Pocket worthyStories to fuel your mind

A Little-Known Hack to Learn a New Skill in a Fraction of the Time

It’s called ‘deliberate practice’ and it’s a proven way for your staff to master a new skill in a fraction of the time. Here are the five core elements that make it work.


Read when you’ve got time to spare.


Photo from peshkov/Getty Images

In this article, I'm going to share one of the most effective tactics for coaching your key team members. I call it "deliberate practice." It's one of the most powerful strategies that you can use to help your employees become owner-independent.

Deliberate practice refers to the intensely focused practice of a skill, habit, or ability. To practice deliberately, you have to break down skills into blocks of discrete micro-skills, map out the order in which you need to learn those micro-skills, and closely monitor your progress.

With deliberate practice, your learning can become magnitudes more efficient. You can master new skills in a fraction of the time that it would otherwise take. After all, not everyone can afford to spend 10,000 hours learning a new skill.

For some skills, it can be easy to find proven curricula to guide your deliberate practice. But for other, softer skills, you sometimes need to chart your own course.

For example, there are many proven training programs that you can use to coach your staff in sales. But now imagine that you had an employee--let's call him John--who shied away from direct conversations. Imagine that he preferred finessing situations rather than confronting them directly. You might find that while John is a nice guy, his management style causes trouble: His communication gets fuzzy and his team might not take him seriously.

To help John grow, you would have to help him develop his own program of deliberate practice. But don't worry, it's not as hard as it sounds. Deliberate practice can really be broken down into just five key ingredients.

1. Intensity

You don't want to perform long, mindless bouts of repetition. You want to concentrate on one particular skill for a much shorter, tighter period of time.

2. Purpose

That practice that you're being intense about has to be for the specific purpose of learning a concrete skill set. You need a goal to work toward if you're going to improve.

3. Learning Blocks

You have to break your deliberate practice down into small, constituent parts. I like to call these "learning blocks." Learning blocks are groupings of micro-skills that collectively build toward larger, more important skills.

4. Strategy

You want to tackle each of those learning blocks the same way you would tackle any other plan for business growth--in a logical, strategic order. Before you begin your deliberate practice, give some thought to what needs to happen first, second, third, and so on.

Take field hockey for example. Before I began business coaching 20 years ago, I was a professional athlete. When I played field hockey for the U.S. national team, I discovered that my grip on my hockey stick was a quarter turn off. Now, that might not sound like a big deal, but it had a cascading effect that dramatically impacted the quality of my play.

You see, because my grip was slightly off, I had to slightly change my playing stance. That stance change required that my head tilt down toward the ball in such a way that I effectively cut off five feet of peripheral vision. When I eventually corrected my grip, my gameplay improved massively. With five feet more of peripheral vision, I was able to clock more of the movements of my teammates and opponents and, ultimately, make better game-time decisions.

Later, when I began coaching other athletes, I had to lay out a sequence of micro-skills for field hockey players to learn in order to get those extra five feet of vision. First, I would teach them the proper grip, then teach them the optimal stance, then introduce them to the other skills of play.

So if you're coaching John to help him become more direct, you might break that skill down into a carefully sequenced series of micro-skills. Here's what that sequence could look like:

  • You might ask him to begin by developing real-time awareness of when he's dealing with situations head on and when he's finessing them.
  • Then you might coach him to become more direct in earlier conversations with his staff so that he isn't waiting until the second or third conversation to set the record straight.
  • Next, you might coach him to start observing which direct conversations he's comfortable having. Where is the border between what's comfortable and what isn't?
  • And then you would eventually have him speak more directly in conversations where he'd prefer not to--the conversations that push his comfort level.

5. Feedback

You need to shorten the gap between cause and effect--between action and observation. Over the course of nearly two decades in business coaching, I've developed a simple way to do this without wasting any time. This strategy shouldn't take you any more than 10 minutes a day.

You can do this journaling work in any medium, whether you prefer to use a digital journal like Evernote or a traditional paper journal. Personally, I like to journal with a pen and paper and then store a photo of that journal entry in Evernote.

Given that your practice opportunity is already a part of your day, this work will take you no more than 10 extra minutes. But if you practice it every day for three or four days a week, you'll find that you can acquire new skills with incredible rapidity.

These are the five elements that transform "practice" into "deliberate practice." Good luck using them to speed up your development of your staff.

David Finkel is the co-author of "Scale: Seven Proven Principles to Grow Your Business and Get Your Life Back."

How was it? Save stories you love and never lose them.

Logo for Inc.

This post originally appeared on Inc. and was published March 27, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.

Did you enjoy this story?

Get Inc.’s daily newsletter