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Debunking the "1,000 hours of practice" myth

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Posted by JBfrom
Nov 11, 2011 at 04:07 AM



This is one of the best productivity articles I have ever read, and I read a LOT of them.

It’s so awesome I felt compelled to share it here.

Deliberate practice >> practice
Elite’s hours worked = average’s hours worked
2 peak work sessions: morning and afternoon
Elite’s relaxation >> average’s relaxation
Longer sessions >> fragmented work sessions

This has numerous implications on how you should design your productivity workflow and work habits, which in turn has ramifications for the productivity tools you should select.


Posted by Hugh
Nov 11, 2011 at 09:42 AM


That’s interesting, but I’m not entirely persuaded. I’m involved in education, and I take an interest in those who in the UK are sometimes called the “G and T’s” (no, not gins and tonics, but gifted and talented). At a popular level, Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” did much to promote the “10,000-hour rule”. The book isn’t entirely satisfactory, but for me it did help to debunk the idea that G and T’s somehow emerge from birth fully formed as geniuses. It seemed to suggest that for a whole range of different categories of achievers in Western society, from top sportsmen to Gates and Jobs to the Beatles to C19th capitalist barons, a number of factors were involved. And thousands of hours of hard work and experience at particular stages in their lives in particularly opportune circumstances were very important.

My conclusion: yes, one can work too hard in the wrong way at the wrong things, but for success in one’s chosen path somewhere along the line many long hours of focussed hard work are going to be required. And where are the apps for that? ;)


Posted by JBfrom
Nov 11, 2011 at 10:15 AM


Right, within the context of this article I meant that the notion that 1,000 hours of poorly directed practice = genius is false.

I would say that you need to pick your apps and design your workflow to allow long-term concentration and accumulation combined with continual prioritized deliberate action.

There are many apps that are too lightweight or clunky to achieve these objectives.


Posted by Ken
Nov 12, 2011 at 04:45 AM


While I appreciate your level of interest in this subject, and I do not wish to debate this topic at any length, I have to say that after reading the article, the posted comments on the author’s blog, and your comments above, I am not finding it all adding up to any definitive conclusion for me.  Several people who commented on the author’s blog post took him to task for misreading the data, and I am not at all clear how you are relating this article to “lightweight” apps not being able to achieve your stated objectives -  long-term concentration and accumulation combined with continual prioritized deliberate action.

I am happy that the article called out to you, but for me, it left me with more questions than answers.  And regarding “lightweight” apps, I would think that it could be just as easy to cite overly complicated apps that people end up spending too much time learning how to use, and getting too little productivity from their time invested.  As much we use software as tools for productivity, I sometimes believe that there is no substitute for the productivity that can be gained by using the “Pomodoro technique”, and it requires no software at all.  For me, it’s the right tool for the right job.  With regards to concentration, that’s a whole different matter.  No software is going to help me concentrate if I my brain is preoccupied.  That’s a matter of discipline.




Posted by JBfrom
Nov 12, 2011 at 08:06 AM


?At age 13 the award-winning musicians practiced 13.7 hr per
week (Ruoff, 1981), an amount close to the 12.2 hr estimated by our best group and higher than the 8.8 and 6.2 hr per week estimated by the good and music teacher groups, respectively. At age 17, the practice of the award-winning musicians averaged 15.5 hr per week (Kaminski et al., 1984) compared with the 19.2,16.8, and 9.1 hr per week estimated by the best, good, and music teacher groups. The agreement between the estimates of our best violinists and the award-winning violinists? diary data is reasonably close and is consistent with the hypothesis that the best violinists practice more than the good violinists during early adolescence and more than the music teachers during the ir entire developmental period.?

The adolescent angle is an interesting added dimension.

I agree, the questions raised in the comments are enough to cast the entire article into doubt. I’m not going to read the original paper so I’ll leave it unresolved.

It’s my feeling that the conclusions he reaches are sound, with regards to the need for deliberate over non-deliberate practice, and focused sessions, and the importance of relaxation.

With regard to app selection:

“I am not at all clear how you are relating this article to ?lightweight? apps not being able to achieve your stated objectives - long-term concentration and accumulation combined with continual prioritized deliberate action.”

If one accepts that practice must be deliberate rather than spontaneous, then one needs to plan, track and store one’s progress. This requires at the minimum a continually functional task prioritization system to give detailed direction to each day’s practice.

More generally, since deliberate action beats random action, the more focus and prioritization one can bring to one’s life, the better, which is an argument for a comprehensive info workflow. It seems also that relaxation is important to performance, which argues for elimination of all stress points. Whether a lightweight or clunky app can fit into the workflow depends on the spot it is intended to fill, but these are the criteria the overall system must meet.

I included criticism of overly complicated apps in the adjective “clunky”. I disagree that software plus workflow cannot assist single-session focus, or focus over weeks and years. In my view, the Pomodoro technique is a way of enhancing willpower and focus by creating artificial barriers. Good workflow and software selection can mimic this barrier-creating effect, and do so even more effectively, rendering Pomodoros a superfluous willpower and attention drain, and needlessly limiting.


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