Balancing practice time and action time

Irish Golfer Padraig Harrington was in the news today. The three-time major winner has had a poor season this year, but currently leads this week’s tournament on the PGA Tour in America. Harrington is renowned for his extraordinary work ethic, practising 60-70 hours a week. But it’s taking a toll on his body and he talks in today’s Guardian about drastically reducing his practice regime if he’s going to keep his career going well into his 40′s.

Harrington’s predicament reminded me of a dilemma facing all of us – that is the balance between our practice time and our time ‘on stage’. Amateur golfers usually play too much and practise too little, which means they never improve their skills and merely ingrain bad habits. In the workplace, we’re ‘on show’ in the same way as professional athletes – sometimes overtly (public speaking, an interview), sometimes less obviously (meeting someone at a networking event, serving people in a shop). In all cases we’re being judged by our audience and they’re forming opinions of us that they share with others.

But what about the balance between ‘practice time’ and the actual ‘doing’ time? For most people in business, doing is all they do. They rarely stop to spend time on the ‘practice range’, and thus ingrain bad habits and fail to improve.

Think of a log chopping competition as a metaphor for work. You start off chopping 500 logs Day 1, 400 Day 2, then down to 300 Day 3. Frustrated, you start earlier and work through your lunch break, but you fail to halt the downward slide. Why? Because the BLADE OF THE AXE IS GETTING BLUNT!

If you’re really busy, be wary of falling into the log-chopping trap. It pays to stop occasionally and sharpen your axe. Strike a balance between the time you spend competing and the time you spend getting smarter.

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