Working smarter, not harder, every day

Tracking Excellence

3 min read

You track your steps taken in a day, distance running, followers on IG, to-do lists and calendar items, but you don’t track your time spent doing other things?

tracking running

Have you ever heard that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything? The concept comes from studies performed by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson (later popularized and brought into the mainstream consciousness by Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”) on how people become experts in their fields.

Gladwell later clarified that the figure of 10,000 hours was merely an average from Professor Ericsson’s study, and more to suggest that a lot of practice time was required in addition to the natural ability required to achieve expertise in any particular field.

To this day, critics (Professor Ericsson himself, as well) continually disagree with Gladwell about the exact number of deliberate practice hours required to be an expert. There may never be an agreement (or even a workable way to figure out) what is the requisite benchmark of hours to make an expert.


Ultimately, while critics might disagree over the exact “magical” number, they seem to agree with Professor Ericsson that selective, deliberate practice is the most important factor affecting performance for any skill.

In fact, in Professor Ericsson’s recently published book “Peak,” he cites a study by researchers in Britain who found that intelligence predicts chess skill among child players, but for the most elite child chess players, a higher IQ was anomalously correlated with worse skills.

More Reading: How to form new lasting habits with an everday list

The researchers in the study explained this apparent discrepancy by the negative correlation between the amount of practice compared to the IQ among the players in the elite group (i.e., in the elite group, the players with higher IQs tended to spend less time in deliberate practice).

My suggestion is that you spend as much time in focused, deliberate practice as possible, and try to use yourself as a benchmark for your success, whenever possible.The 10,000 hours number is a nice goal, but even once you have achieved it, there is no guaranty that you will be an expert.

This is because some other studies show that “some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice,” according to K. Anders Ericcson in reviewing these studies.

I think one of the best ways to deliberately practice is by actually tracking the time you spend on performing the various activities and tasks you have going on in your life, seeing where you spent your time, and adjusting your behavior accordingly.

For instance, if you tracked the amount of time it took to wash your dishes, you might also start noticing ways to reduce the amount of time it took to get that same amount of dishes done.

Then you would deliberately “practice,” getting the time down until you reached a new base.

Thus, if you were more efficient with your time and spent it continually refining your method to make it more productive and efficient, I’m willing to bet the net result would be that you would produce far more output over the 10,000 hours compared to the person who did not track their time to obtain a baseline for what amount of time they spent on which tasks.

More like this: Work Selectively to Reduce Collateral Life Damage


Author: Ryan Ullman

Law student, productivity buff, blogger, flow-seeker. Loves the outdoors and coffee.

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