A lot of people talk about the 10,000 hours theory now.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the gist of it:
To become a master or expert in anything, you need to rack up at least 10,000 hours of practice.
But doesn’t the quality of your practice matter?
Cal Newport of Study Hacks (one of my favourite blogs) wrote a great post about this 10,000 hours thing, and how it’s an insufficient theory.
“To become exceptional you have to put in a lot of hours, but of equal importance, these hours have to be dedicated to the right type of work. A decade of serious chess playing will earn you an intermediate tournament ranking. But a decade of serious study of chess games can make you a grandmaster.”
Newport highlights the work of Anders Ericsson, who coined the term deliberate practice, and Geoff Colvin, who has expanded on Ericsson’s idea in his book Talent Is Overrated.
the 6 traits of deliberate practice
Newport summarizes and condenses Colvin’s eight original traits:
1. It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”
2. It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”
3. Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
4. It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”
5. It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”
6. It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”
During the first week of January, I set a bunch of goals for the year. About 28 goals, actually.
Now that we’re into February, it’s a good time to check in and see if I’m on track.
I’ll share 3 of my 2010 goals with you:
1. 300 hours of practicing. Now, this one is broken down into smaller, more specific pieces. I have projects to work on during what I call “practice” time, and I also include learning tunes for gigs as practice.
2. 300 hours of unnecessary creating. Todd Henry of Accidental Creative defines unnecessary creating as “creating anything that we aren’t required to create.” Why is that important? I’m going to be talking about this more in the next few months on the blog. In the meantime, read this.
3. Run an 8k. I’ve done a 5k. Now it’s time for 8.
So how did I do in the first month of the new year?
21 hours of practice, only 3 hours of unnecessary creating, and only 3 hours at the gym.
I don’t want to make excuses…so I won’t. Yes, January was insanely busy with deadlines and back to back gigs, but I still managed to watch a couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica!
It looks as though I’m on track with my practicing goal, but am I really? It’s true that at this rate, I’d rack up 252 hours by the end of the year. Close to 300. But what about the quality of my practice?
It may seem weird to you that I would measure something like practicing in hours. Well, numbers don’t lie.
If something is important to you, you make time for it, right?
The thing is, when I look back at the stuff I “practiced” over the past month, it doesn’t fit the description of deliberate practice. In fact, my typical practice time only shares three out of those six traits listed above.
How do you define “practice?”
Do you consider the time you spend learning tunes for a gig or session to be practice time?
Are you focused on the process or the outcome?
(photo of me watching Brian MacMillan and Dave Matheson geek out, pre-gig at Hugh’s Room, by James Dean)