Many times when we think about our careers, we think about the highlight reel: the promotions, the raises, the “Employee of the Month” awards.

But rarely do we think about all of the tiny changes that led to those huge accomplishments.

Entrepreneur James Clear points out the importance of “marginal gains” in an essay about the British cycling team. No one from the U.K. had ever won the Tour de France, until a new performance director came in and, one by one, made minuscule changes to everything about the way the team functioned.

The biggest takeaway: Many of your successes have less to do with “big moves” and a lot more to do with tiny things you do every day. As Clear notes, “It’s so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making better decisions on a daily basis.”

So, what does this mean for you? Try improving things in your professional life little by little—in fact, just by 1%. That’s all. Doesn’t sound so hard, right? But eventually, these microscopic changes make waves.

Not sure where to begin making micro improvements in your career? Here are a few things to try.


1. Read One Industry Article

You might not have time to sit down and read an industry blog for an hour every morning, but reading one or two articles seems a lot more manageable.

And you never know what you may find one of those days: Maybe you’ll get some creative inspiration for a project your company’s been working on or a different outlook on how to solve a persisting problem.


2. Do a Desk Stretch

Study after study shows how unhealthy it is to sit slumped over at a desk all day. Instead of committing yourself to a standing desk, simply try one or two easy desk stretches each day to help you start improving your posture and reverting any harm you’ve done to your body.


3. Send One Networking Email

You probably don’t have time to send personalized messages to every LinkedIn connection you have during a work break, but saying hi to one professional contact per day? That’s a far easier task. And just think—if you do this for every working day in a month, you’ll have reached out to hundreds of people over the year.


4. Organize One Email Tab

If you’re like me and have about 30 different email tabs and labels in your inbox, it sometimes feels like you’re sitting on a landfill of digital trash. Cleaning out a tab or two will make you feel lighter and cleaner, I promise.


5. Give a Compliment

No need to be outrageous, but give a compliment to one person in your office every day. Recognize someone for good work, or shoot your cubicle mate an “I really like your shoes” comment. It will improve relationships more quickly than you’d think.



While it’s important to be proud of your “highlight reel” moments, keep in mind that a lot more goes into those accomplishments than you think—and those tinier decisions are absolutely worth focusing on.


Photo of graph courtesy of Shutterstock.