The 1% Principle: How Small Wins Can Produce Big Yields

“Slow and steady wins the race” – English-language aphorism.

We’ve all heard the fable of the tortoise and the hare, the classic that teaches us to never underestimate an opponent. No matter how talented you are, hard work and consistency can still beat you if you’re cocky and complacent. Rationally, we know the hare will really beat the tortoise every time, because hares don’t suffer from laziness, complacency, perfectionism, or analysis paralysis. If hares ever had those traits, Mother Nature would have weeded them out ages ago. But as apex predators, humans have learned to outwit nature; and so, the point of the story is well taken. No wonder we’ve taught it for three thousand years.

When I ran a half marathon a few years ago, I decided my goal was to successfully complete the race, so I didn’t worry about my time. I just had to keep running (my time was 2:28—not fantastic—but hey I finished)! The same applies to work and life: steady work eventually completes a project. Consistent improvement pushes your team and company upward on the accomplishment ladder. And it doesn’t take much effort at all to achieve that improvement, if you do it daily.

A recent study extols the value of incremental progress through what the authors call “the small wins principle.” The researcher showed that workers are happier and better motivated when they can make regular accomplishments in their work, small wins that build to a larger collective result. It’s something I’ve seen in my own work, though I have a different name for it.

I call this the “1% Principle.” For me, it started when I recognized a trend in the evaluation forms my audience members complete after a speech or workshop. One of the questions asked is, “How much do you think this presentation will improve your productivity?” Typically, the response is enthusiastic: “Oh, 100%” Or, “50% easily.” While those are gratifying responses and very kind, they are incredibly unrealistic. I’d jump for joy if the real number was on the order of 5% or 10%. Think about it: a 10% increase improvement among a 10-person team would be the equivalent of having 11 people on your team, without increasing salary expense.

But here’s the best part: increasing your performance by just 1% per workday can, through the miracle of compounding, boost your productivity nearly 15 times over the course of a typical work year of 271 days. Not just a notable 15%, but a net growth of 1500%! You and your team would be a miracle of performance! Even if you boost performance just 1% a day without the compounding, you’ll still improve by nearly 300% in one year.

To work toward your daily 1% improvement goals, all you need is to do is set aside 15 minutes a day for improvement (which is approximately 1% of a day). Choose a task the whole team can share, then post your intent somewhere public. This keeps you accountable, because you’ve publicized your goals. Here are some example 1% goals:

  1. Brainstorm on how to improve a project.
  2. Watch a brief TED talk on a topic you can all benefit from.
  3. Share a useful article or two.
  4. Work on fixing a process.
  5. Memorize a new keyboard shortcut.
  6. Program a keyboard macro for repetitive tasks.
  7. Automate a process.
  8. Learn to use a new piece of technology or program.
  9. Make a call instead of emailing.
  10. Take one less coffee or smoke break.
  11. Learn a single cross-training task.
  12. Find shortcuts for your most common routes to and through the office.
  13. Shorten a meeting.
  14. Do something difficult before something easy.
  15. Take care of a matter through calls and emails instead of meeting.
  16. Finish a project a day earlier.
  17. Give a task you’ve been doing back to its rightful owner.
  18. Upgrade apps and programs.

You get the idea. What else can you add?

Small wins add up

Fifteen minutes a day working on improving something is certainly doable. Steady attempts to improve and increase productivity and performance will become part of team culture, and will inevitably result in a significant productivity increase if maintained. The results will be awesome and eye-catching.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland



  1. Many thanks Laura, great read and advice, always appreciated. – Barry.