The big event is nearly here. Sunday will be when careers are made or destroyed. On Monday we will deconstruct the losers and build up the winners, showings the highlights over and over again. (Oh, and there’s a game to be played too.)
Kidding aside about what’s the bigger draw, the game or the commercials, both can instruct us about work. To get in the Super Bowl as a coach, player, or owner or get on as an advertising company, a company with a product to sell, or even the crowd sourced commercial winners, you have to be good at what you do. Good enough to do things like this…
That’s New York Giant receiver Odell Beckham making an incredible one-handed catch. It would be easy to say that this was luck, but further evidence suggests something else.
That first catch still seems great, but doesn’t seem as lucky as we see him practicing the same thing.
But what does this mean for you? What does a football catch tell us about productivity?
The preparations for that catch are an example of deliberate practice*, a familiar concept here are Productivityist. Deliberate practice is working on your key responsibilities in a way that improves them. A key responsibility for Beckham is catching a football, so he practices catching a football. Luckily you and I aren’t football players and deliberate practice is much easier to corral.
We are knowledge workers. We get paid to think. Engineers construct, writers argue, lawyers debrief, chefs fuse. Each of these – and an ever growing list of careers – involve a person bringing value by what they know and how to apply it. If you can improve what you know and learn to apply it better, you can increase your value. A carpenter can do more with more tools but needs to learn to use them first. The same goes for our mental toolbox.
Sometimes with productivity we get caught up with apps and tips and hacks to maximize our time but forget about what we are maximizing our time for. Reflect is a great service for reviewing Evernote notes only if you need to review those notes. Or take the example of what you eat. Both Ira Glass and Alexa von Tobel told Lifehacker that they eat the same thing each day because what they eat doesn’t matter. What matters is the time and decision making reserves they save. The time and energy they save by eating the same thing lets them be more deliberate in the things that matter.
Deliberate practice can help a knowledge worker by improving your work, by making work more efficient, and by focusing on the key parts of your work more.
For example, if you were a university professor what would you choose to focus on? In many cases it’s not teaching that gets rewarded, but research. Beyond this we can focus on what type of research, popular-science or groundbreaking? This depends on your university but it carries the point. You need to reduce your responsibilities to what is most important and practice those very important skills.
How do you practice them? Beckham probably started catching a football standing still using both hands, then running but still using both hands, and eventually running, jumping, and using one hand. That’s the same progression that anyone who wants to build skills can follow. You need to focus most on your key skills, stretch to the point of discomfort, and get smart feedback from wise people. It’s this formula that lifts you up from normal to great.
As you watch the game, think about this and how you apply it to your own personal capital. Football players don’t need to study social media, they don’t need to know about quarterly taxes, they ignore anything that doesn’t relate to football. What is your football?
*The term deliberate practice was in So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a great book that we’ve reviewed. The framework for stretching yourself to some discomfort, focusing on your key responsibilities, and getting coaching were also included in that book. The term deliberate practice was coined by Anders Ericsson and popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.