Ever heard those crazy tales of Kobe Bryant’s legendary midnight workouts, the guy who made Stardew Valley by himself working 8-10 hour days 7 days a week for four years, or Stephen King writing at least ten pages every single day? Name a field, there’s a story. These anecdotes are often simply offered as inspiration (Follow these 10 Habits of Successful People To Get Rich Quick!) and are rarely explained in context. It often appears that these people have an innate affinity for working hard and long, implying that they’re simply built that way.
It’s certainly possible, and I’m sure some are, but what is often not emphasized is that for the majority of successful people, these habits must be learned and practiced. Essentially, to work hard, learn new things and accomplish amazing things, people must first learn how to work hard in the first place! This is an often neglected and rarely taught skill, whether in high school or otherwise.
The first key is understanding that it is not hard work but rather effective hard work that matters. The number 10,000 hours (From Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers) is often put forth as the magic number of hours of practice needed to attain mastery in a skill or an idea, but unfortunately it is often stated without context. Those 10,000 hours will barely get you anywhere if they aren’t spent effectively. Therefore, it’s not quality over quantity or quantity over quality, but quality AND quantity that matter!
So, you must simultaneously learn how to practice a lot and how to practice well. The core solution is simple: make it a habit. To get that 10,000 hours, you must make working automatic. Easier said than done, of course, but there are more than a few techniques you can learn that will help you. My personal favorite is the Pomodoro Technique:
The technique itself is simple and involves six steps:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set a timer (traditionally 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four check marks, take a 3-5 minute break and then go to step 2.
- Once you have four checkmarks, take a 15-30 minutes break, reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1. Repeat until the task is done.
I love this technique because it has built in breaks that are designed to prevent ineffective work from happening. Taking breaks is key, as it gives you time to refresh and rethink your approach. This technique is simply one of many that are out there; ultimately you must figure out what works best for you.
Got it? Great, because that’s just Step 1 overall. Steps 2, 3, 4, all the way to infinity are to repeat it every week and every day, whenever you have something that needs to get done. (And you always will, or should, at least!) Here’s a couple other useful tips that can help make creating a habit easier:
- Pick a consistent time and place to study, preferably away from home. Consistency is key, and the act of going somewhere away from where you relax helps the brain to understand that it is now “work” time.
- Never skip a day because you “just aren’t feeling it”. Always start working. Even if you end up only working for 10 minutes, just showing up will help greatly to cement the habit. (This also applies for going to the gym/working out, by the way!)
- If you have multiple tasks, breaking them and switching back and forth between them can help greatly to reduce mental fatigue and boredom.
For example, as a huge history nerd, I am currently working my way through the entire The Great War Youtube series. This series has successfully chronicled the events of World War 1, week by week, exactly 100 years after the events themselves. At the time of this writing, there are currently 641 videos (they’re still making more!); at an average of ten minutes long each it comes out to about 107 total hours of video. Just watching all of it is a gargantuan task on its own (I can’t even imagine creating it).
To make it more manageable, I’ve been watching about three videos a day on average. After about five months, I’m a little over halfway, and I almost can’t imagine life without it at this point (it’s an amazing series). Above all else, consistency is key. The beginning is always the hardest, but keep sticking to it, day in an day out, and eventually it will seem natural. Good luck!