4 Engineering Principles to Apply at Home


“I think the average woman can accomplish more with a buttonhook or a hairpin than the average man does with the aid of a step ladder, a whole set of tools, and a wife to hand him things,” Emmy Lou Haller said this. She became the first woman to graduate from Pittsburgh University with a degree in her chosen discipline, Industrial Engineering. Her enthusiasm for engineering helped open the door for other women to enter the field.

As a passionate industrial engineering professional for the better part of a decade, I frequently analyze, design, standardize and improve processes practically every day. Understanding processes, reducing waste, correcting issues, utilizing checklists all have something in common… saving time. By reducing non-value added or non-essential steps, you save valuable time and you ultimately become more efficient.

As mothers, doesn’t this sound like something we all do anyways in most situations when it concerns our kids? Ha, who am I kidding? I’m lucky if I just get out the door on time in the morning.

Creating more effective use of our time… Isn’t that what every mother strives for more in life? Maybe it’s just one of my pipedreams. 

Now, you don’t have to go to school for 4-5 years to become an engineer to start recognizing how to become more efficient & apply these principles to your home. You don’t need some overly complex mathematical model to do any of this. Here are a few principles that you can apply at home to save time and become more efficient. 

4 Industrial Engineering Principles to Apply at Home 

  • Principle #1: 5S Methodology – Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain 
    • This term essentially means “we need to clean this place up”. I used this principle recently when I went room by room to purge both drawers and closets to prepare to move into a new house. It was a lengthy process, but this methodology helped me organize each room into totes that will be easily identifiable and placed into the correct room within the next home we move into. I was able to remove about 50% of the items that I originally had and donated quite a bit to a women’s shelter. We were able to sell a few things as well and it felt good to let go of items that hadn’t been touched in a very long time. 
    • Sort – Ask yourself, “what is this?, should I keep it, store it, or dispose of it?” Try placing items in, “keep, give away, trash” piles as your sort through a room. It’s extremely important to go through every item, especially things that have not been used for years. 
    • Set in Order – Also, known as straighten. Organize the remaining items that you’ve decided to keep. 
    • Shine – Deep clean the area and surfaces.
    • Standardize – This is my personal favorite step because its the most important. Create a system for where each item belongs. Consolidate like items together, making frequently used items easily accessible. Labels should be included in this step. (See the Kaizen principle below for more ideas on how to organize)
    • Sustain – This step means that you have created a system that you can keep organized, clean and efficient. Using checklists or a standard procedure of going through your drawer/closet every six months to purge. 
  • Principle #2: Ergonomics and Motion Studies
    • Recently, in preparation to packing up our house to move, I spent time re-arranging the shelves in my garage, so that I can easily place my smaller organized totes without using a ladder or bending over too much. Now that this is completed, I have a designated area for all the small bins (that contain frequently used items) and I’ve saved time in having to search through everything, if I need to access the totes in the near future. 
    • Lillian Gilbreth’s work with motion studies and psychology paved the way for the industrial engineering field. Did you know that the movie “Cheaper by the Dozen” was inspired by a real family named the Gilbreth’s? Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, were both industrial engineers by trade in the 1920s. In fact, they were known as the “Father of Management Engineering” & “Mother of Modern Management” (asme.org). They used their research findings to not only improve life for workers in factories, but also to manage a household of 12 children. 
    • Time and Motion Studies are related to ergonomics and are used to analyze all of the small movements that a worker makes while completing a task to ultimately reduce unnecessary movements & save time. 
      • If you have little kids, think about much you are moving around, bending or how close/far all the materials you need are. Ask yourself, can I improve this process and make it easier? Try timing yourself and making adjustments until you find what suits you. 
  • Principle #3: Process Flow Charts
    • Similar to Motion Studies – these lists consist of every step to complete a task. Usually helps if you write down each step. The list should be reviewed for non-value added steps and those steps are eliminated. It’s a necessary tool applies in every mass production environment so why not apply it at home too?
    • Here’s how to create a life process flow diagram: prepare to record with paper and pen or camera with preferably a partner. Start your process as normal as possible. Complete your process as normal as possible. Write down each step and review the list. Mark each step as value added, necessary non-value added or non-value added. Look to eliminate non-value added activities, or arrange time to limit the amount of time it consumes. There will be times when you get stuck and aren’t sure what to do. This usually means your process is ‘Out-Of-Control’. You should have ‘Ah Ha’ moments too and that’s where you usually find time that can be saved. 
    • Consider what life processes can be optimized. A morning routine getting kids ready for school, a bed time routine, cleaning tasks, etc. 
  • Principle #4: Kaizen
    • This is a Japanese word that translates to the phrase “good change” or “continuous improvement”. It is a philosophy that drives creativity and better results through small, consistent actions that deliver long-term benefits. It essentially means always looking for ways to be better and more efficient. Recently, as I was using the 5S mythology while organizing my kids rooms, I used this Kaizen approach. I removed all their clothes from their dressers and created a system of totes for all their basic clothes (socks, undies, shorts/pants, shirts & PJs). I packed away seasonal clothes and items they don’t need right now. I organized this so that my kids can get dressed in an orderly fashion the same way every day. 
    • Try designating a task that kids can do every day simultaneously. Try making it a game. “You have three minutes to do it!” My daughter and I created this system and now she knows which totes to access for each of these items to get dressed every morning. This principle helps create lasting routines. 
      • select your socks, put them on
      • select your undies, put them on
      • select your shorts, put them on
      • select your shirt, put it on

Some of these ideas/tips might sound obvious, but honestly, industrial engineers get paid big bucks to point out obvious areas of improvement and create simple solutions. That’s why I love what I do so much. 

One final piece of advice before I go: As you try to apply industrial engineering to your home, ask yourself “where’s the value add in this?” Try not to do projects just to do them or to look good for social media. Make sure you think an idea will really be a sustainable improvement before you invest a bunch of time.


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