Going to University is daunting. Trying to organise your time between academic, social and professional opportunities is as difficult as nuclear fission for most of us. From personal experience every student blog, website article or helpful advice from those much older boils down to “Get Organised”. This mantra will follow you around but somehow no one ever told me how it is I should organise myself. What did help me are the 5s’s: Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu, and Shitsuke.


Respectively they mean organisation, neatness, cleaning, standardisation and discipline. Underutilised and usually just applied to manufacturing line in the West, as opposed to personal philosophy of life in Japan, when understood and developed properly can be adapted to almost every environment including education and volunteering. The secret is that these values have both socio-historical and philosophical roots, after all in Japan it is a method used to improve lifestyle.

5s Breakdown

Seiri and Seiton– Organisation and neatness go hand in hand. For me, it primarily had to do with simplifying processes to reduce error. During my academic career this meant a detailed timetable where everything has outlined. It was about maximising efficiency and effectiveness of my study not how long I spent in the library. Everyone has a different approach to studying and what worked for me was a study buddy and knowing how long I can concentrate for. A ten minute break every hour and no more than 6 hours of study per day. In volunteering this applies to selecting volunteering opportunities which would be the most effective to what you are trying to achieve. It also means sacrifice. Like in University where you sometimes have to choose between social and academic life, so must you be selective in your volunteering. Finally, keep your desk at home tidy. Think of a chef’s mise en place, where all the utensils and ingredients are at hand. Prioritise between what you want and what you need.

Seiso– cleanliness does not just mean clean floors. There is an emphasis on cleanliness of mind; for example using someone else in your own self-interest would be considered unclean. It also denotes transparency in your actions. In education it can mean admitting your own problems, for example procrastination or social loafing. Remember that the University is no stranger to this. Speak to your personal tutor if in doubt. In volunteering it can be about honestly acknowledging limitations before applying and always be transparent if you are made a mistake or unsure how to proceed. Self-inspection to maintain a clean approach to life is an important skill to learn. Remember the old adage that “dust attracts dust”? Clean living can also include clean eating and exercise, neither of which need to cost a fortune.

Seiketsu– standardizing doesn’t just mean maintaining a standard, it is a continuous maintenance of the first three S’s. This is where hidden problems emerge that may have been dormant. The beauty of the 5s model is that it is continuous. If you hit a snag all your hard work isn’t wasted. Let us go back to procrastination, a plague of modern day students. It can take a lot of courage to be transparent about your flaws and ask for help but as soon as you can get the right advice you need the discipline to follow it. This brings us to the last S.

Shitsuke– Discipline.  Probably the hardest of all. Our pre-established behavioural patterns are a result of a lifelong pattern and dictating change isn’t going to change them automatically. A proactive change in behaviour across all levels of one’s being is required. Starting slowly and not trying to change overnight is the way to go. Volunteering is a great place to start. Not only are you committing to something but you will meet new people who will give you different outlooks on life.

Final Thoughts

For the 5s model to be successful it must not be the end goal itself. The main aim is to stimulate and shape techniques that improve personal functioning and growth. This is what helped me through my academic career.

The 5s model isn’t a tick system, it is a journey. If you want to learn more here is a good place to start:

Kobayashi, K., Fisher, R., & Gapp, R. (2008). Business improvement strategy or useful tool? Analysis of the application of the 5s concept in Japan, the UK and the US. Total Quality Management, Vol 19, 3, 245-262.

Gapp, R., Fisher, R., Kobayashi., K. (2008). Implementing 5s within a Japanese context: an integrated management system. Management Decision, Vol 46, 4, 565-579


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