The 100 hour rule.

The 100 hour rule.

I know I’m in good company when I say I discovered the 10,000 hour rule in Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers: The Story of Success and subsequently became a wee bit obsessed with the rule and its implications.

Since Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule, much ink has been spilled in the attempt to prove it, or debunk it.

A simplified version of the rule goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any given field. And not just any practice, but deep practice that’s intense, focused, and tough, and designed to attack your weaknesses.

This kind of deliberate practice is so demanding that the brain can only handle 4-5 hours of it per day, which means that it takes a decade to become an expert at anything.

This means you can’t truly become expert at more than a handful of things, simply because of the time it takes to become proficient. You can’t effectively pursue 14 passions simultaneously if you want to develop real skill. Developing expertise demands focus.

This is fine if you want to become a concert violinist or novelist or chess grandmaster, but for many (most?) of us, the prospect of devoting 10,000 hours to just one thing is daunting, if not downright impossible. Many of us don’t want to devote a decade to just one thing. Many professions today demand such a broad variety of skills that spending 10,000 hours developing one would be worthless.

It may take 10,000 hours to develop mastery, but in many fields, we don’t need mastery. We don’t need to achieve elite status; we need competence. And it takes a fraction of those 10,000 hours to attain it. This is the rationale behind a new rule of thumb I encountered recently: the 100 hour rule.

The 100 hour rule goes like this:

For most disciplines, it only takes one hundred hours of active learning to become much more competent than an absolute beginner.

The 10,000 hour rule is based on becoming the best of the best: it requires a tremendous amount of practice (and probably innate talent, too) to reach the top 1% in a given field. But it only takes 100 hours (give or take, depending on the discipline) to go from knowing nothing to knowing more than 95% of the population—enough to make you competent, even to set you apart.

Gaining competency in a field still takes work, and it still requires deep practice: the active, deliberate, slightly uncomfortable kind that pushes you past your limits. But it only requires 1% of the hours required to become an expert.

Putting in those 100 hours isn’t exactly a cakewalk, but it’s completely doable. At 1 hour a day, you could learn a new skill in three months. At 5 hours a day, it would only take you three weeks. Devote your weekends to learning a new field, and it would take you ten weeks.

It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.

Over time, I’ve devoted thousands of hours in my own life to building new skills in fields that I remain far from expert in, and I enjoy that competency on a regular basis. I’m a decent cook, and a capable photographer. I know my way around a gym. I’m pretty darn good with WordPress. I’m not an expert, but I know plenty. I know enough.

I’m pushing myself every day to put in my 10,000 hours as a writer, but for the rest of it? 100 hours is enough.

Have you seen these rules of thumb—for 10,000 and 100 hours—play out in your own life? What has that looked like? If could devote 100 hours to building a new skill in 2016, what would it be?

P.S. The liberating, terrifying realities of deliberate practice, and finding the nature of your talent.

For most disciplines, it only takes one hundred hours of active learning to become much more competent than an absolute beginner. The 10,000 hour rule is based on becoming the best of the best. But, for most of us, we only need that 100 hours.

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46 comments

  1. Amy says:

    I really love this concept. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what I might want to become a true expert in, but there are so many skills that I’d like to become more proficient in and it sounds so much less daunting that way!

  2. Jenn says:

    Interestingly enough, having found this post of yours through Facebook, today, there was a related article stating how the 10,000 Hours Rule is Wrong. It explains how Gladwell based his info off of Ericcson’s study, yet even Ericcson states that Gladwell got it wrong. (I’ve linked it so you can read it for yourself, if you wish).

    Either way, I like the 100-hours concept a lot better… because 10,000 hours has always seemed far too overwhelming for me! (given I’m a multi-passionate individual, I change things up in my life FAR too often to ever stick with something for so long! LOL)

  3. Miriam Kahn says:

    I’ve been enhancing my book binding skills with some contract project. I have more than 10,000 hours in and am definitely more than a beginner. Now I’m going to devote more than 100 hours on my newest set of services: edition and copy-editing. While I have more than the 100 hours, I could use more from my new paying clients. I’m excited to embark on a new venture. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Julia says:

    I just recently heard about this idea through some of the software development people I follow, and it has been such an eye-opener and I have absolutely found it to be true. In the past year I decided to learn some new programming languages and skills and although I am far from being one of those 10,000-hour experts, in the course of just a few months I have gained a fair amount of competence. The other way I have heard this put is “take advantage of the fact that learning curves are steep,” which is so interesting. The steepness of learning curves is a GOOD thing; when you invest just SOME time at the beginning, you get a lot of learning out.

  5. Lisa says:

    I find this so encouraging! As a “multipotentialite”, I do not have ONE THING I want to spend 10,000 hours on. It is good to know that 100 hours can make me somewhat competent so I can learn many new things!! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Terry Kessinger says:

    I’ve not heard of the 10,000 hour rule and this subject and post is very timely for me. You see, my focus for the year (I don’t make resolutions) is to find more balance and become more productive. That may sound vague, but I know what it means for me: I had a very ADD 2015 due to new life changes and interests. I decided to get healthier last year – and did, and I decided to learn the piano last January. While still a beginner, I’m determined to continue learning until I can play a song from the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack. That, with already established obligations, responsibilities, and interests, makes for a full and busy life. So, I am working on a plan and schedule to accomplish this – without going crazy or driving anyone else off of a cliff! Any suggestions?

  7. Beth says:

    This resonates profoundly with where I am in my life right now. True confession, I haven’t read the Gladwell’s book because frankly, it would probably just piss me off. I’m a professional musician and the past decade I’ve really struggled with how our society defines success. Mostly because I’m in a field where really only the top 10% meet that definition. And guess what, I’m not in that elite percentage and I can’t do anything about it at this point in my life. If I were to be truly honest, reaching that level was never in the cards for me no matter how many hours I spent in the practice room. So I find it frustrating and demoralizing because I have to believe that most fields offer more to the bottom 90% than the arts and I’m tired of feeling like a loser.

    Anyway. For the past few years I’ve been looking for another profession and it’s been extremely difficult. I’m 42 years old with absolutely no qualifications for anything other than music (which makes me extremely cynical about the kind of specialized focus people like Gladwell like to crow about) and going back to school at this point just isn’t a good option for many reasons. But after much soul searching I found an area I’m passionate about and I’ve decided I need to stop telling myself that I’m hopelessly unqualified for any “real” job and just dive in and learn the skills I need. I’ll probably never have a high powered or traditionally successful career but I am certainly capable of doing more in this world than what I have been. So I love the 100 hour theory. Here’s hoping it works out for me!

    • Susan says:

      Beth, I totally get what you mean about the fine arts thing. Our oldest daughter was a really really good oboe player in high school. She was #1 in the state of Illinois her senior year of high school. But we insisted she major in something she could get a JOB in when she graduated after 4 years. So she did music education and was a great junior high band director until she decided to lead the orchestra and choir at her church. She arranged a ton of music for them and was very passionate about it. Now she has 4 small kids and works part-time for a Christian ministry that uses music to reach the world with the Gospel. She’s also found that she’s an excellent administrator and gets people to get things done. She’s very happy with her career choices and she’s happy she can work part-time (I help out by watching the kids once a week which is good for everyone concerned) and once a year they do an amazing concert that she’s in charge of and she gets to use her musical talents.

      The best of luck to you in your new pursuits!!

  8. I am a product of the 10,000-Hour Rule, professionally. I’m an expert in my field, which is wonderful, but that mastery stands in stark contrast to many of my recreational endeavors! This is the first I’ve heard of the 100-Hour Rule, and I love it! An hour a day for three months seems a very reasonable investment to see marked improvement at a new skill. Can’t wait to try that, thank you!

  9. This is interesting… I think I subconsciously follow the 100 hour rule in anything I consider a “hobby” more than a calling, while I do really put in the hours for my vocations.
    Here’s the thing about the 10,000 hour rule, though. You said, “You can’t effectively pursue 14 passions simultaneously if you want to develop real skill. Developing expertise demands focus.” Practically speaking, however, many of those hours of practice are going to overlap if your passions are similar. My husband has spent about 20 years training as a violin maker, and he’s truly a master violin maker now. However, he found that when he wanted to dive into painting, it came to him much more readily than it would have to the average beginner. The second painting he ever completed won an award at a national art show, and his fourth was an honorable mention in a major international show. Some people said, “Wow, you must have a natural talent for this,” but he said he could tell that the hours he spent learning to pay attention to detail and form and color and carry out the finest of movements in his violin making translated directly to his skill as a painter. A similar thing happened when he set his hand to writing–even though his medium was words instead of wood or paint, he felt as though he’d already been training for it.
    Sorry for the long ramble! 🙂 I do think, though, that it’s important for people to know they won’t be throwing away any chances of other passions if they dedicate themselves to one right now!

    • Sarah says:

      I love the idea of the 100 hour rule, and I love the idea of overlapping proficiencies even more! Thank you for sharing your husband’s experience, it provides such a wonderfully happy thought with which to start out the new year.

      I suspect, too, that thinking about the ways in which one’s skill at, say, violin making can inform one’s skill at painting could also circle back and deepen one’s skill at violin making, if that makes any sense. So mastery has the potential to become a virtuous cycle.

  10. Michelle says:

    This is inspiring. I have so many things I want to learn to do pretty well. I’m trying to give up the idea of becoming “the best” at anything, which seems obvious but can be hard if you’ve had that mentality instilled in you from a young age. In a way this reminds me of an amazing book I read recently: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I think a lot of time, for me anyway, the drive to be a master at any particular thing, when in reality there are a hundred different things I’d love to learn (and I put too much pressure on myself for all of them), can be driven by the need to be perfect as a way of hiding our vulnerabilities. Competence is enough for me. Life should be fun 🙂

  11. Marina says:

    I started but never finished Outliers when it first came out. Need to read those last few pages. I’d love to hit the 100 hour mark in meditation this year. According to Headspace I sat for 41 hours in 2015, though this of course does not count the informal meditations I do throughout each day. Committed to deepening my practice in 2016.

  12. Lindsey Back says:

    I have just read a book called A Mind for Numbers (the full title –
    A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) Paperback – July 31, 2014
    by Barbara Oakley (Author)) A fascinating book about learning, the title is a bit off putting because it shows you how you can learn anything and the way to achieve it. I think it would sit nicely with the 100 hours idea so that you can be sure that you are spending the 100 hours doing positive learning. It is associated with the Coursera course entitled Learning How to Learn.

  13. Janice says:

    I love this! the 10000 hr rule is so unattainable. Unless we’re talking 10000 hours of changing dirty diapers, and then, yes, I may be an expert.

    BUT, I’m working on my first novel and have spent WAY over 100 hours learning about storytelling. Last week I had the chance to talk to a friend of mine who is a beginner and it was SO encouraging how much I knew in comparison. I believe that, unless the topic is extremely complex, 100 hours of intense study has to put you a decent way up the curve.

    Great post, thank you!

  14. Leanne says:

    I’ve read Outliers and find it fascinating. There’s a lot more to it than just the 10,000 hour one-liner. But I also think it’s pointless to chase a number. It’s not about the amount of time you put into any one thing. It’s about the quality of time, and the time you spend thinking about it when you’re not even doing it. Plenty of successful novelists started out by just writing (really writing, not getting distracted) for half an hour or an hour a day, every day, and thinking about their stories the rest of the time. As a musician, I can also attest to the fact that while the amount of practice time is of course important, especially in the area of muscle memory, the quality of instruction and dedication is equally if not more important.
    If you want to devote your time to something, just do it and don’t worry about mastery until you look up and find that you’ve attained the level you were shooting for!

  15. Monica says:

    Great post! I am one of those people who has tons of hobbies, so it’s daunting to think I will never get as good as people who’ve practiced and studied for years, but it is encouraging that I can get as good as I need to enjoy them. I also agree that most of us can’t become an “expert” according to the 10,000 hour rule. I love that book, but it might discourage more than it encourages. I often stress myself out about putting in enough hours reading, knitting, studying languages, etc. to feel productive, but I know that it’s all relative. Lately, I’ve tried to just enjoy what I’m doing rather than challenging myself more than necessary.

  16. Mollie says:

    Considering most of us don’t realize our passion at the age of 14, or even 20, the 10,000 hour rule can be discouraging. Thanks for this post. It’s a good reminder to stay focused and good things will come out of it.

  17. Cindy says:

    Thanks, Anne! This is encouraging for those of us who don’t have a driving, all-consuming need to be proficient in one area (so glad there are those out there who change our world for the better who do!) But many I know have a great desire to be competent in many areas of interest. This is also encouraging for those who are stuck getting started on a new adventure!

  18. Karen says:

    I agree with both rules. If you want to be an expert, 10,000 hours is a great number to shoot for, somewhere along the way, you will be an expert. If you want to be competent, then 100 hours is good to shoot for, however, even 100 hours can see daunting. Therefore, I recommend not looking at either, just look at spending an hour a day on learning wordpress for example and without you worrying about the goal of 100 hours, that goal will take care of itself and you will be competent. As a health coach, I tell my clients that set your goal, but then break it down and focus on the process; the goal will take care of itself.

  19. Julia says:

    Maybe this is why sometimes it is really better to see a specialist for a particular medical problem instead of the nurse practitioner or physician assistant at the doctor’s office. The specialist (right out of residency training) has had about 10,000 hours just in residency alone. Most residency training programs are 4 years long X 52 weeks per year X 50 hours per week = 10,4000. Whereas nurses and PA’s don’t receive nearly as much training in a particular specialty.

  20. Susan M says:

    100 hours? I agree, the 10,000 is way too daunting. Check out this awesome TED talk in which the speaker proposes that it only takes 20 hours to become reasonably proficient at a skill ~ good enough to make it fun. It’s a super-encouraging concept for someone like me who really, really likes to pursue many different skills!
    https://youtu.be/5MgBikgcWnY

  21. Heather Lima says:

    It’s been awhile since I read Gladwell’s book, but I remember him saying that a lot experts don’t just put in the 10,000 hours but also are in the right place at the right time with the right resources. Because of that I don’t really feel guilty for not being in that top 1%, and some in some fields it would be impossible to say whether someone qualifies as an expert because it’s just too subjective (teaching and motherhood come to mind). You can spend 10,000 hours on something and still do it poorly. I love the 100 hour concept, though. That sounds like fun! Maybe I just will pick up that calligraphy pen after all.

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