How to Improve Your Life 38X in a Year

If you improved your life 1% every day, you would improve your life 3778% within a year. That is 38X improvement within a year. 1% improvements over time add up. So, never ever underestimate 1% improvements adding up and compounding.

There are three types of 1% improvements.

  1. Quitting bad habits that have little marginal costs that add up over time.
  2. Improvements that have little marginal benefits that add up over time.
  3. Improvements that require a significant initial investment, but pay dividends over time.

Bad Habits with Little Marginal Cost

Smoking a cigarette won’t kill you. Smoking a pack a day for forty years can kill you. Watching a YouTube video takes ten minutes. Watching YouTube for an hour a day costs two weeks of your time over a year. Eating an extra desert won’t make you overweight. Eating that extra desert on top of your daily calorie requirements will make you fat over time. I’m guilty of all of the three above.

When you come across a temptation that has a little marginal cost, ask yourself what the long-term consequences would be, if you repeated that over and over. It might be OK to eat an extra desert and to watch a YouTube video now and then, but don’t forget the compounding effect of repeated indulgences on those temptations. If you have a bad habit that has a little marginal cost at a time, think about how much you can improve your life over time, if you quit it.

Improvements with Little Marginal Benefits

After experimenting with switching off the heating and letting it run, I realized that I sleep best if I turned down the heating 1 degree Celsius down at night. After experimenting with no coffee and a lot of coffee, I decided to stick with 2 cups of coffee in the morning. After experimenting with no music and heavy metal, I found out that listening to Baroque music while working helps me the most with concentration and productivity.

I hired an assistant who is helping me with cleaning my home once a week. That is more than 1% improvement as the work they are doing took one day of my free time every week. It’s a no-brainer to hire someone to do the work that you don’t enjoy if it is within your budget.

There have been times I didn’t exercise at all and my belly showed it. There have been times I worked out twice a day, six days a week, which was great, but my life was the life of an athlete. I have other responsibilities as well. Now, I stick to four workouts per week.

I bought two packs of Hickies to avoid binding the laces of my sneakers. That saves some time. Even though I have the MS Office Suite, I use LibreOffice to type in my blog posts. It has the auto-complete feature that helps me save time when typing.

Instead of buying and carrying bottled water, I bought a Britta filter pitcher system. Not having to carry those water bottles every time I go to the grocery store saves me a lot of time and effort.

1% improvements with little marginal benefits add up over time and make a huge difference in your life.

Improvements that Require Investment and Pay Dividends over Time

Getting myself a pair of high end, noise canceling headphones was one of the best investments I have made. That improvement pays dividends in improved concentration and productivity every single working day.

At work, I use Resharper when programming in C#. It saves me a lot of time and headaches by pointing out possible bugs in advance. Moving closer to my work saved me a lot of time as my commute to work is limited to twenty minutes a day.

I developed an Evernote system to keep track of all my one-time and repetitive tasks. It cost me a lot of time and trial and error, but now it is the only system I use. It requires perhaps fifteen minutes per week to maintain. It didn’t cost me any money at all, because Evernote is a free software. However that time investment was heavy. At this moment I’m more than happy with the results as it saves me a lot of time and headaches.

How Can You Improve Your Life 1%?

Now, look at your life carefully, how can you improve your life 1%? Here are some 1% improvements on my to-do list.

Change my bed. It’s the same bed for the last seven years and it wasn’t a very good one to start with.

Get a parking space closer to my home. In a way, it’s not bad to walk for ten minutes to the garage where I park my car, but I can save an extra ten minutes a day by parking somewhere closer or moving to a home with integrated garage space.

I need to find better investments than the savings account where most of my savings rest.

I need to find a service that delivers the grocery home. On average, I spend at least an hour a week on this.

If you look carefully, you will find at least a dozen 1% improvements in your life.

First look at the bad habits, that you want to get rid of from your life. Then look at the 1% improvements that wouldn’t require any investment at all, such as adjusting the music you listen to when you work.

The last step is to make those investments that require an initial investment that pay dividends over time, such as getting better equipment for work. Sometimes that equipment, such as open source software come for free. In some cases, you have to develop it yourself, which requires time investment. An investment, such as productivity software, has some initial costs, but think about the time you are going to save over the years and how much that time costs.

1% Improvements vs Essentials

If you have read my post on focusing on the essentials, you might think that 1% improvements might be contradicting with that post. If you look carefully, the 1% improvements provide significant long term benefits, which makes them essential. Buying a pair of noise-canceling headphones might seem to be providing only marginal value. However, if you look at the time I save and the improvement in the quality of my work over the life time of that product, it is an essential investment.

Finding the Optimal Solutions

Some of these 1% improvements involve finding the sweet spots, a solution between two extremes. Others involve cutting a habit entirely such as quitting smoking. It’s up to you to decide which path you want to take. Depending on the issue, you might want to take a sweet spot approach or the extreme approach.

Call to Action

  • What are the 1% improvements you can make in your life?
  • What is your plan to execute them?
Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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