The One Percent Rule
A Simple Principle for Continuous Growth
One of the most exciting and fun things about working in technology is the fact that things never stay the same and there’s always something new to learn.
Also, one of the most overwhelming, stressful, and yes, even maddeningly frustrating things about working in technology is the fact that things never stay the same and there’s always something new to learn.
Your cheese is constantly being moved.
So how do you manage the constant stream of change? The constant need to learn a new programming language? A new library? A new framework? A new design pattern? A new tool?
How do you keep up without going crazy?
How do you sustainably grow in your craft?
Previously, I’ve written about the fundamentals of the craft, which can help form a foundation for growth. And, I’ve shared one of my favorite techniques to help manage the time needed to learn.
So while I’m at it, here’s another thought:
Just try to get one percent better today than you were yesterday.
This idea is not very original. In fact, A lot has already been written about the “one-percent rule” all over the internet. I don’t want to repeat all of that, so here are a few of my favorite articles on the topic for further reading:
The 1 Percent Rule: Why a Few People Get Most of the Rewards
What I do want to do is share a few practical ideas for how to implement this rule as a technologist.
But quickly, why one percent?
First, it’s manageable.
Saying you need to learn C++, for example, is a good goal. However, it’s so broad and so overwhelming that it’s almost useless as a target.
But, saying you need to learn C++, then asking yourself, “what’s one tiny thing I can do to get the ball rolling on this today?” is useful. Maybe that one tiny thing is writing “hello world.” Or maybe that’s learning pointer arithmetic. It just depends on where you were yesterday.
Looking at where you were yesterday, and getting just a little bit better on any given topic feels a lot more approachable than tackling everything all at once.
Second, it’s powerful. One of the most impactful quotes I’ve seen on the topic comes from James Clear:
If you get one percent better each day for one year, you'll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.
Most of the impact and changes in your life don’t come from any singular, grand moment. They come from the tiny, incremental decisions and actions made day by day.
So with that, let’s consider an example of how this could look…
You’re a software engineer and your company is moving all of its infrastructure to the cloud. AWS (Amazon Web Services), for example. You’ve never worked in a cloud environment before. So everything is new.
Well, in this scenario, I might say to myself, “I’m going to get 1% percent better today by reading an article that provides an overview of all of the major AWS services.”
It’s day two now. Since I read that article yesterday, I now have kind of an idea of what AWS is all about in general. However, I’m still fuzzy on how my code and the work that I routinely do connects to it. But, I do know a guy in systems engineering, let’s call him “Bob,” that knows a lot about this stuff.
I say to myself, “Self, today I am going to get 1% better at my job by having a meeting with Bob and asking him how my team’s code utilizes whatever AWS products are relevant.”
It’s day three now. And now that I have a pretty good grasp on how our team’s code fits within our cloud infrastructure (thanks to that little chat with Bob yesterday), I wonder what else we could be doing with it? People keep talking about serverless computing, and I think we might be able to use this for our next project.
I start googling, and I come across AWS Lambda functions. So today, I decide I’m going to get 1% better at my job by researching Lambdas to determine if this feature fits our use case.
It’s day four. After learning a little bit about Lambdas yesterday, I think it’s worth investing a little more time into it. So today, I’m going to get 1% better at serverless computing by going through a tutorial and setting up a Lambda myself.
I hope you can see the thread here….
Take inventory of where you are.
Identify the topics you need to learn about.
Keep a list of those topics.
Look up relevant learning resources; books, videos, courses, and people you work with. Have those handy.
Execute. Find a few minutes in your day to make progress. 10-15 minutes could be all you need! Doing this within the first hour is a great idea!
You could take this and reduce it to a template:
“I’m going to get 1% better today at X by doing/reading/watching Y.”
In the morning, fill that sentence in. Write it in a journal. And mark it off when you did it!
In a few months, you’ll look back at all the things you improved at and feel confident, knowing that you. can. learn. That you can improve. That the big, scary, uncertain things that looked impossible just a few weeks or a few months ago are now completely within your grasp.
All by consistently showing up and doing just a little. tiny. bit.
J. Clear, “Continuous Improvement: How It Works and How to Master It,” James Clear. https://jamesclear.com/continuous-improvement (accessed May 15, 2022).