5 Ways to Shortcut the 10,000 Hour Rule

Shortcut the 10,000 Hour Rule

The older we get, the harder it is to learn something new. Not because it’s actually harder, but because we don’t like feeling like a novice. So, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get up that learning curve faster?

Well, there is.

No doubt you’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule. First espoused by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, the “10,000 hour” rule states that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. Or, translated into years, it’s about 10 years of consistent practice to achieve mastery.

Either way you look at it, that is a really long time.

But, what is often overlooked while talking about the 10,000 hour rule is two things:

1) It refers to 10,000 hours of rote practice

2) There are number ways those 10,000 hours can be shortened (often by about half).

These shortcuts can be applied to virtually anything you are interested in learning – from dunking a basketball to becoming a piano virtuoso to becoming a world-class copywriter.

Shortcut #1: Deliberate Practice

The saying is that “practice makes perfect.” And while that’s true, there is a lot more to those three words than meets the eye.

After all, what if you are perfecting the wrong thing? If you’ve ever tried to re-learn anything, you know just how hard it is to undo bad habits and re-learn the right ones. It’s simply so much easier to focus on the process from the get-go and learn it right the first time.

And that’s where the idea of deliberate practice comes in.

Deliberate practice is another term coined by Ericsson, and in a nutshell it means that rather than just going through the motions to say you’ve done something that you are quite intentional in doing the work. You focus on it and you pay attention to the process and the outcome (and how can you change the process to improve the outcome). You are definitely not just “getting your reps in.”

In the case of our copywriting novice, she would be using templates, writing out 50 versions of the headline, and making sure she was getting regular constructive feedback.

Shortcut #2: Study Before You Sleep

You know that sleep is good for you, but did you also know that sleep is when we process the information from the day and it’s when memories are created? And, that if you study right before going to sleep you are going to retain that information better than if you study earlier in the day.

Personally, I’m a night owl, so studying right before bed works great for me. But, if you are morning person, the idea of studying right before bed is generally not appealing. In that case, still study when you are the most fresh, but then you can either nap right after your study session or schedule a short review session right before bed so it’s the thing your brain can focus on overnight.

Shortcut #3: Play to Your Strengths

Is it raw talent or is it developed skill? Oftentimes you’ll find that those that are at the top of their game have spent years mastering their craft, but it’s also something they have a knack for.

Usain Bolt, if you don’t know who he is, is the world’s fastest man. He’s set numerous world records at the past two summer Olympics. At 6’5” tall, he’s not “supposed” to be a good sprinter – until he came along conventional wisdom dictated that anyone his height was too tall to be fast.

But, he had talent. And Bolt is Jamaican, which is a country that has one of the world’s best sprinting programs. So a combination of talent and skill development propelled him onto the world stage.

The net is that when you channel your energy towards something you already have a natural inclination for, plus a compatible base skill set in, you will get up the learning curve much faster.

In the case of our aspiring copywriter, if she hates to read and doesn’t enjoy writing or spending time at a computer, she might want to reconsider her career aspirations.

However, if she is an avid reader with a knack for research and clearly communicating ideas, then she can easily transfer those skills over to copywriting.

Shortcut #4: Study the Masters

No matter what anyone tells you, there isn’t a whole lot that hasn’t already been done before. Sure, no one has put quite your spin on it, but learn from the best and don’t reinvent the wheel.

The foundational principles are the foundational principles – right now we’re just iterating off of what the greats did generations before us.

By reading about and studying the greats – both their successes and their failures – you can accelerate your learning curve by not having to go down a path they have already gone.

Shortcut #5: Maximize Brain Shortcuts

Our brains are the world’s greatest supercomputers – they have to be to take in the insane amounts of information we process every second (our eyes alone take in the equivalent of 75GB of information every second).

That means that our brains have to be exceptionally good at filtering, literally at warp speed, to not only meet our base need of survival, but also to allow us to thrive.

Because of the insane amount of information we need to process every second, the brain quickly filters based upon:

predict = ignore

new/novel = pay attention.

What this means for the 10,000 hour rule is that to force the brain to pay attention we have to change things up, just a little bit, when we practice. For a pianist that may mean playing the piece more slowly than tempo, or for a copywriter it may mean that you read outside of your normal genre or practice writing something far outside of your signature style.

And then, when it comes time to bring your A game, that is where prediction is your friend. Large parts of your brain can go on auto-pilot because you truly own this skill, inside and out, and the brain gets to ignore what it already knows (which is most of it) and has more cycles to devote to doing your best work.

By consistently implementing these 5 shortcuts, you will cut your learning time in half, leapfrogging others on your road to mastery.

What is your favorite shortcut to override 10,000 rule? Share with us!

Image by FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Jen Waak is a health and fitness writer and wellness coach who writes specifically for office athletes on her blog keyboardathletes.com. The author of the Keyboard Athletes Guide to Pain Relief & Prevention, she also recently released the free course How to Have the Body You Want (Without Giving Up Your Life). You can sign up for the free course here.


  1. memil on the 13th May

    Great article! I’ve read the article about deliberate practice before and that was certainly one of the better articles that really stuck with me for a long time and still does.

  2. Bruce Hoag, PhD on the 15th May

    These are good suggestions, and they will make you proficient is less time that it would take if you adopted a haphazard approach, ignored your natural abilities, or tried to do it all yourself without some expert guidance.

    But, doing just these things will not take you from nothing to world-class, which is where the 10K hours comes from.

    For example, to become a professional, world-class, classical musician, you need to develop certain muscles in your fingers, voice, or other parts of your body. These things don’t happen overnight, no matter how much outside support you get.

    The first principle in this post holds true. You have to practice; but you have to do so for much longer than 99% of people are willing to do.

    What about Olympic athletes? They eat, sleep, and breathe their sport. Forty hours per week means that 10K hours takes about five years. And many of them work for more time than that to get up to world class – high enough to win medals.

    So let’s not underestimate the amount of time, energy, and commitment that’s required to get to the top.

    Just because there are a few exceptions doesn’t make it the rule.

  3. Raphael Love on the 15th May

    Excellent article… There are some real nuggets here! I will be putting these into practice this week. =) Thank you for this gift!


  4. Kiri Østergaard Leonard on the 30th May

    Great article! While I do agree with Bruce’s comment I definitely think these suggested practices will come in most helpful.

    I particularly liked your point in #4, sometimes it is easily forgotten that there are masters we can study from instead of reinventing the wheel.

  5. Keith on the 4th June

    Hi Jen,

    Great article, especially the part about learning from the masters. I think commitment and enthusiasm are key, so where possible, surrounding ourselves with people who have achieved similar goals and have become experts will feed this. The comments about actually putting the time in I agree with and having a strong and relevant network support in place adds a lot of value making us more likely to stick it out through moments of doubt when most will quit.

    De-chunking by setting smaller milestones of success is also a great one. Looking ahead to 10k hours is so far away it can actually de-motivate, so being able to measure success along the way is important.


  6. anonymous on the 29th June

    Having read through this I’ve noticed that I’ve already been applying this – albeit I suppose when you’re doing what you love it comes naturally eh? Well I wish everyone the best on the journey of life and where it takes everyone. Life is for living, after all.

  7. SJ Scott on the 9th December

    You make some great points. It still takes a heap of time, practice and effort to really be a master of anything, but having a plan and utilizing these EFFECTIVE means of learning really can help you make the absolute most of all of your learning.

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