The 10,000 Hour Rule Put in Perspective

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The 10,000 hour rule perpetuates the idea that most of us can reach an expert level in almost any domain, as long as we’re willing to dedicate time to practice. This finding was first made public in a 1993 study on violin players at a music school. The researchers figured one thing that was going to change the field of achievement and how people viewed success: the most important factor to become the best at anything is practice.

Genetics, personality, physical abilities… practice beats them all. In other words, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

The study didn’t make that much noise, until Malcolm Gladwell published his New York Times Bestseller Outliers in 2008. In his book, Gladwell argues that Bill Gates, The Beatles and other famous people got way ahead of people in their field because they clocked in over 10,000 hours of practice before everyone else, becoming experts at their craft in the process.

Since the release of this book, critics have argued whether the 10,000 hour rule holds true or not. It sure sounds appealing to have the ability to beat a talented person at their craft simply by practicing more than them. But a Princeton study published in 2014 sort of destroyed that utopia. Following a meta-analysis of 88 studies on deliberate practice, it was revealed that practice accounted for a mere 12% difference in performance on average.

• In games, practice made for a 26% difference

• In music, 21% difference

• In sports, 18%

• In education, 4%

• In professions, 1%

So much for the hard work. This is not the only study that looked at the 10,000 rule in an attempt to debunk its myth. In any kind of study, it’s too easy to try to generalise and come up with fixed overarching figures. Behind every average there’s a range, and saying 10,000 hours is the key to reaching expert status in any field is a little too arbitrary.

Specifically in fields where the environment is constantly evolving, dozens of other factors come into play, not just practice. For instance, you have to remain a pretty successful entrepreneur through ups and downs to even be able to reach 10,000 hours of practice. A lot of entrepreneurs will go bust before that.

That being said, practice will always be beneficial, and in some domains, it will in fact make you better than the guy who has talent but is not using it. In really structured activities where rules don’t change, practice will always win: tennis, chess, any type of strategic game…

Whatever you’re taking a stab at in life, practice your craft. It will fuel your passion, you will learn a ton, and even if you don’t become an expert, you will get the rewards of committing to one thing in the long term. It will teach you self-discipline, dedication, hard work… Values that are rarely embedded in people, yet extremely valuable in our modern world. Put it this way: there is no way your life won’t change if you commit to one thing and work on it like it’s your job. Whether it’s chess, tennis, building your company, launching a blog or reading 1000 books, you will benefit from deliberate, real, committed practice. Guaranteed.

With that in mind, I recently had the idea to put the 10,000 hour rule in perspective. It can be motivating and inspiring to see the amount of work it represents, and I just found it a fun little project. What does it really take to practice for 10,000 hours?

The numbers

To get to 10,000 hours of practice, you would have to keep going for:

  • 10 hours a day for 2 years, 8 months and 27 days
  • 9 hours a day for 3 years and 16 days
  • 8 hours a day for 3 years, 5 months and 3 days
  • 7 hours a day for 3 years, 10 months and 28 days
  • 6 hours a day for 4 years, 6 months and 24 days
  • 5 hours a day for 5 years, 5 months and 23 days
  • 4 hours a day for 6 years, 10 months and 5 days
  • 3 hours a day for 9 years, 1 month and 15 days
  • 2 hours a day for 13 years, 8 months and 9 days
  • 1 hour a day for 27 years, 4 months and 18 days

More numbers

  • If you worked 10 hours a day on your craft for 12 months straight, you would “only” clock in 3,650 hours, far from even half of the journey.
  • But if you decide to be extremely consistent and work for 2 hours a day, every weekday, and take the weekends off, you’ll get there in 13 years, 8 months and 9 days.
  • It’s interesting to note that you mathematically can’t reach 10,000 hours of practice in one year. A year is only made of 8,760 hours.
  • Even if you worked 12 hours a day everyday, it would take you 2 years, 3 months and 13 days to get there.
  • Try committing to working on something for 90 minutes, everyday, for the next 12 months. You’ll clock in a mere 547 hours, or 5% of 10,000 hours.

The people

Here are famous examples of people who practiced for hours and became masters of their craft in the process. I only chose structured activities where rules don’t change. So you won’t see any entrepreneurs in the list.

In conclusion

At the end of the day, there are more than one element to success. Practice is definitely one of the most important ones. It’s also the number one step you have to take. You can’t start anything if you’re not willing to practice, because the simple act of starting will turn into practice.

Practice is key to success because success is practice. Once you start, don’t stop, and when you’re finally rolling, keep driving. As they say, even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just stand there.

So keep training, and don’t forget to have fun!

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