ve seen advertised around the internet.

In hindsight, 5S isn’t actually that difficult to understand and once you learn about it in detail, it can change the way you do everything; especially study. This is why I think us college students need to take advantage of it! Thus, here’s my Brief Introduction to 5S and Why It’s Actually Life Changing for Students (and/or people who don’t want to spend 16 years of their lives reading articles online)


What is 5S?

Developed in Japan in the manufacturing industry, 5S is a methodology intent on driving out waste and developing and sustaining a productive working environment. isixsigma.com describe the concept as the “spontaneous and continuous improvement of working environment and working conditions”

Why is it called 5S?

The 5S’ represent the original Japanese words that make up the methodology. Sort (Seiri), Set in Order (Seiton), Shine (Seiso), Standardize (Seiketsu), and Sustain (Shitsuke)


Why use it?

I’m messy, unorganized and most of the time flurry through life like a hurricane. It’s how I “do things”. Ask my friends; I can misplace anything – keys, phones, ipods, my laptop, my car…… you name it, I’ve lost it.  I think that’s why 5S practises interest me so much; I’m in need of a process that can help even the most occupied of minds get a little order. Everything I’ve read about 5s and Lean Processes makes sense and through little changes, I’ve been able to get my life (and head) together and in a much more organised manner. If it can work for me, it can be applied to anyone’s life/work.

How can 5S Help Students?

I’ve read a lot about 5S and lean practises in manufacturing and engineering, in office places and business environments but I think most case studies overlook a huge area where 5S methodologies could be of use; by college students. When I mention Lean to friends they assume that I’ve been at the gym too long or that I’ve been mooning over Theboadycoach again (both likely) but it’s a lot more than being infatuated with Joe Wicks

Not convinced? Here’s how I think college students can adopt the 5S’ into their everyday lives.

Sort  – Make work easier by eliminating waste and obstacles.

I am a little pedantic when it comes to my study. I take pride in my note collections and organisation (to the point where I still refuse to throw out 2 giant folders of theology notes from secondary school because they are so neat and organised) 5S tells me it’s time for them to finally go and so I’m about to bid adieu to them. Organise and remove anything that is not needed from your study life. Delete files on your computer that are no longer needed or just clutter (but backup the important ones first!) Don’t start collections of notes and jotters you don’t need. Keep note taking to the important and useful stuff. Make sure all physical notes are kept organised. I like using colour in my organisation and make great use of coloured post its, pens and folders to keep my study things in order.

Set in Order – Arrange Everything Necessary for use

How many times have you gone to search for that really, really necessary file you’ve been working on only to spend forever clicking in and out of folders. How often do you show up to the library without the correct stationary? Have  you forgotten your headphones again? This step is preacing to the converted for me. I’m the most forgetful student going but it’s a necessary step that will save so much time and hassle. Plan what you need in advance. Pack in advance. Arrive ready to get work done. I’ve gotten separate folders for each module where I keep notes and work related to that particular subject. On my computer, each year of college has a module group and then a task group so that everything is accessible when it’s needed.

Shine – Clean workplace and make the environment pleasant to work in

I’m a walking contradiction. As a highly messy person, I hate mess. I detest the college library sometimes. At exam times it’s unbearable. not because of the smell of coffee (or unwashed students), the sea of people of the mountain of electronic wires that sprout life vines through the aisles  I can’t deal with the mess. Coffee cups and pizza boxes and sweet wrappers; the odd banana peel and some 3 day old box of what used to be lasagna. Our college library staff are great, the porters are nothing but hardworking but our cleaners are saints. How anyone can study someplace covered in junk is a mystery. Clean up your study area before you get to work. A clearer desk is a clearer mind and this means less distraction in the long run.

Standardize – Maintain high standards and practice best practices and continuous excellence

When you’ve found your groove, stick to it. Keep implementing the colour specification for notes and assignments you’ve started. (And for heaven’s sake use an organisation system that you will remember.) Don’t be fooled by the mid-study section desire to forget all organisation, stick to it and it will pay off in the long run. This point weighs heavily on sticking to your guns and the other steps aforementioned.

The cycle of continuous excellence should look like this :

Plan > Do > Check > Act REPEAT. and this repetition should be constant to maintain high standards!

Sustain – Self discipline, self auditing, self-training.

“Today I’m going to the library for 2 hours and I’m going to accomplish *insert goals here* One of the best practises I’ve gotten into on my internship is making To Do lists. Each morning I get my Post It Pad out and write a list of things I need to get done today. When they’re done they get a green line through them, if I need to continue work on them, they get a red tick. This may sound a bit pedantic but having a spring-board by which to monitor achievements and daily accomplishments will up your productivity.

Self-discipline isn’t easy. It’s a learning curve that takes time and practise. Self-auditing should keep you in check. Regularly review and implement a continuous excellence cycle like above. Self-training is really all about up-skilling and self-improvement. Learn something new, try to develop new skills. Read a little more. Gather new experiences. Do everything possible to be constantly developing.


When I return to college for my final semester, I’m going to take the principles of 5s and apply them further to my studies. What I like about Lean is that it doesn’t have to be difficult.It doesn’t involve learning huge amounts of anything or being unrealistic or making gigantic life changes. It’s about self management, increasing self-productivity and not wasting time and energy on being wasteful. For anyone that needs the first little kick into being more lean, I’d recommend buying a planner. One of my best (inanimate) friends is my Filofax. It helps me manage my time and to do list perfectly and helps forgetful people like me to stay managed and on track.


For further reading See:

  • isixsigma
  • Lista
  • Cerasis



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