About 6 months ago, I became obsessed with both the concept and power of making micro improvements. I’ve written about it several times, here are some articles you may find interesting: Plateauing, and Micro Improvements-A Progress Report.
Most of us focus on massive improvements we make over time, for example, “How do we improve productivity by 20%, how do we grow in ‘double digits?'” The concept of micro improvements is, how do we make small improvements in what we do every day. While it may be a fraction of a percent improvement every day, collectively after several months, you find you’ve made massive steps forward.
I’ve been using myself as a guinea pig for this concept. For the past 6+ months, I’ve tracked myself on 22 items, scoring myself on a scale of 1-10 each day. The items I tracked are uniquely personal. Things like, “Did I do my best to set clear goals for the day?” Did I do my best to help my clients achieve their goals today?” They went to the simple, “Did I do my best to exercise in the day?” “Did I do my best to minimize distractions?”
Everyday, I spent some time reviewing these 22 items, scoring myself on a 1-10 scale. I’d spend some time reflecting on the items, thinking about what I did, where I became derailed and where I might improve.
It’s been life changing. I’ve always been very focused and goal directed, so before I started this process, I felt as though I was accomplishing a lot. But, since I’ve started the process, I’ve seen huge differences. Some things I’m changing:
- I’m even more purposeful. I’m less concerned with busyness, but being busy doing the right things. I’ve always been very busy, but too often, I think I wasn’t focused on the things that were most important. Perhaps, like others, I’d find myself being diverted by the urgent, not the important. I find myself doing more on less (if that makes any sense).
- I’ve found myself learning more–both in what I am doing and how I apply it every day, but new things. It seems this whole process of introspection and improving your focus, is a learning process (well dughhh). But it’s caused me to be much more conscious and proactive about what I’m learning.
- I’m learning that it’s OK to “veg-out.” The majority of the items I track myself on are “accomplishment oriented.” For example, “did I set clear goals,” and “did I do my best to make progress on those goals.” Initially, I had them very job focused–what was I achieving for the company, building the business, or with my clients. Over time, there were other things, for example doing things around the house or in my community, or with the charity groups I donate my time to. But at times, I was struggling. I was finding that I just needed to “veg-out.” Maybe just go for a walk, or read a mystery thriller, or watch something on Netflix. Somehow, I thought veg-out wasn’t permissible, that I always had to be on. I felt bad about watching a Netflix movie or just doing nothing. But I realized vegging out is really important time. I need to decompress and get re-charged to move forward in achieving my goals. I learned/accepted that vegging out could be a goal I set for the day, and making progress on that goal was very important in my ability to achieve the other things I needed to do. Possibly, so far, this has been the most important thing I’ve discovered, and has had the biggest impact on the things that move me forward.
- I’ve learned that I’m tracking too many things that overlap too closely. For example, I was tracking, “Did I do my best to be fully alive,” and “Did I do the best to do things which made me happy?” I lost track of the distinction between these two, but everyday I was spending time trying to think about how these were different and what I was achieving on both. It started becoming a real distraction to what I am trying to achieve. Right now they seem to be virtually the same. As a result, I’ve reduced the number of items I’m tracking from 22 to 12. I think my list is as comprehensive as I intended it to be, but I’ve eliminated the overlap that was confusing and distracting me.
- I was doing my scoring in the mornings as I planned my day. Too often, I’d get distracted by what I needed to do, the meeting I needed to run to, the call I had to make, or running to an airport some place. I started finding myself rushing through the scorecard, not reflecting on the items and what I was doing. I’ve shifted to doing these in the evening. Usually in the quiet time just after dinner. I find I’m spending the time I need to reflect and learn from what I’m doing.
- I’ve changed my scoring scale. It was 1-10. I had set some rules, for example, I didn’t allow myself to use 7. I thought that was one of those compromise numbers–I didn’t quite do what I intended, but I didn’t not do it. I wanted to make things more black and white. I also found that I wouldn’t allow myself to give myself a 10. That’s just perhaps a mental block. But over time, I’ve been spending too much time thinking “Was that really an 8 or a 9,” or “Was that a 5 or 6?” I don’t really know what the difference is between those. As a result, I’ve changed my scale to a 1-5 scale. I’m giving myself permission to score things a 5 or even a 1, and being OK with each.
- I found myself “gaming” my own system. There was one time, I hadn’t updated my file in 3 days. I struggled to think back to those days to score them. All of a sudden, I realized, “Who am I fooling?” I learned something about that thought process, we often try to game things, when the only person we are gaming is ourselves. Needless to say, I don’t bother myself with that thinking any more. I have been pretty good, over the past 6 months, I’ve only missed 3 days.
I’ve learned a huge amount in this daily routine of looking for little improvements in things that I do. It’s made huge improvements in my productivity, performance, and in the quality of my life. I’m accomplishing far more than I have in the past, at the same time feeling less harried about those things I do.