The saying goes, “practice makes perfect,” but is this true? Many people drive daily for 20 or 30 years and are still terrible drivers, while others claim to have “15 years of experience” but are technically weak. Practicing without a specific intention or focus is unlikely to bring improvement after the initial learning.
In the 1960s, psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner identified three stages of learning: cognitive, associative, and autonomous. The cognitive stage is when you assimilate knowledge and learn the basics of a task. The associative stage involves making fewer mistakes and needing less mental effort to perform the task. The autonomous stage is when your skills become natural, and you can perform the task without much effort. Unfortunately, many people plateau at the autonomous stage while experts keep improving.
As a technology professional, you know that simply practicing your craft without a specific intention or focus won’t necessarily lead to improvement. To get better, you need deliberate practice. Here are some actionable items to help you implement deliberate practice:
Identify the key skills you need to develop
Take a look at your job description and identify the critical skills that are required for your role. Make a list of these skills and prioritize them based on which ones are most important to your job.
Set specific, measurable goals
Once you have identified the key skills you need to develop, set specific, measurable goals for each. For example, if one of your key skills is coding, you might set a goal to solve 5 LeetCode problems per week for the next month. Using coding challenge sites like LeetCode can help you practice your coding skills and track progress through their platform. Set a goal that challenges you but is still achievable, and track your progress over time to see how much you improve.
Feedback is essential to deliberate practice, and there are many ways to get it. Here are some suggestions:
- Peer review: Ask your colleagues or peers to review your work and provide feedback. This can be especially helpful if they have more experience in a particular area than you do.
- Manager feedback: Schedule regular check-ins with your manager to discuss your progress and get feedback on your work. This can help you identify areas where you need to improve and set goals for the future.
- Mentorship: Seek a mentor in your field who can provide guidance and feedback on your work. This can be a great way to get more personalized feedback and learn from someone with more experience.
- User testing: If you’re working on a product or application, conduct user testing to get feedback on how people use it. This can help you identify areas where the product can be improved and ensure that it’s meeting the needs of your users.
- Online communities: Join online communities related to your field, such as forums or Slack channels, where you can ask for feedback from other professionals. This can be a great way to get feedback from a broader range of people and learn from different perspectives.
To practice deliberately, focus on specific features of your work and practice them at a higher level than you’re comfortable with. For example:
- Coding: If you’re a programmer, focus on writing more efficient code, tackling more complex coding challenges, or exploring new programming languages.
- Design: If you’re a designer, focus on refining your skills in typography, colour theory, or user interface design.
- Communication: If you’re a project manager, focus on improving your communication skills by practicing active listening, giving and receiving feedback, or presenting to stakeholders.
Deliberate practice should push you out of your comfort zone:
Deliberate practice can be uncomfortable and frustrating, but it’s essential to growth. When you push yourself out of your comfort zone and practice challenging things, you create new neural pathways in your brain. This allows you to develop new skills and become better at the things you’re practicing.
Embracing discomfort also helps you develop resilience and a growth mindset. When you encounter challenges or setbacks, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up. But if you embrace discomfort and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, you’ll be more likely to persist in facing difficulty and overcoming obstacles.
Deliberate practice is essential to becoming a better technology professional, and it requires identifying essential skills, setting measurable goals, seeking feedback, and practicing deliberately while embracing discomfort. You can develop new skills, improve your work, and achieve your career goals by taking action on these items. So, take the first step today and start implementing deliberate practice in your work. You can become the best version of yourself and achieve success in your field with dedication and effort.