Margins Gains: A Powerful Mindset To Deliver Fantastic Results

Written by Fraser Stewart
Reading time 4 minutes
Margins Gains: A Powerful Mindset To Deliver Fantastic Results 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'. This technique seeks to achieve marginal 1% improvements across everything that went into cycling, from nutrition 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. Therefore, shifting our mindset to managing our time more effectively rather than saving it is essential.

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

  1. Plan your week and set your goals
  2. Reduce time spent in meetings
  3. Add 'focus time' to your work calendar 
  4. Cut down time spent on social media
  5. Stop multi-tasking
  6. Plan your meals ahead of time
  7. Use any time waiting to your advantage
  8. Wake up earlier

Plan your week and set out your goals 

Setting out a time to plan the week on Sunday evening is a great way to understand what you need to do and what time you have available.

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

Reduce time spent in meetings

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

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

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

Add 'focus time' to your work calendar

What is focus time? Simply, it is time you have purposely set aside to focus. This should be added to your work calendar to prevent any meetings from 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 this focus time must be when you believe you are most productive.

Two hours daily is sufficient 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 daily. 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 its place. However, reducing the time spent on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms can free up some time to complete the tasks you've wanted to do.

Stop multi-tasking

We are all guilty of switching between tasks, procrastinating, and failing to finish what we have started. Psychology 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 more extended, 15-minute break. This helps us hone in on a task in a short and manageable 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 you're waiting, fill the time with a task or activity to ensure it is not wasted minutes. Ideas include:

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 leave your bed unless you fancy listening to the alarm repeatedly. 

Setting only one alarm: instinctively, you will know you must 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.

A summary from 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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