In their book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool assert that it takes 10,000+ hours of practice to master a given skill. I had been first introduced to this concept 15 years back while reading the book titled: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Both are great books you may want to get your hands on.
If you only desire to master one thing – playing the cello, for example -- you could certainly find your 10,000 hours. But what about those of us who need to become proficient in a number of different areas in order to be successful – like CPA practice owners, for example? Are there even enough hours in a lifetime to become a true master?
When it comes to learning, time isn’t all that matters. After all, it’s entirely possible to spend 10,000 hours on something and still walk away having learned very little. What matters more, perhaps, is how we learn.
Following are four shrewd techniques that can help you learn new skills faster.
Whatever you want to learn, someone has already mastered it. A path has been hacked through the jungle, a stable walkway built and a map drawn – so you don’t have to waste a lot of time figuring things out the hard way.
Instead, learn from those who’ve already been there. Their trial and error has already been documented and filtered into best practices. Learn from their resources – books, e-courses, etc.
When I started my practice in 1996, I quickly realized I didn’t have all the answers to create the practice I envisioned. That was the beginning of my journey to seek solutions from others. I am glad I didn’t resist this as I’ve seen so many practice owners do because my success would have been only a fraction of what it’s been had I fallen trap to it.
People who keep an eye on their progress learn more, faster. Think about it: if you’re not paying attention to how much you’re learning or accomplishing, you could easily wallow around at the same level for years and never get measurably better.
Some types of learning can be more formally measured than others, but that’s O.K. For other subjects, go with self-evaluation instead. Ask yourself “What did I learn this week?” Jot it down on a note pad. Take special notice of any mistakes you made, because that’s where you’ll find some of your greatest lessons.
Once you’ve learned the basics, consider working with a mentor – someone who’s “been there, done that” in the area you’re looking to master.
My first advice was to “mimic the masters”. That’s a good place to start when you’re getting up-to-speed on the basics. But in this step, you have the opportunity to get direct feedback from an expert – something that doesn’t come from reading a book.
Mentors can quickly recognize areas where you’re headed for trouble and/or wasted effort and save you a lot of time. They understand the nuances of their area of expertise and can help you refine your work efficiently.
Mentors can come from anywhere. You might find one by joining a local business circle, or by contacting an expert and asking if they provide coaching or consultation. You can check out the group I’ve created exclusively for CPA firm owners by going here: www.CPAmarketingGeniu.com/coaching
You don’t necessarily need 10,000 hours. You might only need 100 – as long as you spend those hours highly focused on your work. While mastery may come with 10,000 hours, who’s to say half of that time wasn’t spent in distracted repetition?
When you’re working on you new area of learning, devote yourself to it completely. Give it your full attention. Put your phone away. Work in a quiet, private place. Guard your learning, practice or study time fiercely. Commit to it. Don’t allow yourself to be disturbed. With focus, you can absorb a lot in a short period of time.
I have immense respect for anyone who’s devoted 10,000+ hours to a subject or skill and become a true master. However, some dreams require excellence in an array of areas. Is there enough time?
There is when you practice these techniques. I hesitate to call them “shortcuts” because that word sometimes has a negative connotation. However, they do deliver a respectable level of excellence that you can use to climb to new heights of success, and in less time than you might imagine. As shortcuts go, they’re some of the smartest hacks I know.