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Jun 27, 2021 / Personal Information

Using Marginal Gains to Save Time

Using Marginal Gains to Save Time image

Sir Dave Brailsford took over as Performance Director of the British cycling team in 2003. Shortly after, he implemented an approach of continuous improvement: the 'aggregation of marginal gains'. Essentially, this technique was dedicated to achieving marginal, 1% improvements across everything that went into cycling, from nutrition through to more obscure methods including developing hand washing techniques to minimise illnesses. No stone was left unturned. 

This mindset revolutionised the performance of the British cycling team who, between 2007 and 2017, won a jaw-dropping 66 Olympic and Paralympic Gold medals. 

The aggregation of marginal gains is a technique you can apply to your daily routine to save time and improve productivity. 

We do not have to revolutionise our routines overnight. Instead, 1% marginal improvements every day can allow us to transform our lives. There are strictly 24-hours in the day and therefore, it is important to first of all shift our mindset to managing our time more effectively, rather than saving it.

We've listed out our techniques below to get you started.

Plan your week and set out your goals 

Setting out time to plan the week ahead on Sunday evening is a great way to understand what you need to get done and what time you have available to you. Work, tasks, and activities can be prioritised.

Setting out goals, both short-term and long-term, will allow you to choose tasks that will help you to get to there. This is important when thinking about prioritisation. Another technique is to simply question why you are doing a specific tasks: is it helping you get to where you want to be or is it an unhealthy habit that is hindering you?

Kanban is a system that has been used to drive productivity in the workplace, initially with lean manufacturing and just-in-time production and then transferred to several disciplines, including agile software development. It can also apply on an individual level too, of which you can find out more here

Reduce time spent in meetings

Is your work calender jam-packed with meetings? We bet it is. 

Otter claim that 67% of us in the UK complain that work meetings hinder our productivity. Our meeting-rich work culture is wasting our time and costing firms in the UK over £50 billion annually. 

Here is a few ideas on how you can approach reducing time spent in meetings:

  • Cut down the length of meetings. For instance, reduce half an hour to 25-minutes and hour-long meetings to 55 minutes. 
  • Be strict on ending meetings when they are supposed to end. Too often we allow an extra 5 or 10 minutes, especially with video calls on platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
  • Only attend meetings with an agenda. If it is not resulting in clear actions at the end, it is usually not worth having.
  • Be comfortable saying no if you do not feel your attendence adds value.

Add 'focus time' into your work calender

What is focus time? Simply, it is time you have purposely set aside to focus. This should be added into your work calender to prevent any meetings being put in during this time.

The best time to schedule focus time is up to you! This will depend on your work schedule but it is important that this focus time is when you believe you are at your most productive.

Two hours daily is a sufficient amount of time but many go further and set aside whole days in which meetings are off-limits. A week may be structured where Monday, Wednesday, and Friday all have available time for meetings whilst Tuesday and Thursday are solely focus days. 

Cut down time spent on social media

According to Statista, the average Brit spends 109 minutes on social media per day. That is just shy of two hours. Imagine what you could get done in that time. This is not to say that social media does not have it's place. However, reducing the time spent on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms can free some time up to complete the tasks you've been wanting to do.

Stop multi-tasking!

We are all guilty of it: switching between tasks, procrastinating, and failing to finish off what we have started. Pscyhology Today reported that switching between tasks can reduce productivity by 40%. Sticking to a task through to completion is a far more effective use of our time.

There are various techniques to help, including the Pomodoro method in which you choose one task to complete, set a timer for 25 minutes, and then have a 5 minute break. Repeat this four times and then take a longer, 15 minute break. This helps us hone in on a task in a short and manageable amount of time. 

Plan your meals ahead of time

Planning meals ahead ensures that time is not wasted second guessing what you are going to eat each morning, lunchtime, and evening. Shops can be done less frequently and more cost-effectively too. 

Smaller, ad hoc trips are unecessary and often are a ineffective use of our valuable time. They have the potential to lead to unhealthy habits too; research shows that shopping when your hungry results in unhealthier, higher-calorie selections. 

Use any time waiting to your advantage

British people are famous for their love of queuing. It is time that we finally put all of this time waiting to our advantage.

Next time your waiting, fill the time with a task or activity to ensure it is not just wasted minutes. Ideas include:

  • Checking e-mails
  • Socialising
  • Meditating 
  • Reading
  • Listening to a podcast/audiobook

Wake up earlier

We all love our beds, but maybe a little too much. Waking up a little earlier than usual frees up more time to get things done. 

There are many techniques to make it easier to get out from under the covers, including:

  • Moving your alarm out of reach.
    • You will have to get out of bed unless you fancy listen to the alarm on repeat. 
  • Setting only one alarm. 
    • Instinctively, you will know you have to wake up or risk missing important meetings or events.
  • Using sleep tracking apps 
    • Apps, such as Sleep Monitor, track your sleep pattern and wake you up gently with their technology. 

Sir Dave Brailsford 

Sir Dave Brailsford, in interview with the BBC in 2015, said the following on marginal gains:

"The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.

"There's fitness and conditioning, of course, but there are other things that might seem on the periphery, like sleeping in the right position, having the same pillow when you are away and training in different places.

"Do you really know how to clean your hands? Without leaving the bits between your fingers?

"If you do things like that properly, you will get ill a little bit less.

"They're tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference."

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Published Jun 27, 2021 |


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