I used to be an ‘all or nothing’ type. I would only take on the all-consuming challenge. I would leave my bedroom until it was so messy that it took a whole day to clean up. If I needed to diet I would fast for a week. I believed there was no point doing something unless you gave it all your energy and attention. I never understood the hare and tortoise story – where was the fun in plodding on and on, a bit at a time? My school pencil case was adorned with the John Keats quote, ‘I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest’ and I had a T-shirt that said ‘No guts, no glory.’

Not any more.

It started when I became a mother, and my ‘free’ time was snatched in 5- or 10-minute chunks, often with no warning. Slowly, I discovered that you can in fact achieve a great deal in 5 minutes. And I discovered that ‘good enough’ is generally good enough. Now my son is grown, but I still use my 5-minute principle to get things (good enough) done.

In fact, I have come to realise that just doing a little bit each day towards your goal is much better than waiting until you can divert huge chunks of time to one project. It’s much less disruptive, and much more sustainable. It is also manageable, and much harder to procrastinate about.

I was reminded of all this when I was teaching some business students about how to ace their startups. Many of them were fearful that they couldn’t devote their time 24 hours aday to their new project, as they still had jobs, or were caring for young children, or whatever.

Little by little, I can see the changes. I like it. Tortoise is good.

And then I came across a couple of articles about continuous improvement at work, about how you only have to improve something by one-half of one percent each week, to achieve 26% improvement in a year. These articles then went on to do very clever things with maths and compounding and stuff, and conclude that this means you would double your performance or skill or productivity or whatever every 2.7 years. And apparently this also means (thanks to those very clever things with maths and compounding and stuff) that you would increase by more than ten times in ten years. It’s amazing, really…

So, what can you do 1/2% better this week?

Joanna Maxwell


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