Sailing Performance and Freelance Business?

Sometimes you see something so simple and you whack your head.

High Performance = (Skill + Commitment) - Distraction

As I was reading about the US Sailing Team's major advances this little formula in the article caught my eye. And while I was tempted to make some connection to the Olympics currently occuring in Vancouver, my neck of the woods, I resisted out of fear of the IOC tracking me down like they did Verizon and Red Bull.

Still high performance is an incredible challenge.


Knowing what to do is one component of skill. I built a one page website for a client this afternoon. Took less than five minutes. No great website but functional for what he needed in the moment. I well remember the hours aligning tables when I first started in this arena. Another client and I had a conversation about moving domains to a new host. (Only the email was terrifying.) I know a wee bit about a lot of things in my field and I know a few things in profound depth.

When I think of skill I always think of craftsmen. There are two who have powerfully influenced my thinking of myself as a craftman. Dieter, a crusty German cabinetmaker, who said "It isn't whether you make mistakes. But whether you know how to fix them that's important." When I crashed a live client site a couple of weeks ago with 90 visitors on it (according to the admin toolbar)  with an inadvertent bad bit of PHP code, I could panic. Or I could log in. Move the module that caused the problem. And have the site back in less than 30 seconds. (And yes I moved back to the dev site before I took the rest of the changes live.) Then I shot off a quick IM to the client explaining what had happened and why it wouldn't happen again. It isn't just technical skill but people skill.

The second craftsman was an autobody sheet metal shaper. Bill is from the European school also. His advice was to charge hourly. A twist on the old adage "Fast, Quality, or Cheap. Pick one." He rebuilds cars. Jaguars, Maseratis. Classics. The occasional American muscle car that has sentimental value. He charges a $100 an hour. Each panel is rebuilt carefully and lovingly. The end result is often better than the original. When he starts a project his quote begins with "In my experience a job like this takes..." But he knows that when he actually begins working on the car he may find things he never dreamed could be rusty or hard to fabricate. When he finds them he lets the client know that there are more hours. And they make the decision about more time. Good advice.

Skill is about more than technical doing. It is about knowing how to do something but it is also about knowing when and how it should be done.


As a Drupalier I seek to excel but struggle with how to stay ahead of the huge and daunting learning curve. My clients are often shocked when I tell them I spend an average of a day a week learning. That is true of all professions to some extent. I read voraciously. I talk to fellow practioners. And I practice. I have a lot of web experiments that have never seen the light of day. But I know how to do things because I try them.


In D2 - Mighty Ducks there is a scene in the parking lot outside the arena:

Coach Bombay: I've had a lot of distractions since I've been here in L.A.
[holds up a cardboard cutout of himself selling stuff ]
Coach Bombay: This is a distraction.
[the Ducks snigger. Bombay lights a match and throws it into a barrel]
Coach Bombay: This is a fire-in-a-barrel.
[places the cutout in the barrel]
Coach Bombay: This is a distraction-in-a-fire-in-a-barrel. Any questions?

Dealing with distractions takes discipline. The first step to dealing with distractions is to recognize that they are happening. And for web designers that can be subtle. We are on the computer constantly. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and then there are the blogs (over 100 in my Bloglines reader and 15 more in Google Reader.)  GIGO Garbage in Garbage out. Some of it is educational. Without it there is no way I could keep up with new Drupal modules. No way I could keep up with changes to my reseller hosting. But do I really need to know about the naked rats in Tucson? And that is a distraction.

More subtly again though the computer can become our life. More and more I don't pick up my computer on Sundays. I put together a puzzle a couple of weeks ago. I catch up with family and friends on the phone or over a meal. Not a distraction but a cleansing that lets me come back to what I do refreshed and recharged. The distraction is actually not taking the time to relax. Giving in to the pressure to be available 24/7.

Meeting high performance goals ought to be the desire of all small business owners. Examining the components of performance will help us all to be just a little bit better at what we do. More clues on how to reach High Performance are welcome.

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