The woman rushed into my class, 45 minutes late. When that happens, I try to get the participant into the class flow quickly, allow them time to settle, and let them know where we are now.
Practice is important to getting better. But when I mention it, the student who was late says, “I don’t have time to practice. I came to class to get it and use it. If practice is involved, you should have told us.” It took me a second to recover. No use telling her that practice is part of learning if she hasn’t figured it out before. No one learns anything new or challenging by listening and leaving. Practice, failing, starting over, getting it wrong is part of learning.
Half an hour later, her hand went up again. This time, she said, “I have a lot of work to do. If I spend time reading my emails over, checking my writing, well, I won’t get my work done.” I had to ask. “Do you ever have to fix a mistake, explain something you said that wasn’t understood, or re-issue an email?” Her answer was not surprising,” Only if the person on the other end is stupid. You can’t fix stupid.”
This is the part where teaching is hard. I found her behavior annoying, but I also knew she was scared, insecure, and looking for help that she hoped she didn’t need. I took a breath and said, “If you are a writer, your job is exactly that. Fixing stupid. And doing it in such a way that your reader feels smarter.”
What late-lady was missing was not time. We are all given 24 hours in a day. What she was missing was a priority-setting skill. When we grab the next thing and try to do tasks in order they land on our desks, we are going to fail.
If your supervisor assigns the same level of importance to everything, you need to speak up. If you don’t, you are on the fast-track to burnout.
I’ve lived all the excuses–fear of the supervisor, not wanting to look incompetent, competitive task completion, feeling I wasn’t fast enough for the job. Most of that cutting-down was my own voice, making me feel stupid and inadequate. That’s what I was practicing–running myself down. What we repeat is called practice. Telling ourselves we can’t, over and over, is practicing to fail.
Now that I work for myself, there is no one else to push work to. To keep from being overwhelmed, I have to set priorities. It’s important for me to get my walking in. If I don’t walk, I have to plan other exercise into my day. That thought alone usually gets me up and into my sneakers. Priorities are hard to set and hard to manage. But knowing how long your work day is going to be is a good start to choosing priorities.
Building in time to practice helps you save time. You won’t see immediate results. By the end of the week, you should be seeing improvement in the quality of your work. Practice grammar, you get better at writing clearly. Practice setting priorities, and you can see where the problems live. And solve them.
Practicing anything is frustrating. It’s not fun. But it works. What you don’t know makes you feel incompetent. But you’ll stay incompetent until you practice.
—Quinn McDonald is a training developer and trainer who spends time practicing what she needs to learn. Often.