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Micro Improvements, A Progress Report

by David Brock on January 25th, 2018

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve become very interested in the concept of Micro Improvements.   I’ve written about the concepts in these posts:  Plateauing  and The Importance Of Small Changes In Improvng Performance.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been using myself as a guinea pig in making micro improvements in my own performance.  It’s been a fascinating journey–both in the improvements I’m seeing and what I am learning in the process.

I thought I’d give a progress report.

In one of those past posts, I mentioned I have implemented an adaptation of the questions Marshall Goldmith poses in Triggers.

I track myself on 20 items every day.  I score each one on a scale of 1-10, but I never allow a score of 7 (I consider that the wimp-out score–not too good, not too bad.)

The items are significant, in some cases.  For example, “Did I do my best to set clear goals for the day,” and “Did I do my best to achieve those goals in the day?”  Some seem trivial, “Did I do my best to exercise?  Did I do my best to eat healthy foods?”  Some are deeply personal, “Did I do my best to express my love to Kookie?”

The impact has been profound.  Already, I am seeing important changes and improvements.  These are things that I may have been oblivious to, in the past.

Some things I’ve noticed:

  1.  I’ve become more conscious of what I’m doing every day–all day.  Just the act of reviewing these 20 items every morning, thinking about what I’m going to do on each has increased my focus and ability to achieve these 20 things that are important to me.
  2. I noticed on something interesting with items that seemed more “business/professionally” focused, for example setting and achieving my goals for the day.  During the week, my scores were 8-10 (I’ve always tended to be very focused.)  But during the weekends, my scores would be 1-3.  All of a sudden, I realized I define myself in terms of my work.  It’s a hugely unbalanced way to live one’s life.   I decided to change the way I defined myself.  For example, I set goals for the weekend.  They could have been “mow the lawn, clean out the garages.”  Or “go to a concert with some friends, go to an art exhibit.”  I had become unbalanced by defining goals in work/professional terms and not defining goals in terms of who I am–I’m more than my job.  That realization and recognizing that I could define and achieve different goals than just professional has had a profound impact on me.
  3. Maybe it’s me, but I start trying to “game” various parts items on my list.  For example, one item is:  “Did I do my best to minimize distractions?”  Another is, “Did I do my best to exercise?”  I tend to work in 60-90 minute sprints.  Then I need roughly a five minute break.  In the past, I’d hit some of the social media sites, mindlessly, look at news feeds.  All pretty mindless stuff, but sometimes 5 minutes would stretch to 10, then…..  I realized doing this was lowering my distraction scores and my goal scores.  Gaming them, I realized, “What if I do some quick exercises during those 5 minutes?”  Now I have a set of kettlebells in my office.  I’ve developed about 4 routines of 5 minutes each (there’s a cool app for that).  Or I do some quick pushups or other body weight exercises.  So during my breaks, I get 5 minutes of exercise.  My “gaming” the process to minimize distraction had me choosing to do something else important to me.  I’ve discovered all sorts of little things in “gaming” these issues.
  4. There have been some peaks and valleys over the past 2 months.  For the 20 items, my maximum score is 200–I’ve never hit it.  Good days, seem to be 170-185.  Every once in a while, I plummet, I’m at 100-120.  But I learn a lot about those “down days.”  Recently, I had about 3 down days in a row.  I had to figure out how to break the cycle.  I realized I had burned myself out.  On those three days, I had over committed myself, I was busy, but the busyness was turning into meaningless thrashing.  It wasn’t just a few areas that I started doing poorly, my inability to focus, increased my distraction, I didn’t exercise, I didn’t eat well, I was grumpy to Kookie, I was getting poorer at goal setting and not accomplishing my goals….  It’s fascinating that while many of these seem independent, they are actually very interrelated.  Doing well in a few, helps you do better on all of them.  Doing poorly in a few, takes you in a downward spiral in others.
  5. The peaks and valleys were illuminating.  I realized I was creating them and I was in total control.  Most of the time, in the past, the peaks and valleys happened and I wasn’t paying attention.  Now, I can’t escape it.  When I hit a valley, particularly two days in a row, I have to figure out what to do.  For now, it seems if I really concentrate on a few of the items, the others work themselves out—but I’m just experimenting, so I’m not sure.
  6. In recognizing that I had burned out, I realized it was OK, in fact productive, to set goals of “vegging out/chilling” for a few hours.  I also realized how hard it is for me to do that—it’s something I have to work on.
  7. Being “mindful” of these 20 items has made it tougher for me to find excuses not to do these most important things.  For example, when I travel, it’s easy to find an excuse not to exercise or eat as well.  Knowing that every day I’m scoring myself on “Did I do my best….,” makes it almost impossible to make excuses.
  8. The phrasing of these goals is so simple, yet so important.  We sometimes miss our goals, but no one wants to ever admit they haven’t tried to do their best at something.  Knowing that every day, I’m going to score myself on whether I “Did I do my best to…” on 20 items brings great clarity and focus.  The concept of trying to do your best keeps me stretching and pushing myself.
  9. The whole process only takes me about 5 minutes every day.  I do it first thing in the morning.  I review the previous day, scoring myself.  I don’t spend more than 1 second on each item, so it takes me about 20-30 seconds to score myself.  I found when I lingered, I was playing games with myself, “Did I do an 8, or was it a 9, or maybe a 10…”  My first impression is right.  If my immediate reaction is an 8, then that’s it.  I spend a few minutes taking in the whole picture of the previous day and comparing it to other days.  This sets me up to thinking what I need to do for the current day.  “What are my goals for the day, how am I going to make sure I achieve them, what might stand in my way, am I being realistic….”
  10. I think, also, that I am unconsciously raising the bar on myself every day.  To achieve, for example, a “9” today, is more than what I needed to do for that 9 a week ago.  I’m not sure I’m doing this, but since I’m seeing improvements in what I’m accomplishing, I sense that I may be raising the bar on myself.
  11. Bottom line, I’m accomplishing so much more and having more fun doing it  (One of my goals is “Did I do my best to be fully alive.”).

I’m constantly amazed.  This process is so simple and has had so much impact.  I’m still learning and experimenting.  I’m not sure that 20 is the right number for me.  Or that I have the right 20, a few of them are having less meaning to me.  I’ve committed to do this with the current 20 for 6 months.  Then I’ll reassess, the number of items and what each item is.

It’s a fascinating experience.  As I’ve mentioned, the changes are profound.

Try it for yourself:

  1. Choose some areas that you want to focus on.  I think there is a “magic number” for each of us, it can’t be too few, it can’t be too many.
  2. Phrase your assessment, “Did I do my best to…..”  It might be exercise, eat well, learn something new, or minimizing distractions.  It might be prospecting or engaging customers with value.  It may be coaching or engaging the people that work for you.  Identify a few things that are important to you.
  3. They probably shouldn’t be huge things like “solve world hunger,”  or even “making quota.”  but rather important to making progress in the day.  For example, what are the things you need to do every day that result in making quota.
  4. Everyday, score yourself on how you did on a scale of 1-10.  I prefer scoring the previous day in the morning, because it gets me thinking about today.  But you may prefer to do it in the evening.
  5. Do it religiously and commit to if for six months. Don’t let yourself skip–but if you do, leave that day blank–it’s an important signal.
  6. As you get used to it, start “gaming” it.  Start figuring out, “If I do this for this goal, will it help me with other goals?”
  7. Don’t worry about the scores and don’t fool yourself about them.  You will have peaks and valleys.

You’ll be amazed at what happens.

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One Comment
  1. Brian MacIver permalink

    Dave, I admire both your initiative and your dedication.
    You make me quid pro quo…
    Nothing as comprehensive, but it may help other self-employed people, like me.

    I chose Self-emp-loyed as the BEST way to offer Independent Consultancy, to pick and chose WHO I work with, and WHAT I do for them.

    But, it has a MAJOR drawback i.e. Feedback.

    In training I use extensive Validation and Evaluation Process. In Consultancy its ALL about MEASUREMENT. My MBA dissertation was “Performance Measurement & Management of the High Tech Salesforce”

    I preach Feedback.

    So, what about ME?

    Well, I use the Situational Leadership Model developed by Ken Blanchard based on Sit. Lead II.

    I have meeting, with Myself, set Objectives and Tasks against my measured Competences and Skills. I do also set goals, but that plays a BIGGER part in my TOTAL Life Business and Personal.

    So, far so normal!

    But…I have to hold Review Meetings with myself and USE :01Minute Praising and 01:Minute Reprimands against my behaviours, and their outcomes.

    Expectancy Theory of Motivation fully Validates such behaviours, AND unlike Managers I KNOW how hard I ‘strived’ for an outcome, or How little I really did.

    So, my Praising and Reprimand are in line with my feelings.

    Keep on improving!

    At a recent Golf event I said, “there are truly only one of two outcomes from a Round of Golf: Satisfaction or Fatigue”

    ‘Satisfaction’ from playing as well as you could on the day, and ‘Fatigue’ from trying to hard and not accepting the golf you brought with you that day.”

    The best days, in Business, Life or Golf are when your Satisfaction is well deserved.

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