Sometimes, no matter how much of a roll you’re on with your career, you can get into a rut. It isn’t easy staying productive 100% of the time. If your usual methods aren’t working, consider trying something new, like one of these proven Japanese productivity methods.

Looking outside of your comfort zone can be the best way to tackle any issues on your plate with a new mindset. Japanese culture has a history of innovation and efficiency in both interpersonal and professional matters, and the following techniques have proven effective worldwide. So if you’re looking to take your productivity to new levels, try these philosophies!


Kaizen is a versatile way of viewing the world that can influence you in all facets of life. Translated as “continuous improvement,” Kaizen helps reframe perspective.

At its core, Kaizen is about the idea of improving by breaking down life into smaller, more manageable assets. Every problem, no matter how daunting, can be broken down into smaller, less daunting tasks that feel more achievable. These small, gradual improvements eventually lead to big results. Improvement doesn’t take place all at once but rather in small changes over our lives, and this philosophy reflects that.

According to Medium’s Garvit Rastogi, this idea is based on old Tanzanian proverbs.

“One small step, two big steps, three small steps, four big steps, five big steps, six big steps, seven small steps, eight small steps, nine small steps, ten big steps, and so on.”


If you work best utilizing visual mediums like SWOT analyses, then Kanban might be up your alley. And if you don’t, maybe this change of pace can be the change you need to get to the next level.

According to MUD’s Beatrice Manuel, Kanban, which means “visual card,” involves visually mapping out your tasks on something like a board or notecard (there are even digital programs that can help) and dividing them into three categories, “To-Do,” “In Progress,” and “Done.” This allows you to once again break down ideas into manageable stages as well as keep an organized list of your progress. Sometimes, seeing an issue broken down on a board makes it seem more digestible.

LinkedIn states that Kanban was developed for Toyota by industrial engineer Taiichi Ohno and was popularized in the West by Jim Benson. Try using different board methods to find what works for you!

“Toyota line-workers used kanban to visually show steps in their manufacturing process, which allowed teams to communicate more easily about what work needed to be done, when it needed to be done, and by whom. It was revolutionary at the time. And Toyota significantly reduced waste and improved productivity.” –Chad Reid, Jotform


If your productivity problems lie more with purpose than the actual tasks at hand, Ikigai may be of use. This methodology represents a different way of looking at your life.

Ikigai combines the words for “life” and “value” and represents the art of finding purpose and value in the work we do. It’s easy to feel dehumanized at work, especially if you’re in a role you don’t love. Because Ikigai represents a change in mindset, Beatrice Manuel says that it takes a conscious effort.

In general, Ikigai is about finding purpose and fulfillment in life, but it has been adopted in the West to find one’s ideal career. According to BetterUp’s Erin Eatough, the commonly embraced version of Ikigai looks at what you love, what you’re good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs. At the center of these four points is your Ikigai. Try to find the answers to these questions, and at the center, you’ll find the right career for you.


If you have a problem with “product” quality or with your process, Jidoka might be the right tool for you. Another valuable thought process from Toyota, allows you to quickly address the root of the problem.

Also known as “autonomation,” Jidoka represents finding and stopping errors to keep products made on time. Lean Enterprise Solutions explains that autonomation means automation with human intelligence at the core.

While obviously applicable to any product-making industry, the process works for all industries. Calendar’s Deanna Ritchie describes the four steps of Jidoka as identifying the problem, immediately stopping the process, resolving the issue, and getting to the root of the problem. Essentially, as soon as a problem becomes apparent, stop the process and immediately figure out the issue.

Letting a problem fester leads to problems, and time away may muddy the waters in identifying what the problem is. The sooner you admit there’s a problem and take steps to address it, the sooner the process can get back on track.

Wrap up

Whether it’s getting through daily frustrations or finding answers to long-standing problems, these productivity models from Japan might help you find previously locked solutions. A change in perspective is a way to view a problem from a different angle, and opening yourself up to different cultural viewpoints is never a bad thing. Hopefully, one of these proven methods can lead to increased productivity in your life!

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