Just in Time Living

There are people in my life who do their Christmas shopping several months in advance. I guess they’re taking advantage of sales, or cutting down on the December stress, or heck, maybe they’re procrastinating some current unsavory chore by working waaaaay ahead.

I am not one of these people. At all. At the beginning of September I got an invitation to a party that’s not until the end of October and I was in awe: How do people do that?!?

I remember one August a few years back, Caroline started talking about Halloween. The conversation moved from idle chatter about the holiday to wanting to nail down specific plans. (Can’t remember what those were now.)

I said, “You know what, sweetie? It’s not even Labor Day. You don’t have school shoes yet. I love talking about what you want to do at Halloween, but there is no space in my head for Halloween planning right now. Talk to me after school starts.”

Yes, I really say things like this to my children. And then they roll their eyes.

You’ve heard of just in time business processes? Instead of keeping a bunch of inventory on their shelves or factories, companies are refining their supply chains in order to get products and parts in stock exactly when they’re needed. According to Wikipedia, “Implemented correctly, JIT focuses on continuous improvement and can improve a manufacturing organization’s return on investment, quality, and efficiency.”

Lately I have been practicing just in time living. It’s a matter of survival. Life is not structured to allow me to work months ahead. (Is it for anyone?)

Example: Monday is grocery day. I had made a list over the weekend, and it was a doozy because we are out of everything. Problem was, the longest period of time I had for shopping yesterday was the 40 minutes during Caroline’s piano lesson. So I broke the weekly list into two parts and bought only what we needed for early in the week. The rest will come later. It feels inefficient—two trips to the grocery store. But in another way it feels more efficient—the tasks are smaller, which makes them easier to pull off in the midst of a life that doesn’t have big honkin’ blocks of time at the moment.

Just in time living feels chaotic, and it is, in a way. But paradoxically, the chaos requires a lot of planning. You have to build in some margin for error and unexpected circumstance. You need good systems. Just in time relies on “signals or ‘Kanban’ (看板) between different points in the process, which tell production when to make the next part. Kanban are usually ‘tickets’ but can be simple visual signals, such as the presence or absence of a part on a shelf.”

So I am obsessive about getting things onto the to-do list. Which is a challenge, because our brains don’t remind us of things at convenient times. You don’t realize you’re out of toilet paper when you’re on aisle 9 of the Costco. You realize it when, well… you know.

When just in time living works badly–which is much of the time lately–it feels like I’m perpetually behind. Nothing is ever spectacular, it’s all just good enough. But those few times when it works well, I feel like a domestic ninja: In the moment. No wasted moves.

It also makes Sabbath all the more important: one day a week when I’m not making any mental calculations.

Is your life “just in time”?

How do you “do it”?

7 thoughts on “Just in Time Living

  1. Bob Braxton

    not just in

    Chronos [Greek] is the same as Saturn [Latin]. The symbol for Saturn is similar to this Cyrillic character ђ. They are both identified with the slowest of the planets that can be observed with the unaided eye.

    According to Robert Graves’ “The Greek Myths”, the manual symbol for Chronos is the third finger raised alone. This is known as the fool’s finger. Also it is a rude

    Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune … In the New Testament kairos means “the appointed time in the purpose of God” … where I prefer to be living “just in” …

  2. Grace

    I find that being a parish pastor forces me to plan a lot of things way, WAY ahead, which then boxes me in. (We’re more wedded to the liturgical calendar than you are, and I’m fairly involved at the judicatory level.)

    I do do JIT with things like cooking. Have never been able to make meal plans more than about 48 hours in advance. What’s in the freezer that I’m in the mood for tonight? That’s dinner.

    I live by my calendar. In fact, I find that often the most useful thing that comes out of a boring meeting is that I’ll think of half a dozen things to add to the to-do list for next week, and write them down right then.

  3. Rachel Heslin

    I try to consistently schedule specific days for specific tasks (eg. errands are on Thursdays, which is Hunter’s minimum day at school.) I have a list of things my family likes for dinner written down for easy reference. One of my favorite lists is “stuff I have to do every morning.” If it’s written down, I don’t have to remember to give the cat her medicine or pack Hunter’s lunch, I just need to remember to look at the list. The idea is to make certain things habitual, which frees up brain cells for other planning stuff.

    Have you seen this?

    1. Rachel Heslin

      Oh, and I’m a fan of planning for multiple contingencies. Yes, it takes a certain type of “plan ahead” mindset, but by doing some prep work ahead of time, when I’m actually in the moment and living my life, it’s easier to make decisions about what to do in a given situation.

      Regarding planning ahead for holidays, etc., I love reminder tools. Take Christmas cards: one year, when I was in a seriously I Am Going To Plan My Life mood, I figured out all the steps that needed to be taken in order to have Christmas cards sent out by the second week of December: having a family picture taken, ordering prints, writing a short holiday letter, verifying current addresses, getting stamps, etc. Then I backed it out over the previous weeks so that I could do a little at a time (yes, starting in October for the pix) without feeling overwhelmed. But here’s the genius part: I set up each of these tasks as an *annual* recurrence. That way, each year since, I don’t have to think about what needs to be done. I just get an automatic reminder to do one small task, and that small task is easier to fit into my schedule.

      Of course, I haven’t actually managed to *send* out real Christmas cards in about three years, so take it for what it’s worth. One of my favorite quotes (I’ve found it attributed to multiple people) is: the difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is no difference, but in practice, there is.

  4. joann28

    Very much a JIT person. I wonder if it goes along with linear thinking: if I plan out a project ahead of time, that planning time is ultimately wasted, because by the time JIT has arrived, the original plans aren’t what I want to do. I always spend more on plane tickets and conferences because I can’t see my way to committing in time for cheaper rates. Of course, JIT may just be a justification for procrastination . . .

  5. Mary Thorpe

    I am also a list person, partly because middle age has left me more likely to forget something in my crazy schedule. I do JIT for many things, but not for groceries, mostly because I hate running out to the supermarket at the last minute for that one ingredient I am missing. The food thing has gotten easier, mostly because we are empty-nesters now. I have a nifty check-off list for groceries on the fridge (http://www.knockknockstuff.com/catalog/categories/pads/kk-pads/all-out-of-red-pad/) and each week I take a look to see what kind of proteins are in the fridge(starting point for planning the menu or the week), make up a list based on cooking five or six nights in the coming week,, add what I need to the list, and i’m ready to hit the supermarket (on Tuesdays, since that’s 5% off for those of us who are 60+). I try to do the coupon thing, but since I usually buy house brands – same quality, cheaper price – I don’t use all that many of them. Once every six weeks or so I make a Costco run for stuff like paper goods or vast quantities of oatmeal or honey nut cheerios. This generally seems to work for me, and I’m usually lightly scheduled on Tuesdays. I do not know how those of you with kiddos manage it. Other things that are not JIT for me: sermon prep, writing for my DMin, scheduling dr appointments (did I mention I’m middle-aged?). of course, the nature of the work means that I need to be flexible, whether I like it or not…

  6. seawalking

    yeah, I’m wondering about how that works in the church, especially a decently ordered one. I’m a JIT-er myself, in a plan-ahead world. I see the need for both, of course, so the trick is the blending.


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