Insight article

Time well spent

A couple years ago, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion that you can learn to do anything expertly – all it takes is 10,000 hours of practice.

This 10,000 hour rule is widely known as the amount of time you need to spend practicing something in order to be considered ‘truly skilled’ in that particular field. Ten thousand hours. That’s over 400 days. 14 months – without sleeping. I doubt you’d be skilled at much at all if you didn’t sleep for over a year.

So let’s break it down a bit. Let’s consider 10,000 hours in terms of a 40-hour working week. That works out at four-and-a-half years, or five if you were to take a holiday or two. Five years is a long time – a big investment for an employer, if you were to take the line that your new member of staff, fresh out of university or school, and about to embark on their chosen career, wouldn’t be ‘truly skilled’ at their job until they’d used up five years’ (increasing) salary.

So what about hobbies? I enjoy writing, and spend as much of my spare time as possible practicing the craft. My current commute to work takes 20 hours a week. If I spent all that time writing, it would take me nine-and-a-half years to reach 10,000 hours, and I’d probably have a serious case of repetitive strain injury. (I will also have travelled 350,000 miles in that time.)

It made me think of all the things I’ve spent over 10,000 hours doing accidentally  – and whether that’s made me skilled at them. Breathing? I re-master that skill every 14 months. Sleeping? Three-and-a-half years to perfect a good night’s sleep. How about eating? Those with a normal metabolism will take 27 years to be considered truly skilled at scoffing.

Of course, it’s not just about putting the hours in, clock-watching until the magic number is achieved. Generations of people have gone to work, day in, day out, for the necessary five years and wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves skilled in their profession.  (Nor would their bosses.)

Surely, in order to commit 10,000 hours of your life to something, it should be something you’re passionate about. Something that drives you. It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And if you go back in history and look at the amazing architecture in the world – cathedrals, the Great Wall, the Pyramids – all of which have had millions of man hours devoted to them – you’ll see that these are feats of both time and imagination, each in astounding quantities.

Spending 10,000 hours on something you love shouldn’t seem like such a feat. Maintaining a friendship, building a home, bringing up a child, grooming the dog. Ten thousand hours – that time will pass anyway. If you remember the birth of Tracy Barlow in Coronation Street, consider yourself ‘truly skilled’ in the art of watching the nation’s favourite soap.

So what will you spend 10,000 hours doing? And how will you ensure they are well spent?

Nailia Tasseel