Deliberate practice

To become exceptional at just about anything takes practice. Studying, computer programming, counseling, managing, writing—they all take time, experience, and work to master. In fact, in his 2008 book, Outliers, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell introduced the “10,000 hours rule,” which argues that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at just about anything, from guitar, to golf, to video games.

But the 10,000-hour rule doesn’t specify what kind of practice is necessary to get measurably better. It turns out that whether your aspirations drive you to spend 10,000 or just 10 hours practicing, just putting the hours in isn’t enough to get better. You have to do the right things during those practice hours.

Enter “deliberate practice.”

Deliberate practice is purposeful and systematic rather than just mindlessly repeating actions and hoping to get better. For example, a professional video gamer doesn’t just sit for hours playing the game for fun. They analyze their performance. They carefully consider where improvements could make the biggest difference. They dissect the specific skills they need to practice to improve those areas. And they approach each practice session with a plan—much like a syllabus for a class or a focused agenda for a meeting—for exactly how they will spend that time. It’s not just putting in the hours. It’s putting in the time, focus, and analysis necessary to make the most of those hours spent.

Professor and author Cal Newport discusses deliberate practice at the 26:30 mark of this podcast. In fact, the entire 1-hour podcast—which discusses how to build a remarkable career—is worth a listen. But everyone, from students to parents to counselors, wants to be good at those things they care about. And if you’re putting in the hours, you might as well make those hours count.