Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

New Year – New Hat

As this new year begins, I think it’s time for me to wear a new hat.

I devoted last year, though not entirely intentionally, to learning about this new “industry” of full-time homemaking and mothering.  There was plenty to learn.  Just as I felt I was getting a feel for the job, we welcomed a newborn to our family in March.  Then, sleep deprivation became a bit of an excuse for me.  Perhaps it was valid.  Perhaps it was a way to hide my laziness in some areas.  Time passed – quickly – and the end of the year came with me just trying to get by, falling short in all kinds of areas of my new job, and feeling rather hopeless about getting things turned around.  I was still learning how to manage my duties with two little ones, and the youngest keeps changing the game as she grows and develops.  🙂

I’m not looking back at 2012 with a lot of guilt, but rather, a motivation to make things better.  I’m a process-improvement gal, anyway, right?  You know, a gal with a Ph.D. in industrial engineering focusing on quality.  Surely I can make things better – especially since I’m really the Chief Operations Officer around here.

When I  began work in industry, my manager told me to read books and go out “on the floor.”   The advice was good, though a little flawed since reading heavy books about rubber compounding could put me to sleep after a few hours, and I wasn’t sure where to start with my observations on the manufacturing floor.   Mix?  Calender?  Build?  Cure?  All of them?  I think the message I was supposed to get was how important it was to understand our processes, to see the challenges the operators faced, to grasp how our development changes in the materials may affect manufacturing.

When I worked in the semiconductor industry, I was in the clean room for a while every day.  I got to see how some of the test data were used in decision-making.  That helped me understand the purpose and need for the project I’d been assigned – and also gave me a better vision for the importance and application of my dissertation work.

So this year spent in observation hasn’t been a failure or a waste, but it’s time for something new.  It’s time for Dana to get out her Lean Six Sigma hat, roll up her sleeves, and start solving the problems that plague our home.

That’d be really simple if it wasn’t so deeply personal.  See, I’m the main source of the problems.  Bad habits.  Lack of planning.  Poor organization.  Lots of issues that have been hidden by a busy lifestyle for many years.  (I think the new hat should be a hard hat – so I don’t get hurt when I open the coat closet to try to declutter.)  🙂

So here’s to a new year.  A challenging year, no doubt.  But, hey, that’s one reason I went into engineering.  I like a challenge.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey!

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The Need for Strategy

I caught myself doing it again this morning – thinking about what I can do to use my technical skills on the side to earn some extra income.  I tend to have a flood of ideas from tutoring to consulting to teaching part time to baking…  The list goes on, and my thoughts fly from one to another.  And all of this before I’ve even finished my current job.  And, honestly, I was thinking on these things this morning after praying last night for forgiveness for this compulsion I seem to feel to have some plan in place to earn money.  I think this compulsion is coming from a few various sinful areas in my life – stubborn independence, pride (partially in that independence), and probably some insecurity, feeling I need to prove my value or contribution to our family in some way through a pay check.

This morning, my reading in Ezra and Haggai brought me back to reality a bit.

This is what the Lord Almighty says:  “Give careful thought to your ways.  Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord.  “You expected much, but it turned out to be little.  What you brought home, I blew away.  Why?” declared the Lord Almighty, “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.”  (Haggai 1:7-9)

Haggai is only 2 chapters, so it’s quick to read the whole book.  The message of the entire book spoke to me significantly today as we approach this new season of our lives, and I encourage you to read it, too.  The phrase in bold (above) is what stopped me for a moment, though.

Even if I don’t work outside the home in some capacity (or work at home for a profit), I will be busy in my own house trying to make improvements to our systems at home, trying to optimize efficiencies, build memories, coordinate schedules, teach the children, work on handcrafts, and likely many other things.  No, I’m not physically building my paneled home before the temple construction is finished, but am I losing sight of what my priorities really should be?  I’m not at all saying that being busy at home is a bad thing!  These verses are about priorities.  Who is coming first in my life?  Dana?  God?  Someone/something else?

In Six Sigma training, I remember being trained to help hold back a team from jumping to solutions when a problem appeared.   Six Sigma practitioners, known as Black Belts and Green Belts, are called such because of the discipline required to methodically go through the problem-solving steps of Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC).  I have emphasized again and again to my students the importance of that Define step.  If the team doesn’t really know what needs to be worked on and how it will help the organization meet its strategic goals, how can improvements be made?  I thought I was pretty good at this…

That is, until they were my problems I was addressing.  I find myself jumping to solutions to without first evaluating what is best and why.  Even worse, I’m working to solve problems that aren’t even problems yet.

Our main motivation for me leaving my job to be at home is to invest myself in our children out of obedience to what we feel God is leading us to do.

So then, why I am I spending so much time brainstorming these ideas that really center around ME, when our desire is to center our lives and our family around CHRIST?  (Sigh)  I told you I’m a work in progress…

It’s time for me to take a step back and seek direction through prayer, not my own ideas.  God has been so faithful to me over the years!  The greatest steps of faith He’s guided me toward have not made logical sense to me from a worldly or financial perspective (e.g. The time I resigned from my job as an engineer to go back to school full time.).  His ways are not my ways, and His are so much better!

In the days to come, may I be still and seek Him first to find what the Lord would have as our mission and strategy and only then may I set to work.

~Dana

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Domestic Engineering – Part III – A Sea of Inventory

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “Give the task to a busy person, and you can be sure it will be done?”  Have you found yourself in the midst of too much clutter (either physical or schedule-related)?  Do you have a tendency to procrastinate? 

First, let me admit that I’m naturally a clutter bug, a procrastinator, a bit lazy at times, and, well, I have a host of other issues to work on.  So, this is not a tried-and-true approach to how to improve your life.  It’s simply what I’m learning as I look at homemaking through the lens of operations management and engineering.  And, I think this illustration of a “Sea of Inventory” helps show why we often see the tendencies described in the questions above. 

These pictures are from my slides I created for my class to help illustrate this concept of inventory causing problems.  I tell my students that I can’t draw, and I’m even worse with a mouse for electronic pictures, so try to imagine these are people in the boat, not some kind of mutant sea turtles.  🙂

The water (extra inventory) hides the dangerous rocks (problems) below the surface.

The water (inventory) is deep.  The passengers have no idea that there are rocks below the surface that could wreck their happy voyage.  They are naive to the problems.   But, inventory is expensive, and the production problems cannot be solved if they are not first discovered.  If we lower the inventory levels, we may see this:

 

As the inventory level is lowered, the problems (rocks) are exposed and can be solved and managed.

As the inventory level falls, those problems are exposed!  While this may initially concern us, this is really the opportunity we need to reexamine how we do things so we can make improvements.
 

Once the problems are solved (large rocks are removed), we can lower the inventory levels (water level) even more and still have smooth sailing!

 
 So, in case I’ve lost you, let me explain how this is applicable in my home.   When I had some company over last month, I found myself much more attentive to kitchen chores (mainly dishes), primarily because I had to.  We have a set of 12 plates and bowls.  More than enough for a single gal or a couple, or even a couple with a small child.  We have excess inventory such that we can go a couple of days at least without having to run the dishwasher.  With four extra people in the house for a weekend, that wasn’t so much the case.  Inventory didn’t increase (I didn’t buy more dishes.), but demand did, lowering the inventory cushion (also called safety stock, if you’re interested).  I didn’t procrastinate like I usually do, and it revealed some of the problems with my current process (such as putting off washing the dishes). 
 
Another instance is surfacing with laundry demand increasing a bit at our house.  Again, less “cushion” of inventory, and I’m seeing the problems with the, in my case, lack of a system.  (So, the answer is not necessarily to buy more socks when the drawer is empty as I did in college…)
 
I see that this also applies to time.   One example relates to giving the task to the busy person.  If you don’t have a lot of “slack” time (meaning much of your time is scheduled), you likely develop better time management skills by solving the problems that arise (those big rocks) when your free time is diminished.  Also, if we have a “sea” of extra time, we can lose our focus on intentional living that keeps us focused on working on what’s most important to us.   
 
We can, however, also look at that busy schedule as “excess inventory,” being more activity than we need and hiding the problems of not prioritizing, of possibly avoiding problems and inefficiencies, and of trekking through life too quickly to really even think about where we’re going.
 
We need to be strategic.  Intentional.  And, then we need to live in a way that helps us work toward meeting those strategic goals.  This is something I’ll be working on in the coming months! 
 
I need to decrease our inventories of “stuff,” both to make room as our family grows and to find the problems that have developed without notice in my years of being single and developing this excess.  Problems such as my optimism in getting those scrapbooks compiled (I’m only about 13 years behind.) with no plan of attack, my attachment to gifts for the sake of them being gifts, my attachment to my high school chemistry notes and other probably unnecessary items that I think I will someday need and use…  The list is long.
 
My friend Amy at Raising Arrows recently posted on this being often a season of overindulgence and how learning to instead be hungry is a greater blessing.  I pray this season of advent and celebration of Christmas would be a time that we reevaluate our schedules, our lives, our “needs,” and most of all, our hearts that we might discover the sin that is easy to leave covered by the excesses in our lives and make changes, for His glory. 
 
~Dana
 
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