How continuous improvement can increase your effectiveness

Recently, I realized that my work space and general living space was messy. The thought of cleaning and arranging everything at once seemed overwhelming. I noticed the clutter was not conducive to creating a studious environment, and this was affecting my productivity. Luckily, I’ve been reading about Kaizen and applied it to get the results I wanted (a tidy living space).

Kaizen – the practice of continuous improvement over time to produce big results

The approach of continuous improvement is simple: find small things that can be improved and work on consistently improving them, and over time they will yield big results.

In my case, I decided I would start by arranging and organizing small sections of my apartment. Cleaning entire rooms was overwhelming so I used ‘baby steps’. Once I completed a section, I did something else. A week of continuous small cleanings later, my room was as organized as books in a library.

In 2010, the General Manager and Performance Director, Dave Brailsford, of the British cycling team implemented the principle of aggregation of marginal gains (Kaizen) to optimize the performance of his cyclists. He implemented many small improvements such as:

  • optimizing the nutrition of the cyclists
  • optimizing the training program of the cyclists
  • using custom pillows and mattresses (uniquely designed for each cyclist) at each hotel the cyclists stayed
  • using the most effective massage gel
  • teaching cyclists how to wash their hands to avoid getting sick

Though these were small changes, they effectively added up over time, and won the British cycling team the gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Games. The team dominated the competition by winning 70 percent of the gold medals.

The graph below illustrates that a 1 percent daily improvement can greatly increase performance over time. It might be assumed that a 1 percent change is linear, but in reality a consistent, continuous 1 percent change is exponential. It’s important to note the 1 percent degradation line changes exponentially as well.

CI graph

When we compare the difference between the two lines, we see that as time progresses, performance will be much greater for someone on the 1 percent improvement line compared with someone on the 1 percent degradation line. In terms of competitive sprinting this could be the difference between running 100 meters in 10 seconds and running it in 10.5 seconds. The work needed to shave 0.5 seconds off could be attributed to the aggregation of marginal gains. This makes the difference between a world champion sprinter and someone who ‘runs fast’.

How can you leverage this on a personal level?

Trying to over-haul one’s entire life overnight can be exhausting and often leads to frustration and failure. Instead, start small. At night before you go to sleep, write down one small thing you would like to improve the following day. This could be something as small as:

  • drink 1 less cup of coffee (to reduce jumpiness)
  • 5 minute ab work out (to increase fitness)
  • eat 1 less snack (to eat healthier)
  • read 15 minutes of new research on your field of expertise a day (to gain expertise)

If you’re working on building certain skills, pick a few and work on them continuously. Time will be your ally and help strengthen these skills over time.

Constantly search for ways to improve your personal and professional life. This way, assuming you’re improving by just 1 percent a day, you’ll be twice as good in 70 days.

What are some ways that you use to continuously improve your effectiveness? Share in the comments section below!

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2 Comments, RSS

  1. Samadhi Gunasekera September 9, 2016 @ 10:56

    This is a great article! Please write about how to switch from being reactive to proactive.

    • Azfan Jaffeer September 9, 2016 @ 22:29

      Thanks Samadhi! That’s a cool topic, I’m on it.

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