Forget the 10,000 Hour Rule: Consider This Viable Alternative

When I talk to creative people who feel overwhelmed, distracted and struggle to manage their time, they all have one thing in common: they try to do too many things at once. They move one mile in a thousand different directions instead of a thousand miles in one.

In a recent office hours session we held, one of our Unmistakable Prime members told the rest of the group that she had started three different paintings but eventually abandoned all of them. Having too many ideas and the impulse to implement them all is one of the blessings and burdens of being an entrepreneur or artist.

New ideas become very seductive when we lose interest or motivation in another idea.

You have a hundred ideas for blog posts, book ideas and businesses that you start but never finish. Then you compare yourself to other people, beat yourself up and say, “Why bother?” Does any of this feel familiar?

This is because we overvalue intensity and underestimate the power of consistency. My old roommate Ahmad Russ gave up his high-profile job in finance to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. When we lived together, I was addicted to pursuing new ideas that never led anywhere.

Ten years later, he was at my parents Christmas party and asked ME for advice on how to stick with something. So I shared the one thing that helped me create the Unmistakable Creative podcast and become the kind of person who can actually finish what I’m starting: one focused action a day.

Thanks to books like Outliers and Mastery, the 10,000 Hour Rule has become synonymous with extraordinary success. We have been told that it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft, win an Oscar or a Grammy, write a bestseller or become a world-class athlete. By the time we grow up, most of us don’t have 10,000 hours left because we have to keep the water running, the lights on and have food on the table.

Since most of us don’t have that time, we use it as a reasonable justification not to try. However, we underestimate the power of starting small. We forget that the small things we do over and over again lead to big changes over a sufficiently long period of time.

1. Start with a Minimum Viable Action

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You might start your day by creating a to-do list of 15 things you need to do. You might even schedule them in your calendar to get the time for them. But you get to the end of the day only to find that you haven’t even made a dent.

Some time ago, I wrote about the power of one hour a day. Michelle Florendo, one of our rockstar Unmistakable Prime members and a professional decision engineer, she has an infant and a three-year-old. Sometimes she shows up for our weekly phone calls with the infant in tow. It made me realize that I was disregarding context when I said that anyone could easily put aside one concentrated hour a day.

Perhaps you are dealing with a house full of children, endless meetings at work, etc. Fortunately, there is a way around this. It is a simple concept about sticking to a habit that James Clear shared with me when he was a guest on Unmistakable Creative.

Reduce the scope, but stick to the schedule. With one focused action per day, you can work on something for five, ten or fifteen minutes. You can adapt it to your needs and your situation.

  • If you can’t write a thousand words, write 3 sentences
  • Instead of designing an entire website, buy the domain

Say your to-do list has one item on it each day of the week. By the end of this week, you will tick five things off. Ironically, you will achieve more by trying to do less. So how do you take a focused action per day that has a high impact and leads to meaningful progress?

Most people find it difficult to develop good habits and break bad ones, because they do not make their efforts sustainable.

  • People set overly-ambitious goals and abandon them.
  • They make New Year’s resolutions and don’t honor their commitments.

Crash diets, extreme fitness plans and drastic behavioral changes rarely stick. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By taking minimal viable actions, you learn not only to maintain new behaviors, but also to make progress toward a goal.

What’s a Minimum Viable Action?

This is a term I coined when I wrote my book An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for its Own Sake.

A minimum viable action elicits zero resistance. Take any habit and break it into pieces. Each of those parts is a minimum viable action.

In the most basic version of a daily writing habit, there are four actions you have to take.

  1. Sit down to write
  2. Get out a pen
  3. Open a notebook
  4. Put pen to paper

Sit down to write is a minimum of viable action. Do this for 7 days in a row. Then add the next minimum viable action. Your brain will eventually say, “I’m sitting down and getting a pen out every day. I might as well write something.”

James Clear calls this identity-based habit formation. One of his readers lost 100 pounds using this very method to develop a training habit.

The One Hour Rule

In my recent interview with Seth Godin, he debunked the 10,000-hour rule and offered a much more realistic approach to the creative process:

One our a day of uninterrupted creativity and deep work can bring exponential rewards. If you eliminate the competition for your attention, you experience flow. And an hour spent in flow will increase your output more than 8 hours of multitasking.

How to Make the Best of One Hour

  1. Set clear goals. The easiest way to make a goal clear is to put a number in front of it. Then there is no doubt about whether you hit the goal or not.
  2. Leave your phone out of the room, block distractions and build an environment that supports your efforts
  3. Close the door and put headphones on. Find your equivalent of a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.

You will be amazed at what you can achieve with just one hour of work a day.

Do the work and the Narrative Changes

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People lack the courage to pursue their ideas for several reasons: They lack confidence or skill. They are afraid that they will suck. So they do nothing.

Everyone sucks when he starts and sucking is the first step to achieving anything. Follow the progress of every creator you admire and you’ll see how much they sucked when they started.

If you sit around and wait until you become more confident or have more courage, then you’ll be waiting for a long time. As Seth told me in our interview, doing the work is what changes the narrative.

If you were to spend an hour every day for a year working on a project or creative endeavor, you would make dramatic progress. If you need a helping hand, check out The Unmistakable Listener Tribe, where you will gain access to a community of like-minded creatives who will support you throughout the journey.

For all the glory, the 10,000-hour rule is unrealistic for most of us. Instead of pursuing big, hairy, bold goals, we will make more progress by setting small, meaningful goals. Such goals lead to visible progress and enable us to harness the power of creative dynamism.

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