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Turn Every Day to Gold with The Law of 1

How to guarantee progress — even on your day off

By Justin BoyettePublished 6 months ago 7 min read
Turn Every Day to Gold with The Law of 1
Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash

Have you ever tried to get good at doing laundry? Let me tell you a story. The year is 2002. The 1st Extreme Ironing World Championship is underway. Yes, you read that correctly. Competitors are tasked with ironing clothes in challenging environments — floating down rivers, high in a tree, and on a climbing wall — graded on speed, how they managed their settings and their ironing prowess.

Overstimulation isn’t a new concept, but it is a newer consequence of a life turned digital. I fear our brains are growing smooth.

What if I told you there was a stupid simple way to guarantee progress — and all it takes is writing a one-task to-do list every day.

My hack for seizing the day and accomplishing more is to only focus on doing one thing per day. Crazy, right? I thought so too.

Ryan Holiday, author and leader of the modern resurgence of Stoic philosophy, has only three things on his schedule per day. If he needs to do more, he simply moves the activity to a day where he doesn’t have as much scheduled.

Keeping a three-item daily schedule helps narrow your focus toward the higher-impact tasks. Prioritizing your attention is the simplest way to work smarter.

I like this but let’s turn the knob to one

James Clear details a story in Atomic Habits that goes something like this: The British cycling scene sucked for over 100 years until they hired a new performance director, Dave Brailsford.

Brailsford’s strategy was dubbed “the aggregation of marginal gains.”

The British would swiftly proceed to be knighted champions in dominating fashion — winning 60 percent of all gold medals in 2008. The following year, the cycling team set nine Olympic records. And seven world records.

Holy shit. What changed?

Instead of trying to make a major improvement by developing a better racing bike, the team focused first on which seat was the most comfortable. Instead of preparing the perfect meal for race day, every individual rider was assessed for which pillow and mattress combination would lead to their best performance.

By making marginal 1 percent gains, the results are cumulative and drastic.

Narrowing your focus on individual processes allows for a higher functioning system. It also serves to isolate variables. That just sounds like better science to me.

I am now convinced that this method is the only way forward.

How to use “the aggregation of marginal gains”

Focus on making 1 percent improvements to your own work.

This could be something simple, like optimizing for the time in your morning routine. Maybe you’re like me and can’t fully get into your work without downing a cup of coffee as you wake up.

Instead of making coffee in the morning, set up your machine (or if you’re a cool person who has a pour-over, set your grounds and materials aside at the ready for you in the morning. If it saves you five minutes in your morning routine, that’s time that could be spent elsewhere — and in a better fashion.

There are an infinite amount of processes in your daily life. Find one to optimize. Rinse and repeat.

A simple 1 percent

My newest marginal improvement has been to improve the feel and sound of my spacebar.

I’ve mentioned my mechanical keyboard before.¹ Easily the greatest purchase of all time.

But what I left out of my writing was just how crunchy my spacebar sounded. The rest of the board sounded great.

The fix was twofold: I lubed the stabilizers and switch (the mechanisms by which either a pleasant or hellish sound is created per button press) and filled the interior with paper and tape.

The result is a sound that’s less clicky and more thocky (industry term), thuddy, and deep — everything I want in my keyboard’s sound design.

And while this marginal gain might not have a direct relation to the speed of my typing, making this quality-of-life improvement has already enhanced my typing experience.

The sound of my spacebar is now more satisfying than ever. And there’s an added degree of reverence given to what we can make with our hands.

A more complex 1 percent

Marginal gains can take more complex forms, like optimizing for faster Medium article releases by cutting back on the degree of editing you do for each article.²

In the very beginning, I’d spend too much time trying to properly outline each idea before trying to write it. I’ve found this tedious and slow, and often when I’d write, I’d stumble on ideas I hadn’t thought of the first time around.

The solution was to just write — and think in real-time. Nike that shit.

No matter what your processes are, the most important thing is to take stock and see where you can improve. This requires you to spend time paying attention to how you accomplish tasks and will take time to develop satisfactory solutions.

Clear writes:

Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero. What starts as a small win or a minor setback accumulates into something much more.

Now, here’s my law of 1 that guarantees progress every single day

Instead of focusing on optimizing a part of an individual process, I try to accomplish 1 task per day. This can be anything as trivial as cleaning a sink or writing a chapter in a book.

The rule is this: under any circumstance, do something today.

Scale and impact don’t matter. This law is about momentum and its preservation.

As long as I am able to keep pace with the one intended thing, I am able to make progress. And that pace is easy enough! It almost seems harder to not do one productive thing per day.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other tasks I perform on any given day. This method just allows me to:

  • Make perfectly clear of the day’s priority, and
  • Allow myself room to allocate enough attention to my one action item

In practice, I usually create my one-item to-do list with a higher impact task, like writing an article. I think of higher impact tasks as ones that will provide me the most value over time — not on how strenuous the activity is, although in your practice that may be a good consideration.

Keeping my mind on one track gives me perfect clarity in my day.

I’ve found that if I occupy my thoughts with too many objectives, my decisions take longer to make, and achieving a state of flow is more difficult because my subconscious is stuck thinking about other tasks.

However, I’ve found that this clarity is only possible if I’m able to set my intention beforehand.

Intention is everything

We’ve all woken up a few minutes before our alarm. When we set the intention to wake up at 7 o’clock, we are priming ourselves to complete that behavior, making it easier to rise early.

When I write articles, I generally have their base concept in mind a day or two prior to getting a draft completed. The night before I intend on drafting, I tell myself tomorrow, I’ll write my article about doing more with the law of 1.

Then I drift off to sleep.

It’s through this inner monologue that I prime my brain to begin developing the concept further. I urge you to do the same.

You’ll find that the next day, easing into the day’s golden task is frictionless, and your ideas about how to solve problems related to it come easier, compared to having not put your mind at work the night before.

So, set your intentions, prime your brain to hone in on the one thing you’ll wake tomorrow to do, and work with a clarity and fervor like no other.

Extreme Ironing is an ongoing sport, and however ridiculous it may seem, its competitors take it seriously. Everything from their movements to the very board they iron on is accounted for. But each gain was taken one day at a time.

Disclaimer: This article was originally posted on Medium.

Here's a link to the original article:

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About the Creator

Justin Boyette

4x Top Writer on Medium. Telling interesting stories from life's ordinary moments.

Writing about learning, organization, and erudition.

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