On Practicing at Work

What is it you do to train that is comparable to a pianist practicing scales? — Tyler Cowen

The world of knowledge work is a lot more like practicing the piano than most of us realize.

When we join the workforce, many of us leave behind the idea of deliberate practice—working in a highly focused way to master a difficult skill, like a pianist practicing her instrument. Yet the skills we need to excel in our jobs—data science chops, fluency in Arabic or Ruby on Rails—are absolutely deserving of deliberate practice. They’re every bit as technical and prone to decay as a pianist’s finely-tuned abilities.

To borrow a phrase from the jazz world, we need to spend part of each workday “in the woodshed” honing our technical skills. And since most knowledge workers don’t (yet) approach their work with this level of intention, doing so is an especially smart career move.

You may not have touched a piano since childhood, but make time to practice your scales.