In 2012, Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, while Team GB cyclists including Jason Kenny and Laura Trott bagged seven gold medals at the London Olympics.
The key to their success? A sporting strategy of marginal gains developed by David Brailsford, general manager of Team Sky and performance director of British Cycling.
What does this have to do with writing faster? Everything.
The Brailsford method works like this
Brailsford’s principle of marginal gains springs from the idea that, if you break down every little thing that might impact on a cyclist’s performance and then try to improve each of those things by 1%, you’ll see a significant performance increase when you put all of the improvements together.
Some of these things are obvious, like increased fitness, higher-tech equipment, smarter racing tactics and better nutrition. But Brailsford and his team also sought improvements in other smaller areas.
It’s inspired by heated trousers…
Cyclists spent hours in wind tunnels to find the best riding posture to reduce drag. They wore heated trousers before races to keep their muscles warm and ready for competition.
They even took their own pillows and bedding when they travelled to events to minimise the risk of illness.
These micro-improvements aren’t significant on their own. They might even seem trivial. But as part of an overall coaching strategy, the aggregation of these marginal gains has the potential to deliver a significant performance boost. It’s certainly worked for cycling.
Which begs the question: can you apply this theory to online article writing?
It’s about using ‘marginal gains’ to write faster
Taking Brailsford’s cycling model as a starting point, you’d need to identify every element of the article writing process. Big and small. There are some obvious ones that you can kick off with, such as: the headline, the first line, the first paragraph, your subheads and the conclusion.
There’s the readability/accessibility of your posts, the accuracy of the information, the spelling and grammar, not to mention the relevancy of the primary and secondary keywords that you’ve chosen.
If you’re using WordPress, there are also the basic metadata fields to consider, the URL slug, plus the categories and tags. To write faster you’ll need to factor in all of these elements.
It’s embracing the trivial things
Brailsford’s method is about looking at every aspect of a discipline, no matter how tiny. So to write faster, we need to do the same. So how you generate your ideas should be added to the list, as well as how you evaluate them and the content format that you choose to deliver them – i.e. tutorial, list post, case study, and so on.
HOW you write could also be optimised. Do you use an outline? Is that outline effective enough? How much time does it take you to write an article (and what’s slowing you down?) How much time does it take you to optimise an article before publishing it? And again, what’s slowing the process down?
It’s writing to technical death metal (or not)
Keep going… Think about WHERE you write and WHEN you write. If you write constantly, would you get more done if you wrote in shorter, more focused bursts? Or longer sessions? If you write to music, try writing without it. Or if you’ve always written in silence, see if working listening to an upbeat soundtrack makes you more productive.
What you write ON (i.e. a desktop, laptop, tablet, notepad) also needs adding to the list. As does what you write IN. I used to write in Word, Windows Notepad, the iPhone/iPad Notes app and Google Docs. But I’ve recently shifted to Scrivener and, occasionally, I type straight into Gmail.
Post-length could also be addressed. Long posts? Short posts? What will work best for you and your readership? There’s also the question of WHEN you publish. How consistent are you? What’s the best time of day to set your articles live?
It hinges on talent and commitment
Our list isn’t finished yet. There are still other elements to consider that might not seem immediately important. Like your health (are you getting enough sleep?), motivation, determination and ambition. These underpin everything else.
As does commitment. There’s no point having the talent to succeed but not the commitment. Commitment without talent doesn’t get you anywhere either.
You need both.
So the secret to success is…
“If you look at all the great champions…” said David Brailsford in an interview with the Independent newspaper, there’s a “burning desire inside them, to continue to compete, to continue to improve, to continue to go through all the pain and the hard work, the nutrition, the lifestyle, the sacrifices you have to make.”
“It’s not to do with anyone outside, it’s what’s inside them, they’re special in that respect. And if you haven’t got that, it doesn’t matter how much talent you’ve got, you’re never going to get sustained success.”
I’ve got my list. It’s by no means complete, but it’s a good place to start. Try making your own list and leave me a comment if you think anything else should be added to mine.
The next step in this cycling-inspired quest to write faster is to start making those small improvements. I started by looking at how to write a killer opening line…