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Practice: The Key to Constant Productivity Improvement

Practice: The Key to Constant Productivity Improvement

In the last post, we talked about how the key to constantly increasing productivity is the powerful but simple concept of taking time to think about how to improve.

But how do we decide exactly what to change? How do we implement that change? How do we know if our efforts are fruitful?

Luckily the world of sports and music has a lot to teach us: the process of continuing to grow and improve uses the same concepts that a tennis player uses to master a backhand and a musician uses to perfect a concerto.

Recent research has challenged our idea of innate talent and has shown us the value of practice. The experts in their field just don’t perform differently, they practice differently. Specifically, they practice deliberately.

Deliberate Practice

An article from Fortune Magazine sums up the points well. Here are the notable traits of deliberate practice:

  1. Deliberate practice is designed – and designed specifically for improvement.
  2. Deliberate practice is relative to your current level of skill. It isn’t too easy or too hard but stretches your abilities.
  3. It is very specific and very repetitive. Entire sessions may be devoted to only working on one thing, such as a basketball player shooting free throws again and again and again and again.
  4. Deliberate practice is mentally involved. You not only set goals (such as improving your free throws) but also a plan for how to reach those goals (working in this session on hand positioning). You are constantly evaluating your efforts while practicing.

Deliberate Practice in Your Life

This makes sense for musicians and athletes. They have hours and hours to practice for a relatively brief game or performance.

So how does this work in our lives? How can we use these concepts to make us more productive?

The principles are adapted slightly but still carry over well.

Single Objective

Determine a specific skill that you want to work on. Perhaps it’s staying focused while working. Perhaps it’s quickly replying to Emails instead of writing lengthy replies.

Focus on that, even if it means that other things slip a little. Maybe your to-do lists get sloppy while you’re working on replying quickly to Emails. That’s okay.

As long as your performance doesn’t suffer disastrously, it’s fine to take a little dip. Think of it as an investment: you’re improving your skills in other areas which will make you more fruitful in the future.

Self Observation

While you’re working on a particular skill, pay attention to how you’re performing. Don’t get to the end of the day to stop and think about how you’ve done.

Be obsessive about regularly pausing and evaluating yourself. I’m talking literally every few minutes or even seconds.

Think of it like training. You’re honing your productivity muscles, so it’s going to be a workout.

Carry On

After some time in doing this, you can stop obsessing over that particular skill. You should notice that your “practice” has made it easier to perform.

The behaviors you worked on should come more naturally and effortlessly now.

What are some things that you want to deliberately practice?

Photo Credit: david_jones (Creative Commons)

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