Contrary to what you might believe, merely doing your job every day doesn't qualify as real practice. Going to meetings isn't practicing your people skills, and replying to mail isn't practicing your typing. You have to set aside some time once in a while and do focused practice in order to get better at something.mp3: The Autumn Leaves
Effortful study means constantly tackling problems at the very edge of your ability. Stuff you may have a high probability of failing at. Unless you're failing some of the time, you're probably not growing professionally. You have to seek out those challenges and push yourself beyond your comfort limit.
Update (26 Oct 2009): Turunç brought (PDF) The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance to my attention, thanks a lot. The papers conclusion is that expert performance depends mainly on the ability to practice intensely for a long period of time (10 years) without loosing motivation. The role of innate talent is overrated.
[p.363] Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years.
[p.364] ...the study of eminent performance subsequent to Galton has given far less emphasis to zeal and power to do very laborious work and has focused primarily on genetic influences on structure and capacities.
[p.364] ...ability tests can predict early performance on a job, whereas final performance is poorly predicted.
[p.365] ...adults perform at a level far from their maximal level even for tasks they frequently carry out.
[p.367] In the absence of adequate feedback, efficient learning is impossible and improvement only minimal even for highly motivated subjects. Hence mere repetition of an activity will not automatically lead to improvement in, especially, accuracy of performance.
[p.368] ...highly experienced users of computer software applications are found to use a small set of commands, thus avoiding the learning of a larger set of more efficient commands.
[p.371] ...the secret of attaining excellence is to always maintain close attention to every detail of performance "each one done correctly, time and again, until excellence in every detail becomes a firmly ingrained habit"
[p.371] Untrained adults must attain a minimum heart rate of around 140 beats per minute or 70% of their maximal heart rate for an extended time at least three times a week to see improvements.
[p.371] Near maximal efforts with a 3-s duration produce the most efficient results for strength training
[p.394] Increased numbers of mitochondria, as well as other biochemical changes, which increase the efficiency of metabolic processes, result from extended exercise.
[p.398] Whether enjoyment precedes superior performance or vice versa is not known.
[p.399] ...we reject any important role for innate ability. It is quite plausible, however, that heritable individual differences might influence processes related to motivation and the original enjoyment of the activities in the domain and, even more important, affect the inevitable differences in the capacity to engage in hard work (deliberate practice).
[p.400] The commitment to deliberate practice distinguishes the expert performer from the vast majority of children and adults who seem to have remarkable difficulty meeting the much lower demands on practice in schools, adult education, and in physical exercise programs.