Training and Performance

In many jobs your working hours are performance hours. You’re expected to do the work that creates value. If you’re a programmer, you get paid to program. If you’re a lawyer, you get paid to help people solve legal problems.

But in some jobs, performance is just a small slice of paid time on the job.

Consider a professional basketball player, for instance. The performance time is during competitive games with other teams. Game time performance is what creates the value for the franchise, the fans, the sponsors, and the other stakeholders.

But for the athletes, most of the time on the job isn’t performance time. During those other hours, they’re training, practicing, being coached, preparing, recovering, etc. Of course this is still important work so they can be prepared to perform well during televised games.

What if you currently do work that’s mostly performance but you approach it like a professional athlete? What would that look like?

Where is your job closest to the performance of a pro athlete? Which activities really count in terms of delivering value and earning your pay?

Most likely your hours on the job aren’t all equal in terms of delivering value. Some activities may be more critical than others, especially when it comes to career advancement or business success.

Do you know what those critical activities are?

Once you know the critical activities, where’s the training portion of your day? Where’s the ongoing investment in further honing your skills, so you can get better and better at the performance side? Are you investing in enough training… or barely any?

I could frame blogging as a performance activity since my articles are public facing and provide value to people. I could then imagine many hours of private journaling, reading, experimenting, and exploring to be training and practice.

Alternatively, I could frame blogging as a practice or training activity. And I could imagine a larger project like writing a book, creating a course, or delivering a workshop as a performance activity.

The reality is that I use both frames and often flip between them. Sometimes I see blogging as a way to beta-test ideas. Other times I see it as a core activity for delivering value to people. The framing is flexible. But what isn’t so flexible is that some form of training and practice is necessary. Whichever frame I use, training and practice must be an essential part of it.

Alternatively, suppose you view your work as 100% performance time. There is no practice and training while you’re on the clock. How does that framing sit with you? Does it suggest that if you want to improve, you have to devote some of your personal unpaid time to training and skill-building? I think that’s exactly what it suggests.

While you do get some performance gains from training, it’s best not to confuse the two. Training gives you more coverage of different skills than performance alone ever will. You may practice situations in training that you’ll rarely experience on the performance side, yet it’s critical to have those skills when they’re needed. With training you can also break down the fundamental skills and work on them more thoroughly than you can on the performance side.

Imagine that 90% (or more) of your work time is just practice and training, and 10% (or less) is real performance time. If you use this lens, which activities would you put on each side?

What are your most critical skills that provide the most value? What would happen if you devoted the other 90% of your work time to honing and training up those skills to an even higher level?

Suppose you create and publish videos as your main work product. All the value you provide is in your published videos. Now suppose you spent 90% of your work time just training and practicing your video skills – but not publishing any of that work. Do you think that would impact what you’re able to deliver with the other 10%?

The 90-10 ratios are arbitrary by the way. You could use 80-20, 50-50, or anything else that appeals to you. What ratios make you reconsider your approach to work? I like the extreme of 90-10 thinking because it gets me closer to the mindset of a pro athlete who has to invest an extraordinary amount of training and practice time for a small amount of performance time. In reality their ratio is likely to be even more extreme than 90-10, especially if you consider Olympic athletes who may train years for a single performance (which in some cases may be measured in seconds).

Play around with this frame. You don’t have to use it exclusively, but it can be an interesting way to think about work and productivity. What if you approached your work like a pro athlete whereby the vast majority of your work time was treated as training and practice for a small but important slice of critical performance time? Could this (or something close to it) be a better model than seeing your work at 100% performance time?

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