Forget 10,000 Hours — Instead, Aim for 10 Minutes


The-Ten-Minute-WorkoutIt’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly five years since the 10,000-Hour Rule went mainstream. Last week, as if to officially mark the anniversary, more than three hundred coaches, players, general managers, and talent-development experts from around the world gathered at the Leaders in Performance conference in New York. Among this crowd, you might expect to find people singing the praises of the 10,000-Hour Rule.

You’d be wrong.

A significant number disliked it, because they saw the rule creating a mindless culture of hour-counting. They saw sports federations building programs around the metric, using it as the sole measure of progress.

“It’s absolutely nuts,” the head of one nation’s soccer federation told me. “Coaches are tracking practice hours and the athletes are clocking in and out with time cards like they’re working on an assembly line. There’s no ownership, no creativity.”

The science behind the 10,000-Hour rule has been subject to debate, and rightly so, because talent is more complex than any one measure. For example, how do you calibrate the impact of Warren Buffett’s childhood paper route on his temperament and business skills? How do you count the hours the young Keith Richards spent listening to blues records and falling in love with them?

The real issue here, however, is that the the 10,000-Hour rule is not really about quantity. It’s about the power of sharp, focused, high-quality practice. It’s about the massive learning differences created by intense efforts within highly engaging practice environments. We see this in the habits of high-performing groups, many of whom build their skills through a combination of short, sharp sessions and lots of restorative rest.

For example, at La Masia, the training academy that has produced the majority of Barcelona’s world-beating soccer team, the schedule calls for organized training a mere 70 minutes per day — a figure that most U.S. travel soccer coaches would scoff at as being insufficient.  But here’s the thing: it’s a world-class 70 minutes: a razor-sharp, full-tilt, meticulously planned session with far more content and engagement than any mundane, exhausting three-hour practice.

The other benefit of this approach is that it frees the learners to spend time on their own. Real learning doesn’t happen just through organized drills; most of it happens in the off hours, when you’re fooling around, inventing games, competing, experimenting, mimicking, grappling with problems and inventing solutions. When you’re wholly engaged in the art of simple, intense play.

So perhaps a solution is to ignore the 10,000-Hour Rule and instead embrace the 10-Minute Rule. Which has three elements:

  • 1) Focus: pick out a target skill — a single chunk you want to work on.
  • 2) Super-high intensity
  • 3) Rest: only do it when you’re fresh. If you’re exhausted, quit.

In other words: don’t approach practice like a factory worker logging hours. Instead, think like an opportunist. Be an entrepreneur.

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20 Responses to “Forget 10,000 Hours — Instead, Aim for 10 Minutes”

  1. Dave Weitl says:

    My friend Dave Lisch is an example of someone not naturally gifted with talent, but through a combination of deep passion and thousands of hours of work in a pursuit of greatness, he is now considered one of the top knife blade makers in the US. The Talent Code strikes again. In the world of forging steel there is a constant stream of vivid feedback with every stroke of the hammer on hot metal. Good stuff.

  2. Seth says:

    An accumulation of instances of deep practice. Without deep practice, it’s like buying 10,000 lottery tickets, odds are still poor. Embrace the process and buy in.

  3. Sue Hunt says:

    “Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill.” Shinichi Suzuki

  4. Takeshi says:

    While I agree that you shouldn’t be clocking hours at practice, the fact remains that it does take around 10,000 hours of deep practice, more or less, to achieve world class excellence.

    And 10 minutes is way too low. Aside from the aforementioned 10,000 hour rule, it often takes a good 10-15 minutes just to get into the “zone” of deep practice, not to mention the preparation necessary for practice, and the design of the practice itself (if you’re not working with a coach). In either case, 10 minutes is way misleading.

  5. Doc says:

    I would think that the complexity of the skill and the number and variety of skills needed in the sport or endeavor would make a difference. Seems a golfer or gymnast who is competing basically against themselves may need a different number of quality hours of practice than maybe a quarterback who needs skills such as throwing and running as well as reading defenses under pressure. Who needs more or less I have no idea.

  6. I strongly disagree.
    Sport can generally be divided into 2 kinds. Early specialization sport and late specialization sport. Gymnastics, Diving, figure skating etc. are some examples of early specialization sports and Tennis, Hockey, athletics etc. are some examples of late specialization sports.
    The 10,000 hour rule is a guide line for people to understand that in all late specialization sport elite levels can be expected only after 10 years or 10,000 hours of involvement in the sport. The does not mean that the player should be involved in structured practice or ‘DELIBERATE PRACTICE’ for all these hours. A major part of the total hours needs to be spent on ‘DELIBERATE PLAY’, especially in the early years.
    An example of deliberate play is when a group of kids get together and play street football with very little intervention from adults. ( This is exactly what I thought ‘THE TALENT CODE’ advocated in the book when Daniel talks about individuals transcending levels at certain times while practicing by themselves).

    What the rule means for a sport like tennis is that, it is important for the players to go through ‘phases of development’ at different age brackets. Different important aspects of physical skills are best developed at different stages of growth since the adaptability for these skills are at its peak during particular growth periods.
    Therefore planning is supreme and has to be done for a period of 10 years.
    The 10 year or 10000 hour rule applies to any field, that requires complex skills, where a human wants to achieve elite levels. It is also a widely accepted fact in the music field for centuries.

  7. Neil Murphy says:

    As I read this article, Usain Bolt was beaten by Justin Gaitlin in a 100 meter race in Italy. I watched the race with my two sons, aged 8 and 9 years. I reminded them that even the most talented people can lose. What we see on TV is the elite performers doing remarkable, sometimes unbelievable performances. What we don’t see is the daily grind, the sacrifice that goes into being the best and staying at the top of the game. This was a good reminder that talent doesn’t come naturally but must be nurtured and trained sufficiently. The elite performer will almost invariably have the mental fortitude to achieve these acts.

  8. Any guideline will be missunderstood by many.

    Its not the hours that needs clocking its the result of the time spent.

  9. Doc says:

    Guess I have to disagree, do some extent. Until someone (and if they have, please let know)scientifically tracks different performers and how they improve and finally reach some pinnacle at 10,000 hours, I have to look at it as an arbitrary number just as a .300 batting average or a 200 cholestrol count are just arbitrary numbers of acceptability or excellence. Having had many acres of woods and vacant lots to play on while growing up and spending many hours playing on them, I’m not sure what DELIBERATE PLAY is. I don’t remember having any goal in mind when I played but I do know that we improved our abilities while playing and if that is simply what deliberate play is, then I agree. I really think we should limit this talk of 10,000 hours even while realizing there probably is some basis to it. Good coaches will plan and do what is right for their particular players and let the hours fall where they may. If we use these guidelines then I would have to ask if the violinist that had gained skills in 5 minutes that most get in a month will become a master that much quicker than violinists practicing the traditiional way or if not will it take the others significantly longer. There are just so many variables and ways of looking at this. But I do strongly agree with other writers that even if you do use this number it should be no more than a guideline.

  10. You can teach the essence of for example feldenkrais a body work technology used in hospitals in minutes which normally take 3 years in the University, so once tested on someone who done the hospital work with someone and I run my version prodcued the same result, 5 minutes vs 3 years of university.

    Its not just the practice you spend, but what to attend when and how you practice and then using a superior streatgy to do so which can cut 10k hours into months depending what skill and work we talk about.

    I can help dyslexics spell and write in hours where no one in the scientific field can do so, and I can set diagnosis in 15 minutes, test the strategy the dyslexic use, put a new one there, run that and have a full field test done in such time frame and improvement in that time with a dyselxic who spent years in the treatment of science and I had cases where the individual with diagnosis after an hour did read normal like you or me. I was told what I did was impossible….

    Its not just practice how deep or deliberate it is, but superior use of attention and strategy.

    Just saying.

  11. Herb Martin says:

    I have been explaining this and more for at least 10,000 hours. 🙂

    It’s obvious that 10k hours or any amount of BAD practice will get you nowhere (or worse.)

    The real key to understanding the value of the 10k hour research is this: During 10,000 hours of ORDINARY practice you will probably (hopefully) achieve enough DEEP PRACTICE to reach mastery.

    10k is just the typical number of hours it takes to get enough HIGH QUALITY practice.

    Were one to work at high quality, deep practice continually, the number is likely somewhere on the order of 1000 hours (for true mastery) and only 100 hours for high competence.


  12. cindy wider says:

    Our system of helping adults learn to draw provides an excellent example of the 10 minute rule. We have people who come to our art course that have been drawing all their lives (way more than 10,000 hours) but the standard of their drawing level hasn’t improved a great deal. They come to us to help them move to the next level. Often these people have read loads of art books, watched copious ‘how to’ dvds and spent large sums of money attending local art workshops and many studied art in other ways. However, they still haven’t learned to draw as well as they could.

    These same people come into our course and their drawing skills dramatically improve (many can achieve a saleable standard of portraiture within 64 hours of study.) There are no magic tricks or formulas we just use Daniel’s ‘Deep Practice’ rules.

    The course (consists of about 420 carefully crafted drawing exercises) presents them with the knowledge and the students are also given their own instructor who oversees every single exercise in the course. The student presents their work for comment and the instructor is trained to specifically seek out the exact areas in the exercise that need to be improved and more importantly to tell the student how. The student is then encouraged to correct the error and re-submit for further review. The results of this training in the tiny baby steps are that most people who have never drawn since they were a child are now finally able to draw. Its exciting and I really ‘get it’ when people say its all about the 10minutes. 10 quality minutes can beat the 10,000 hour rule. However, you can’t become an expert in 10 minutes of course…you still have to put in those hours of perfect practice after you have larneed the skill.

  13. Doc says:

    Well said Herb and can anyone define true mastery so we know when we’ve arrived? I sincerely would like to know.

  14. This subject formed the main theme of a recent symposium on talent hosted by the Rugby Football Union in England. 15 of the leading academics in the field of talent identification and development came together with a panel of individuals that were tasked with developing a consensus position on talent. The debate raged for 2 days with no real agreement reached, but I came away with the following thoughts…

    1. Many people don’t like the 10k rule because they think it encourages early specialisation which encourages drop out later.

    2. Sports bodies (in the UK) are funded to maintain participation levels which means that they are uncomfortable with promoting an approach which might result in more players dropping out of the sport…

    3. …But what if the pursuit of excellence requires that we engage in meaningful practice from a relatively early age.

    I wonder if organisations are limiting their performance objectives because of developmental imperatives. These 2 things are seen to be pulling in opposite directions when the description given by Dan in this post suggest otherwise. Why can’t the 2 things work together if we had more master talent coaches then we would have more players reaching their full potential and more players falling in love with the game and playing forever.

  15. […] also made me more excited about what’s to come. Before I left to the States, I Saw an article about the 10,000 hour rule from the Talent Code blog that got me thinking. When I came up with the 20 hour a week schedule back in April 2010, it was inspired by what […]

  16. Coach Kay says:

    The 10,000 hour rule is not relevant to first 2 stages of Long Term Athlete Development, so really a sports body, 90% of it’s Coaches, 90% of it’s players, only need to understand the rule, from an elite development perspective in the later stages of LTAD.

    In response to the 3 comments as they apply to sports:

    1) The 10,000 rule actually assists in abating demands for early specialization because it does not apply to the early stages of LTAD which are the building blocks to long term participation and decreased drop out rates.

    2) See 1) above.

    3) Early specialization sports are very limited and should only be determined by a historical review of the oldest winning athlete age when winning at the highest level of the competition and not by what common practices the sport is currently using. Also are we talking about a child participating (ie gymnastics or figure skating with teenage champions) or are we talking about Adult competition.

    The 10,000 rule has a co-efficient of Love, Enjoyment and happiness attached to it’s successful implementation. That is so very very few children could on their own participate in anything for 10,000 hours.

    Ironically, like TV viewing, video games have now created a world of experts at playing video games that far surpasses any other non-survival activity because 10,000 hours is easy when you are playing a game.

  17. […] haven’t read The Talent Code but we’ve all heard of the 10,000 hour rule (and criticisms of the concept, which Coyle talks about a bit here). Reading through his recent blog posts it seems to me he has all sorts of sensible advice about […]

  18. Fredo says:

    You guys make this too hard. Genetics!…not talent! If you’re a 5’7 male, I don’t care if you do 20,000 hours of practice in basketball, your chances of going pro are a joke! Could it happen?…Yes! Mugsy Bogues did it…but even he was always having to work that much harder vs taller players. If somebody has a 100 IQ, once again, 10,000 hours is not gonna get them teaching Mathematics at Princeton! I will say this though, I’m definitely not telling ANYbody to hold themselves back from their dreams…just always knowing what you have going against you to achieve them. If somebody has the dedication to put in 10,000 true solid focused hours into ANYthing…then I’m willing to bet that successful or not, they’re happy with what they’re doing. I could be wrong though. 😉

  19. Katie says:

    All you need is focus and not afraid to make mistakes… Instead learn from mistakes and improve… Whether you’ve the talent or not, practice for 10,000hrs or not, w/o the correct attitude to learn from mistakes and be focused, whatever theory u apply is going to be useless… Doing it correctly, and not relying or just clocking hours, I’d think that’s the way in all aspects of life… Human greatest enemy is procrastination, we tend to take the time and things we’ve for granted… Ain’t easy to understand and it’s often when one loses something in life to realize it, or even experience something to know it…

  20. Melba says:

    Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on
    blogs I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be helpful to read articles from other
    writers and practice something from other web sites.

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