Forget 10,000 Hours. Try Hans’s 2-Minute Method.

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By now, most of you have heard of the Rule of 10,000 Hours, the finding that most world-class experts have spent a minimum of 10,000 hours intensively practicing their craft.

Likewise, many of you are probably familiar with the sensation known as the Rule of 10,000 Hours Wince. This occurs where you realize (whoa!) just how intimidatingly far you still have to go.

Counting hours is a bad idea. Not only because it’s difficult to accurately measure quality practice (the original studies have created a worthy debate, seen here), but also because it tends to lead us toward a royal bummer of a mindset. Developing talent is about enthusiasm and energy. Counting hours can turn us into drudges, marking our tally like a doomed prisoner marking the days on the cell wall. Besides, most of us aren’t trying to become world-class — we’re just trying to be better tomorrow than we are today. What to do?

One good idea was recently offered by one of my favorite people. His name is Hans Jensen, and he’s one of the world’s best music teachers (here’s his website). Hans looks exactly like you’d expect a mad scientist to look, if the mad scientist taught cello and liked to run marathons. His hair is always a little disheveled; his eyes are always wide open, and his mind is always churning with new ideas. Here’s his latest: I call it Hans’s 2-Minute Method.

It works like this:

  1. Pick a specified target you want to perfect. It needs to be small and definable — a chunk, in the parlance. If it’s a tennis serve, target just the toss. If it’s a song, target just the toughest ten seconds. If it’s public speaking, target just the introduction.
  2. Pick a time of day. (Morning works best.)
  3. Be alone. This isn’t about a teacher or coach telling you what to do — it’s about you doing it, by yourself.
  4. Work as urgently and intensively as humanly possible on that target skill for two minutes.
  5. Stop. Walk away. And tomorrow, do it again.

This technique originated with one of Jensen’s students who was strapped for time, but who wanted to learn a complicated etude.  “We were shocked at how well it went,” Jensen said. “The key was total focus and being ruthless about noticing and fixing every tiny mistake from the start.”

Why does it work?

  • It forces you to prioritize and strategize — to look critically at your skill and pick the elements that matter most.
  • It eliminates the sloppiness that often marks shallow practice.
  • It creates a daily habit.
  • It increases intensity. It’s hard to practice with 100 percent intensity for an hour. But for two minutes? That’s achievable.

I also like the 2-Minute Practice because it nudges us toward counting things that matter. Learning is a construction process. It’s possible to get a lot done in a short amount of time, because in the end, it’s not really about time — it’s about making intense, high-quality reaches toward a target.

This also makes me wonder — what other techniques might work like this? How else are you improving the quality of each minute?  I’d love to hear about your mad-scientist experiments.


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14 Responses to “Forget 10,000 Hours. Try Hans’s 2-Minute Method.”

  1. I’ve experimented with various ways of keeping momentum going when I seem to be stuck: http://franklinchen.com/blog/2011/10/07/staying-excited-about-learning-by-being-flexible/

    The 2-minute practice sounds like a particularly focused method I will try to find a context in which to consciously try out!

  2. Walter says:

    I recall being a 12 year old soccer kid who wanted a booming shot so i could score a lot of goals. IF i hit the ball properly it would fly as i made good contact with it. Problem however was a lot of times id miskick it. Along came one of my coaches who watched me and told me it was my “plant foot” that was positioned wrong which made me not contact the ball properly. So what he would make me do was get a 3 step run and just plant my left foot beside/parellel with the ball. I was NOT allowed to strike the ball, but just work on my planting. He’d make me do this about 10 times (2-3 minutes) before practice and about 10 times (2-3 minutes) at the end of practice. It didn’t take long for everything to come together. My kick was good, my follow through was good, so he just worked on my problem (left plant foot) and it worked out well. Reminds me a lot of the Jensen example you gave here.

  3. Aaron says:

    Excellent stuff. How I parlay this into my studies (Neuroscience) in college: I make little quizzes for myself instead of just going over the notes. Flashcards work on the same principle. If I don’t know it, I’m searching and reaching for the answer actively, getting my brain firing. It doesn’t take much, just a couple 10 minute periods per day per subject. I don’t do it for all my classes, and I never seem to do as well in the ones I don’t make the quizzes and flashcards for. (can’t be perfect I guess :) )

  4. edder says:

    As someone who has to track his time throughout the day, this has a lot of appeal. One of the most daunting elements of change and growth is just the sheer recognition about the time it takes to accomplish matters of significance. as my lovely bride says, we eat our elephants one bite at a time.

  5. Candice says:

    I love this post. It’s all about baby steps. I am going to try this around the topic I am working around which is Emotional Intelligence. Daniel welcome back. I am so pleased to be able to again visit your blog and find new and real value both from you and those who comment. Thank you.

  6. liz garnett says:

    Interesting. I did an informal study back in the summer to test the oft-heard throwaway remark ‘only 5 minutes a day will make a difference’. The background to the project is outlined here: http://www.helpingyouharmonise.com/5-30 and the first part of the results are posted here: http://www.helpingyouharmonise.com/5-30d

    What my participants found was that while you can have a most productive time in only 5 minutes, actually committing the 5 minutes is a much bigger hurdle than you’d think.

    I think what makes the 2-minute blitz you report here effective is that it is used with people who have already made a commitment to regular practice. They’re already working at a reasonably advanced level and are using this 2-minute approach as a focus/intensification method. My hunch is that for people who aren’t already reasonably dedicated it will mostly fail to ‘create a daily habit’. That kind of intensity is a way of building on, rather than substituting for, an established work ethic.

    Still, I wish someone had suggested it to me when I was over-practising myself into neck injuries in my teens!

    liz

  7. Garnet says:

    The beauty of this method is that it makes is much easier to keep at it every day. If your of the mindset that it’s not worth starting a practice session if you don’t have a least an hour to devote to it, then you’ll miss a lot of chances to have short effective sessions.

    This get’s you over the time hurdle and gets you going, which can then often last longer than expected.

    Good to have you posting again Daniel.

  8. Hi,
    I’ve recently been working on learning to focus better in pressure situations. A friend suggested I use a paper number grid with 100 numbers randomly arranged and you need to strike them off in ascending order. So I practiced every day for a few minutes. It was tough to get more than 30 in 2-3 minutes…I’ve made progress in my time…I used to get real frustrated when I couldn’t find a number in the grid…and I’d start thinking about how it was wrecking my time…gradually I got better at staying calm in the moment as I worked my way through the grid… it seems pointless but I’ve actually seen dividends in sports and work…I play tennis competitively. Now during clutch points and games, I find it much easier to stay calm and in the zone.

    One problem though was that I started memorizing the grid on paper…so my friend and I are techies and we decided to do an iphone/ipad app of the number grid…then we can play anywhere, anytime…we’re calling it FocusUp. Hopefully we’ll finish it soon!

  9. djcoyle says:

    I love that. It’s rare to find a training method that works for emotions — seems like you’ve got a good one.

  10. Thomas Euyang says:

    Wow Susan! Sounds like a great idea! I’m a sports fan and I remember reading something about Roy Halladay (talk about a master of his craft) doing the same thing you’re talking about.

  11. Peter Downs says:

    I used to memorize formulas and facts by going on a 15 minute run and repeating the formula to myself over and over again. I used to name my run course after the formula. It’s how I know Benouli’s principle of aerodynamics 25 years after I really needed it! Maybe I’ll need it again one day! At least I can explain how aeroplanes take off!

  12. Rick Harig says:

    Mad Science: I use a PIF – I made it up… It means Positive Imagery Flash. I teach it for baseball players, but it works well for any performance. First a story: A neuroscientist I have communicated with told me once about a study with college students. She said they would bring in students and have them look at a list of 10 words and they would calculate how long it took for them to find the misspelled word. For argument sake, lets say it takes 3 to 4 seconds. The second group of students would have to do the same task, but this time a word would be flashed at 1,000th of a second before they start the task. They don’t realize they see the word, but their subconscious registers it. The word may be something like “nurse” and when the list of 10 words is put up the misspelled word may be “doctor”. The students immediately find the misspelled word. It is called the priming effect. The part of the brain that was going to be used in real time to find the misspelled word was primed with the flashed word and the brain reacted much faster. Holy cow! Any performance could use faster reaction time or even just a jump on the event. Even in a slow down sport or task a dejavu helps the brain get into a state of flow – the zone. Whether it be a sport or a speech or a job interview you can use a PIF. How? Nobody is flashing things for us at 1000th of a second prior to performing. What if we could imagine the flash? I asked her – Does it make sense to use imagery to prime the part of the brain about to be used just before we use it? Well yes she said. There is no study that says so but it would be a logical conclusion based on what science is out there on visualization. In fact (at a much later date)I emailed the neuroscientist that you referred to in The Talent Code and he even felt visualization could possibly build myelin. Again, no studies yet but certainly plausible.. mad science? How could it work in a slow down, non reaction time sport? It was written that Jack Nicolas, known as the best golf putter, used a technique much like a PIF. He would look at the hole, look at the ball, imagine the ball going into the hole, and then follow it with the putt in real time – a PIF! What a great practice method! Could this be used just prior to speaking? Could this be used just prior to hitting a baseball, a tennis serve? Heck yeah! Does a chess player imagine all the possible moves his opponent may make? When that opponent makes one of the moves is the chess player’s brain primed to react faster? For sure! It does not mean he will act fast but he has anticipated it. Daniel – your book is one of my all time favorites! Thanks you. — Rick Harig – Performance and Development Coach for baseball and for professionals in the business world. You can find me at: http://www.thinking-cap.net and http://www.baseball-cap.net

  13. Jamie says:

    I get the two minutes… I can see that. But – per day? what’s so magical about a 24 hour period? Why not twice a day? Would there be a commensurate increase in ability, would the returns diminish, or would it be pointless?

  14. Nick Crosby says:

    This made me think of the ‘Tabata’ training regime which allegedly builds strength and speed more effectively and efficiently than longer work-outs. 8 sets of 20 seconds exercise with a 10 second rest between set, doing a demanding, full-body exercise (or sprint) with maximum effort (and reps) each time. Why does this work? The intensity. The focus. And the reach. Can you do a few more reps each set? How hard are you working (measured by heart rate or calorific burn, easily measured with a heart rate monitor)? Can you increase your resistance if training with weights or distance if doing sprints? Or increase the number of sets?

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