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”?