Leaving Practice with Raw Hands

As I mentioned in my prior post: “The Pedagogy of Time Management,” there is a need for anyone who wants to improve their skills in this field to craft specific opportunities for structured practice.

Mark Needham’s summary of Talent is Overrated describes three kinds of practice from the book:

With regards to improving skills, three models are suggested for non-work related practice:

  • Music Model – Break down activity into smaller pieces; analyse each for ares of improvement; repeatedly practice each area. This is a useful approach for practicing presentations and speeches where we know beforehand what we want to do.
  • Chess Model – Study real games; practice the situations from the games; compare what you did vs what happened in the real game. This approach has been applied in business for many years, disguised as the case method.
  • Sports Model – re-learn the basics of the field; simulate situations that may come up in real life.

He goes on to apply these models to the improvement of software development skills in an interesting way:

I think some parts of each of these models can be applied to software development. From the sports model we can take the idea of re-learning the underlying principles of computer science and how our code is actually working behind the abstractions languages create for us; from the chess model we can take the idea of considering different options when we have a choice to allow us to select the one which will best solve our problem; and from the music model we can take the idea of identifying specific areas of improvement in our work and relentlessly working on these.

That’s cool thinking… and it makes me wonder how I can do the same with time management skills.

Ever since I created the NewHabits training programs I have wanted to include practice sessions – the equivalent of hitting shots from the driving range – but I have been unable to think of a realistic way to do this.

I’d love some help on this.  Is there a way to practice the 7 fundamentals – (Capturing, Emptying, Tossing, Acting Now, Storing, Scheduling and Listing) in a classroom environment?

Also, is there a surefire way for someone who wants to improve their skill in a particular area to focus on practicing that skill in keeping with the guidelines for deliberate practice from Talent is Overrated?:

  • Designed to improve performance
  • Can be repeated a lot
  • Feedback continuously available
  • Highly demanding mentally
  • Not much fun

I don’t think I’m the only one with this challenge, and from prior posts you might find that I have been struggling with this question for a while, and that progress has been slow.  Why?

Let’s look at some of the critical skills in Capturing:

– carrying something to capture with at all times

– capturing manually, instead of using memory

– maintaining a backup strategy

At one point, I have imagined an elaborate real-life case study in the middle of my live programs, in which a manufactured crisis results in participants having to use these three skills.  One fantasy involved a fake fire-alarm, mysterious phone calls involving elaborate instructions and a rapid response requiring information that had to be successfully captured in order to be used.

What I was thinking…???

I also am not a great believer in “analogy” learning exercises… for example, showing the importance of Capturing by going out to a ropes and logs course to do physical activities that teach similar lessons.  There is a certain physical motion required to Capture, and it’s this action that must be practiced… (Michael Jordan didn’t practice passing a basketball by playing soccer.)

The difficulty seems to be that it’s devilishly hard to re-create the original events that trigger manual capturing in the average day.  (This is distinct from automatic capturing, which happens when someone sends you an email, for example.  It requires no action on our part.)

What are these triggering events?  Here are a few “cases:”

  • as you are sitting at your desk you remember to pick up the milk on the way home from work
  • during a meeting, your boss asks you to meet with a customer, and you agree
  • you decide to open a new Gmail account for personal email
  • you put in place a backup strategy for those moments (like a day at the beach) when you don’t have anything to write with and you want to remember to remove the chicken from the freezer when you get home, and to send email to the guy in accounts receivable the following day

Each of these events naturally leads to the use of one of the critical skills in Capturing.  Something must happen at that critical moment for the user to realize that this is an opportunity to practice a new time management skill.

As an aside — let me explain how that works in my training.  Each person evaluates their current Capturing abilities using a scale ranging from White to Green Belt skills.  Some decide to make an upgrade, and pick up new habits.  In other words, they decide to engage in a brand new practice in response to the usual events they face each day.  (Take my online Capturing Quiz to see what I mean.)

The question is, how do they know (in the heat of the moment) that this is an opportunity to Capture using a new habit (by writing down the new time demand on a pad of paper) rather than using their old habit of, for example, committing it to memory?

And, how do they remember to practice that new skill until it becomes a new habit?

At this time, all I can think of is that they can engage in a form of visualization, in which they picture the event happening and their new, preferred response.  It might require a short definition such as “when I commit to a time demand in a meeting I immediately write it in my paper pad.”

Also, they could get a colleague or their boss to help them recognize and point out those moments when they say things like:

  • “I forgot / didn’t remember”
  • “I was too busy”
  • “I didn’t have enough time”
  • “I had too much to do”

These might be indicators that an error in Capturing took place.

They could also look for themselves to see the times when they don’t capture well, and time demands fell through the cracks.  I imagine something like a Crack Score to be kept by an individual who tracks the number of time demands that fall through the cracks each day, and some record of the source of the error.  In some cases, it might be traced back to a fault in Capturing.

While you may read this and think to yourself, “I would never bother with all that!” you may want to take note of the message of Talent is Overrated as related by the Fundamental Soccer blog:

2) Deliberate practice can be repeated a lot. High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts. Tiger Woods may face that buried lie in the sand only two or three times in a season, and if those were his only opportunities to work on that shot, he’d blow it just as you and I do.

Repeating a specific activity over and over is what people usually mean by practice, yet it isn’t especially effective. Two points distinguish deliberate practice from what most of us actually do. One is the choice of a properly demanding activity just beyond our current abilities. The other is the amount of repetition.
Top performers repeat their practice activities to stultifying extent. Ted Williams, baseball’s greatest hitter, would practice hitting until his hands bled. Pete Maravich, whose college basketball records still stand after more than 30 years, would go to the gym when it opened in the morning and shoot baskets until it closed at night.

Talent is Overrated is unambiguous on the point — if you want to get better, then deliberate practice is THE “secret sauce” that high achievers have been applying behind the scenes in order to accomplish the amazing goals that we so admire in ALL fields.

Time Management is no exception, and the widespread mediocrity that passes for acceptable performance around the globe, in virtually every workplace, will only be reversed with a commitment to deliberate practice.