1% Gains for How to Increase Productivity: The Ultimate Guide
by Kevin Evans — 6 min read
What does becoming more productive really look like?
One of the most popular posts on our weekly newsletter, Intelligent Tuesday, was an article by James Clear on the cumulative effects of 1% gains. In short, British cycling coach Dave Brailsford implemented 1% gains with Britain’s cycling team (from nutrition, the weight of the tires, all the way to how the athletes wash their hands to avoid infection). The goal was to win the Tour de France within 5 years. They won it in 3. THAT is efficiency.
What if we applied that same methodology to your productivity?
We recommend reading the following article all the way through. Once you do, we’ve created a gSheet which you can use for reference. Get the gSheet by clicking here.
The Minimum Effective Dose (MED) to Increase Your Productivity
The following three 1% gains will give you the biggest bang in regards to saving time and improving your mood throughout the day. Let’s begin here.
Should you get stuck, we always recommend scaling back your implementation a bit. Can’t meditate for 10 minutes/day? Try 5 minutes to start or try 3 days/week. You are still making progress! Baby steps, people.
Meditation - The Simple Dollar Team recently tested the effectiveness of meditation in regards to productivity. They found their practice saved them 41 minutes/day and improved their mood! Win and win.
Implementation: Try Tara Brach’s 10-minute guided meditation or Headspace. Both are great entryways to a long term meditation practice.
Time to Implement: 10 min/dayTime savings: 20-60min/day
Best for: Boosting mood
Use a schedule - It is a common feeling to not know where to start as you begin your work day. The Simple Dollar Team saved approximately an hour each day by switching from a simple to-do list to a proper schedule. If you have a clear plan in place for your day, you will work more effectively and reduce your stress.
Implementation: We are huge fans of Google Calendar. It gives us a clear overview of our day / week. Really, you just need to use a planner or app where you can see an overview of the time in your day. It will take about 15 minutes per day to plan your day (either first thing in the morning or the night before).Time to Implement:15 min/dayTime Savings: 30-90 min/dayBest for: Saving time
Use breaks:While this may not shave a lot of time off your work day, it is the ultimate mood booster. You may know that we are advocates of the Pomodoro Technique (more on this later). Taking breaks between tasks is vital to this technique - it leaves your mind refreshed AND forces you to move your body.
Implementation: Once you have a schedule in place for your day, strictly enforce the rule of taking a 5 minute break for every 25 minutes worked (if following the Pomodoro Technique™) or a 10-15 minute break for every 90 minutes worked (set a timer). This break should be away from technology and ideally something physical (going for a walk, stretching, yoga, etc.). Time to Implement: 10-15min every 90 minutesTime Savings: 10-15min/day Best for: Boosting mood & productivity
1% Gains - Beyond MED
Beyond the 3 MEDs above, the following 1% gains, regardless of whether implementation is easy or moderate, pack big mood and time saving results.
Buy an alarm clock and place your phone in another room before going to bed.It’s so tempting to browse Instagram or quickly check your email right before bed. It is, however, a slippery slope and you will likely find yourself surfing aimlessly, hours later. This also messes up your sleep cycle, as the blue light emitted from your screen can restrain melatonin production and throw off your circadian rhythms.
Implementation:Buy alarm clock and place phone in another roomTime to implement: 10minTime Savings: 10-60min/dayBest for: Boosting mood
5A.Optimize your sleep:When was the last time you bought a new pillow or mattress? Do your blinds block incoming light from windows? Have you considered how your temperature impacts your sleep? Research shows the optimal temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees fahrenheit / 15.5-19.4 degrees Celsius. Getting a good night's rest is the best thing you can do for your health and productivity. 5B.Stop using technology at least 1 hour before bed:Step #4 is the first step to undertaking this larger technology overhaul. By powering down our electronics sooner, we’ve found we fall asleep quicker and have a more restful and rejuvenating sleep. What you gain is better focus for the next day.
Implementation: Set a timer 1-hour prior to going to bed to remind yourself to turn off electronics. Sleep with your with phone in a different room or put it on Airplane Mode if you are travelling without your trusty alarm clock.Time to Implement:<1minTime Savings: 10-30min/day (increased morning focus)Best for: Boosting mood
Organize your files.This article by Asian Efficiency provides a brief, yet comprehensive, visual guide to organizing your computer files (apply the same methodology to gDrive, Dropbox, etc). Looking for files = wasted time
Implementation: Read article & organize your filesTime to implement: Variable depending on your current file structure and volume of files - schedule a few sessions into your calendar.Time savings: 10-60min/weekBest for: Saving time
7A. Write a list and take care of the little “sighs” that chronically annoy you.Are you constantly looking for your keys? Is the toilet handle a bit loose? Trouble finding a matching pair of socks? These daily annoyances add up. They take our focus away from the bigger things. If you are starting the day with limited bandwidth, these tiny annoyances can make all the difference.
Implementation: Take 30 minutes to go through your home with a notepad and pen. Write down all the things that annoy you or are not working properly.Time to implement: 30minTime savings: -30minBest for: Boosting mood & Saving time
7B. Implement one action a day from the list you created above.Look at the list you created in #7A and choose the easiest annoyance to eliminate and then implement your plan. Do this every day until you significantly reduce your list.
Implementation: Eliminate 1 daily annoyance from your list per day.Time to implement: 5-60minTime savings: 10-60min/weekBest for: Boosting mood & Saving time
Eat high quality food: Feeling the mid-afternoon slump after you return from lunch? What if you could come back without the lull? Garbage in, garbage out. We find when we consistently eat healthily, we only take a slight dip in energy in the afternoon. Avoid refined sugars and processed foods as much as possible. Focus on plants and clean meats. Keep healthy snacks nearby if you find your energy levels dipping.
Implementation: Grocery shop for healthy snacks, lunches. Start by throwing the junk food in your house away. Time to implement: 30min+Time Savings: 30minBest for: Boosting mood
1% Gains - Advanced
Becoming more productive is ultimately about effectiveness. This means you work on high priority tasks - tasks that really move the needle on your long term goals. It also requires you use that time on your most important tasks efficiently. The following two productivity gains are more advanced, but once mastered, will take your productivity to the next level.
9A.Make a list of the Most Important Tasks for your profession: Days can easily get eaten up by meetings, email, and putting out countless fires. While using a schedule is often a quick fix to solve many of these issues, it may not be enough. The key is to leverage at least one task every day that will advance you in your profession.
We will use a business example to highlight tasks that move the needle forward:
Nurturing key business relationships
Developing new products
Expanding into new markets
Focusing your marketing efforts
Closing lucrative deals
Developing an industry leading innovation
What is it for your profession? Odds are, nurturing key relationships (whether your boss, manager, and/or with people within your industry) should be high up on the list.
Implementation: Make list.Time to implement: 30minTime savings: -30minBest for: Saving time
9B.Block out at least 30 minutes to implement one of the items on your list from #9A. Start small by focusing on one action that will move your career/business forward. As you look over your schedule for the day, ask yourself, does it include at least one M.I.T. from above? How many tasks are urgent, but not that important in the long run?
Implementation: Devote 30min to one of your MITs Time to implement: 30min+Time savings: ?Best for: Saving time
Time-Blocking: Time blocking involves dedicating a predetermined amount of time to a single task without distraction. To follow the standard Pomodoro Technique™, set a timer and work for 25 minutes followed by a 5 minute break. Change the intervals of time you work in to optimize your personal workflow. Perhaps you work for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. Maybe it’s 45 minutes or even 90 minutes. The goal is to notice when your focus starts fading and your productivity begins plummeting. This will take some experimenting before you begin knowing your optimal block of time before needing a break.
Implementation: Experiment working in intervals. Try 25min work/5min break, 50min work/10min break, etc. Time to implement: N/ATime Savings: 10-45minBest for: saving time
Once again, you can grab the gSheet as a reference, which contains all the above actions + times by clicking here.
Start with ONE action and make your way through the list. Rome wasn't built in a day.
If you find yourself stuck on one, skip it for now and move to another you can tackle.
P.S. Are there any 1% productivity gains we left out? What have they been for you? Leave your reply in the comments.
A single day off has the power to rebuild you, recenter you, and reconnect you with your purpose. Here’s how to spend your free time to regain mental and physical stamina you need in order to become the best version of yourself.