A couple weeks ago I wrote about the time required to become an expert songwriter. That advice could have been just as well for any craft, not just songwriting. And the number of hours that I referenced, 5,000, was arbitrary. There is no magic number. But if you’re not an expert yet, you can be sure that there is a number and it’s probably higher and farther than you wish… assuming you wish you were an expert right now.
While I’m clearing things up, I used the word “expert.” The research supports the correlation between practice and expertise. Just saying.
If you “get” that spending lots of time practicing your craft is a good thing, then good for you. You’ll be happy with what I have to show you. If you don’t get it, then it can only be for three reasons that I can think of right now…
- You’re resistant to, or afraid of, committing to your craft. If so, that’s a valid feeling and you’re not alone.
- You’re lazy — unwilling to work or use energy — and have deluded yourself into believing that you don’t need to work at developing and mastering your chosen craft. This too is totally common and nothing to be ashamed of.
- You just don’t want to be told what to do. If this is the case, maybe the timing just isn’t right for you. Maybe you shouldn’t commit just yet. I’m sure you have your reasons.
If any of those points describe you, heck, even if they don’t, read The War of Art. Maybe that will inspire you to break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles.
Enough said. Moving on.
Rescue Time is a free application (Mac,Win,Linux) that has become very important to my weekly GTD review. It’s helping me put some metrics to my writing goals.
Rescue Time tracks your activity at your computer. If you’re working, it logs it. If you’re slacking off, it logs it.
It uses application, category, and tag based tracking. This means you can track how you’re spending your time by the application, the tag you give to your applications and websites you visit, and by category.
You really start to understand your computer habits fast when you see the results of your time in a pretty bar graph. It can feel intimate. This is your life you’re looking at!
Here’s an example. Logic Pro is my main compositional tool. Within Rescue Time’s interface, it’s listed under the Audio/Video Tools category. I’ve also tagged Logic Pro with the keywords, composing, audio, work, mixing, music, recording, and creative.
When I look at Rescue Time’s data, I can see how much time I’ve spent using Logic Pro, or how much time I’ve spent in the Audio/Video Tools category, or how much time I’ve spent composing.
When you see how much time you’ve spent at something relative to something else — like composing vs. surfing the internet — you really get much needed perspective on how your actions line up with your goals.
So I’ve set up a goal to compose at least one hour a day. Every time I reach my goal, that is, when I’ve used Logic Pro an hour or more, Rescue Time sends me an alert.
I’ve even set up some negative goals. I’d like to spend less than an hour on Twitter each day. (a goal I’ve met ever since I started it, knock on wood.) If I were to go over my alloted time, Rescue Time would either email me or text message me, depending on how I set it up.
As you can see, if you would like to reach an hourly songwriting goal, tag the applications that you use to write songs and set it up in Rescue Time. It’s simple.
Back to the expert practice advice.
To reach 5,000 logged hours of songwriting, starting now (June 2, 2008) at 10 hours a week, you’ll get there on Thursday, December 28, 2017.
Looks like I’d better get back to writing now.
John Chancellor says
You are absolutely right about the time we waste doing unimportant things.
And you are right about the amount of time, learning and developing new skills to become an expert – actually I have heard the number to reach expert status quoted higher than 5,000.
Maybe I missed something, but at 10 hours per week starting in June 2008, I don’t see how you can get to 5,000 hours by October 2009. Did you mean 10 hours per day?
Graham English says
Ha! You’re totally right. I screwed the math up big time. Okay, the new date is Thursday, December 28, 2017! Damn. 😉
10 hours a week = 1.43 hours a day
5,000 hours / 1.43 hours = 3496.5 days
Double check me on that. I could still be wrong. Me + math = not so good.
Great article Graham. I’m no expert but I can say that doing GTD has had a great impact on my creativity. It has freed up head space to focus purely on the creative rather than all those annoying little chores and things that can pop up in your mind when you least want them to.
Graham English says
Doh. Rounding error. It should take 500 weeks, which is 3,500 days, 9.6 years. Close enough not to change in the post. 😉
Thanks Simon. Glad to hear GTD works for you. The GTD capture concept has helped me too… big time! Cheers.
Hey Graham –
Great post. And an interesting too. I might just have to check it out.
By the way . . . me + math = not so good, either. 😉
Graham English says
Thanks Annie. Glad to know I’m not alone out there!
Mike Saville says
I found Ericcsons ‘Deliberate Practice’ paper a couple of weeks back and have yet to fully read it – his arguements though seem to back up what most of us have guessed already to be the case – you need to put in the time. Most of those that are great musicians are there because of time (and in some cases talent).
I also use the Rescue Time app – very useful. Just imagine if we could get something like that to track our offline lives as well . . . . .