As a business owner, I don’t have a boss or anyone to tell me what I should be doing. I rely on what I know I must be doing to ‘push the boat forward’. And it’s not always easy to know exactly which tasks are the ones that will bring more benefits. There are two methods I consistently use to help keep me on course.
The Marginal Gains philosophy was developed by Sir Dave Brailsford in an attempt to help British cycling win more medals in Athens 2004. Before that British cycling’s results had been inconsistent and rare. By 2012 Bradley Wiggins, under Brailsford as the Head of Great Britain Cycling team, became the first Briton to win the Tour de France.
The core idea of Marginal Gains is to break down huge goals into attainable objectives and focus on each area of the task at hand, making it better by one percent. So what Brailsford did was look at all the aspects of the cycling sport and try to increase performance by improving the smallest things.
From the comfort of the bicycle seats, to what the athletes ate and at what time, the training regimes, the sleep cycles and the pillow’s comfort, etc. Brailsford focused on improving as many aspects of the activity as he could and together, these improvements gave the marginal gain that eventually won Great Britain many gold medals.
James Clear, habits and productivity expert has a lovely video about this:
The marginal gains process can be divided into three: Identify, Analyse and Develop.
- Identify the key areas to focus on for improvement.
- Analyse and deconstruct the task to create small improvements in performance.
- Develop an actionable plan to consistently implement your improvements.
This concept is very similar to Kaizen, the Japanese philosophy of continual improvement. The actual word means ‘changing for better’ and it was largely used as a business practice in Japan after WWII and the afterwar reconstruction efforts. As a process, kaizen focuses on daily improvements and encourages people to propose improvements in the workplace.
Along with my business partner, I decided to use the concept of marginal gains in the daily running of the business and this is how we do it:
Every Monday, we write the Key Result Areas. These are the broad results we would ideally want to see at the end of the week. Then we write the outcomes, which are the specific tasks and actions we would like to complete that week and that support the KRAs.
On Friday afternoon, we do a weekly review. Here we write what we actually achieved during the week. If we achieved Monday’s goals, then we know we need to challenge ourselves more the next week, but if we didn’t achieve them we ask: why not?
We discuss the blocks and obstacles we faced and why we couldn’t overcome them. Was it a block around cold calling? Were we procrastinating about an important task? If so, why? What were the fears or worries that crept in?
Once we have discussed and talked about the week, we write how we are going to overcome the obstacles next week. So we create an actionable plan that will help us not trip on the same issues.
“1% better every day means that after year one you would have grown by 365%. Imagine what that could mean for your life.”
This is our ‘download’ of the week and it helps us both keep on track with our progress and help each other out if one of us is struggling with something. This weekly ritual also keeps the partnership strong as we know what the personal weekly journey has been for both of us.
This one is my favourite because in the ‘Friday analysis’ we can really see how we can create small improvements going forward.
I’ve created a free printable ‘Marginal Gains’ template that we use in our business every week. Click here to download it.
I also use this principle personally. Every week I do a self-assessment and write the things I could do to get closer to the person I want to be. If I feel I want to listen better to people, then I make a note of that and create ‘reminders’ around my home so I can be more aware of it during the week.
Whatever you want to achieve, remember: Break down the goal into the smallest tasks; Analise how you can improve on that task; Create an actionable plan that you can consistently do and make sure to keep tabs on your weekly progress.
“Growth and strength come only through contionuous effort and struggle”
Diana Simpson Hernandez
Designers for Humanity