Be The Michael Jordan Of Meetings

Serena Williams does it.

Michael Jordan did it.

John Coltrane most definitely did it.

Bobby Fischer too.

It’s the reason Wynton Marsalis can do this.

What do they all do? Deliberate practice. It’s the hallmark of virtuosos and commonplace in the world of sports, music, and chess, among others.

But what if you could become a virtuoso at your work? What if you approached your job the way an athlete approaches the olympics or the way a violinist approaches a concerto at Carnegie Hall? What if you were a truly world-class project manager, or copywriter, or web designer, or inside sales rep?

Just take a page out of Michael Jordan’s book and apply some deliberate practice.

What is deliberate practice?

As James Clear describes, deliberate practice is a systematic way of getting better at something. Deliberate practice includes:

  • Repetition. The goal is to build muscle memory and lay down strong neural pathways. That means you just gotta do it over and over and over.
  • Deliberate. You are mindful about the practice and have an intended outcome. There is something specific you’re trying to improve. You have a clear sense of what “better” looks/sounds/feels like.
  • Systematic. This isn’t mindless repetition. You have a plan. You’re breaking things down into their component parts, refining them, then building them back up.
  • Feedback. Maybe it’s reflection. Maybe it’s a coach. Maybe you record yourself and review it later. You’re looking for signals that tell you if you’re getting better and help you adjust your practice methods.

So how does a barista, carpenter, or HR manager use deliberate practice to become a virtuoso at their job? How might they use deliberate practice to make a better latte, craft a masterful butterfly joint, or run payroll faster?

Applying deliberate practice to your job

First you find a tension. What’s a tension? It’s something that doesn’t feel quite right at work. Maybe it’s an uncomfortable relationship with a colleague. Maybe it’s an overflowing inbox. Maybe it’s a project that missed its deadline. Maybe it’s a work process that feels clunky. It’s something that’s bothering you and you feel should be fixed.

Start there. Identify it. Name it. Describe it. And be deliberate about what “better” looks like. Write down what the world would look like if you could resolve this tension.

Now look at the activities that affect this tension… the things on your to-do list or your calendar. If it’s an overflowing inbox, then look at how your managing your emails. If it’s a difficult relationship, where and how do you interact with that person? These activities are your practice room and your performance hall.

Then get systematic and break those activities down. What abilities are involved? How confident are you in those abilities? What are the tools required? What are the triggers that cause the activities? Separate the component parts and think about how you can practice them.

Finally, think about how you can get feedback. Maybe you can ask a colleague to pay close attention to the number of times you say “um” in your next presentation. Maybe you can start tracking the number of emails you respond to each day. Maybe you can do a simple daily reflection before leaving the office. Find some way to pause and check your progress. If you’re getting better, great! If you’re still stuck, then adapt your approach.

CultivateMe is building tools that help you apply deliberate practice to become a virtuoso at your job. Things like reflections help you capture insight on your work. Concrete engagements let you capture and understand the activities of your job. And taking a selfie of your skills can help you better understand and articulate the abilities you need to achieve mastery.

However you choose to approach this, the end goal is simple: be more mindful of your work. This is the secret to growing your career. You don’t need to stop working to go to school. Your work is its own platform for self-development. And you can dive into it the same way Serena Williams approaches tennis or John Coltrane approached the saxophone. The New York Times probably won’t write a review of how masterfully you ran last week’s team meeting. But there is art in anything if you look at it through the right lens.