Continuous Improvement: How To Focus on 1% Progress

During World War II, there was rarely any time or resources to allow for significant changes in war equipment production. Instead of promoting significant, drastic changes to achieve desired outcomes, a USA war service (known as the ‘Training Within Industry Program’) recommended that organisations introduce small increments to improve their progress.

The increments were seen as continuous improvement designed for daily implementation. The essence of the method predominantly was used for improving the use of the existing workforce and technologies.

It proved to be a huge success and saved the U.S. manufacturing industry from a huge downfall. Post-WWII, economic reform took over in Japan, where the U.S. invited the Japanese to visit manufacturing plants in their country.

Upon return, the Japanese took the successful concept, adapting it into what’s known as “Kaizen”- The Japanese definition of ‘continuous improvement’. Automotive manufacturer Toyota is one of the top companies today that use this philosophy and apply it to their processes.

Whilst the Kaizen method was initially set up to and economic reform, this story can be used as a reminder that the small, consistent daily improvements are how we can improve in what we choose to focus our attention.


Kaizen teaches us to get 1% better every day by focusing on continuous improvement. 


continuous improvement_blake de vos
Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash


The Strategy of 1% for Continuous Improvement


A writer doesn’t get 100% better overnight. They get 1% better each day to reach their full potential.

An athlete doesn’t get 75% better overnight. They get 1% better each day to reach their full potential.

A musician doesn’t get 50% better overnight. They get 1% better each day to reach their full potential.

The philosophy of Kaizen bases itself on the ability to make small improvements over time as opposed to significant changes overnight. The 1% gains are incremental. More often than not, we set ourselves a goal and try to make giant leaps and bounds to achieve it in the quickest time possible. Theoretically, it sounds like a great idea, but practically, it brings burnout, failure and feelings of disappointment. I used to want to write a book in the shortest amount of time possible. But the reality was, I always felt too far away because my focus was on making leaps and bounds to reach an outcome, as opposed to making continuous improvements each day. The shift allowed me to start enjoying the process of learning and applying. Focusing on slightly adjusting your everyday behaviour and habits each day will give your mind a 1% focus, where incremental improvements are made.


Simple Strategies To Help You Improve Every Day


While an inundation of information can skew your thinking into trying different ways to improve every day, there are two simple strategies you can apply. 

1. Do more of what is currently working

Because we are continuously looking for that ‘inspired’ feeling that we get from learning and retaining information, we often forget that the solution to improvement lies in our small behaviours we apply every day.

Improvement: Increasing Muscle Mass. Solution: Lifting weights regularly.

Improvement: Writing a book. Solution: Sitting down to write each day.

Improvement: Have more energy. Solution: Eating a nutritious breakfast.

Improvement: Building a business. Solution: Focusing on the daily tasks required. 

The progress you make can lie in the underwhelming, often simple solutions. You need to do more of what works- and it’s located within your daily behaviours. You don’t need to consume more information to get to where you need to go. 


2. Progress By Looking Backwards

By setting goals, we are trying to predict our future. Opposites often attract, and if you measure your progress looking backwards, it means you make decisions on what has already happened as opposed to what you want to happen. By measuring where you want to get to, it can become unmotivating in realising how far you have to go. You become more annoyed, and it can create an feeling which can halt progress. 

When you measure backwards, the connection between what has already happened and your daily progression gives you the mental capacity and acknowledgment to either maintain your improvements or adjust to keep progressing. Here are some examples:

Weight loss: Calorie measurement. Did you log 3,200 calories yesterday? Focus on reducing your calories to 3,000 today. 

Getting fit: Running every week. Did you run an average of 2 kilometres per day lass week? Focus on running 2.5 kilometres this week    

Improving as a musician: Practicing the guitar. How many times did you practice the guitar last week? Three times? Focus on practising four times 

By measuring backwards, you build off what you have already accomplished. It leads to making progress each day. You get a vivid idea of what behaviours you can do today to make progress tomorrow. A goal worth setting is also a goal worth measuring. 

Focus On Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is steady progress. Focusing on small, incremental gains isn’t designed to change your life overnight radically, but over time, it becomes a life worth living. You become resilient, empowered, and unlock potential that brings you closer to your goals. The 1% of the progress we make every day is how we stay consistent and limit frustration, burnout and lack of progression. Focus on the 1% for continuous improvement.

Related: Plan Your Daily Routine To Help Reduce Burnout