I know a freelancer that says things like, “If you're not booked solid, you're doing it wrong.” I know a manager of a consulting team who says, “If your utilization isn't 100%, you're doing it wrong.”
I know what they're trying to say. They're trying to be encouraging, telling people this is the time to work for yourself, or to get out there and #Hustle. I get it. And it makes sense because there are tons of fantastic opportunities out there.
But there's a challenge that comes to mind when there's so much opportunity.
And it hit me last night, as I was re-reading The Secret of Teams by Mark Miller. In it, Miller tells the stories of interviews with the Special Forces and another with a winning Nascar team. Both teams talk about “practice” extensively.
And I reflected on my commitment to having my staff have 10-20% free time weekly and noted it was essentially for the same thing – a value for practice.
You Need Time to Practice
If you're totally packed, if you have no free time, if your teams are at 100% utilization – it means one thing. Your team either a) has no time to practice, or b) has been practicing while on a job.
Either way, I'm pretty sure you're doing it it wrong.
Give that a second to settle. I know you love getting maximum utilization of your own time, or of your staff's time, but if they don't have time to practice, then they're only going to do what they know how to do. And if they do that, they'll quickly fall behind.
Instead, you need to carve out space for them to try new things, to challenge themselves, and to look up and around them to see what's changing. You need the same for yourself. There's just no way you will improve without time to stretch and try new things. If you need to, charge a bit more so you can create some extra space.
More importantly, you won't be able to truly optimize and perfect what you already know without spending additional time practicing.
Go Against Your Gut
I know I'm not telling you something you don't already know. Consider it a reminder. But here's the thing. Most of the people I talk to practice the wrong thing. They practice what they're bad at. Don't do it. The likelihood of you getting remarkably better is low.
Instead, move counter-intuitively. Practice what you're good at. Study it. Dig into it. And get remarkably better. Don't leave it for the last minute thinking you can wing it. Sure you can. But that's not the point.
To truly get excellent at driving, changing tires quickly, storming an enemy's HQ, Nascar and Special Forces don't train to be better at cooking or balancing their budgets. They train to get even better at their own specialties.
Go and do likewise!