How Long Will It Take You To Do What You Want?

Accomplishing a goal has 3 phases: deciding to do it, determining what specific actions are necessary and in what order, and executing those actions. By now you should have chosen your life goals and derived from them five-year, one-year, monthly and even weekly objectives. I have given you a very good system for getting them done. What’’s left is the doing. Ah, there’s the rub.

Out of every 100 people who choose to do something, the majority will drop out before they begin because they don’’t have an effective plan. Of those that remain, 80% will fail simply because they stopped the doing. Execution, as they say, is nine-tenths of the game. So today we are going to talk about how long it takes to execute you goals. My theory (a hopeful one, admittedly) is that if you begin a task with a realistic idea of how long it will take to accomplish it then your chances of finishing it are greatly improved.

If you decide to become a lawyer, you need to know that it will take you three years of full-time effort after college. If you decide to learn Spanish you are better off recognizing that a certain sum of hours is necessary to achieve any level of proficiency. I have been thinking about this lately for several reasons. First because I’’m learning two new physical activities (ballroom dancing and Jiu Jitsu) and I’’m interested to find out how long it will take before I am “good” at them. Second because I am coaching some friends and relatives on career choices and need to be able to tell them how long specific tasks might take.

You might want to know, for example, how long it takes to:

* speak Spanish

* become a good public speaker

* dance well at weddings

* practice a martial art

* play a musical instrument

* learn the secrets of direct marketing

* become a good copywriter

Almost as soon as you ask the question, you realize that “how good” needs to be defined, for we recognize that it is possible to practice any skill at various levels of proficiency.

To make matters simple, let’’s say that, broadly speaking, you can have the following three levels of skill:

* competence

* mastery

* virtuosity

Anything worth doing takes time

Let’’s illustrate this principle with ballroom dancing. You probably know people who move well on the dance floor. Whether it’’s a cha-cha, a swing or a fox trot playing, they can go out there and make the moves. They are not professionals. They could not compete favorably in contests – but they are definitely competent. The next level –mastery – is the level of the professional dancer…. the teacher or the member of the dance troupe.

It’’s easy to see the difference between competence and mastery, isn’’t it? Virtuosity? That’s Fred Astaire. If one of a hundred dancers is competent, one of a hundred masters is at the Fred Astaire level. I’’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about this, talking to professionals and recalling personal experiences.

My conclusion is as follows:

* It takes about 1,000 hours to become competent at any worthwhile skill.

* It takes about 5,000 hours to master any skill.

* It takes between 25,000 and 35,000 hours to become world class. (And then only if you are gifted.) Now these are ballpark numbers, but they are surprisingly reliable. Skeptical? Let’s check it out. What shall we use? How about language? How many hours would it take you to become a competent French speaker?

Based on my experience learning French, here’s a good guess:

* 300 hours to learn – cold – the 20 most common irregular verbs in three tenses.

* 100 hours to master about 50 prepositions, conjunctions and articles.

* 200 hours to get a good grasp of French grammar

* 200 hours to learn about 1,000 useful nouns

* 100 hours to memorize gender

* 50 hours to acquire passable pronunciation. What does it all add up to? 950.

As I said, that would get you speaking well, but it would hardly qualify you as a French teacher. To get to that level you’’d need to do a lot more work. Say you studied 2 hours a day and practiced for another 3 hours …and you did this for three years, you’’d probably be ready to teach, don’’t you think? You would have reached a level most would consider fluent. Take one more example – Jiu Jitsu.

I have been at it now for two years. I have spent about 600 hours and have just received my purple belt. I feel almost competent. I can easily handle white belts and most blue belts, but I struggle with good blue belts. I have the distinct feeling that I am about 100 hours away from competence. Seven hundred hours is not 1,000, but in my case I’’ve had the advantage of being trained by Reylson Gracie, probably the best instructor of his kind. That kind of education counts.

In this case it “saved” me about 30% of the time I would have spent otherwise. So I would make this adjustment to my theory. Deduct 20% to 30% for good teaching. How you can take advantage of this observation? Think about the goals you have set for yourself. Have you allocated enough time to accomplish them? Let me give you an example – an odd but true one.

The Case of the Terminal Bachelorette

A friend of mine – an attractive, intelligent woman  has been looking for the right man for as long as I’’ve known her. She is committed to finding a man. And she has read books about how to do it. Yet nothing has happened. The reason? She spends almost no time doing the things she needs to do. She feels like she spends all her time looking (because she thinks about it a lot and is open to blind dates, etc.) but she seldom actually goes out “there” and makes herself available.

I wondered if this new theory would work in her case and put the following proposition to her: If she put in 1,000 hours over a one-year timespan, she would have her man. Since she had a full-time job, to spend 1,000 hours a year pursuing this objective she would have to get out there two hours every work-day evening and five hours on Saturday and Sunday. “Imagine,” I said, “that after work each day you got yourself up and went somewhere – an art class, a charity event, a bar, etc. – and you did it by yourself and with focused energy on your task. And assume that each weekend day you did the same – maybe spending time in ProShops and health clubs, going to special events, etc. – but for five hours each day.” “

What,” I asked, “would be the chance that you could do that every day for a year and still not have the relationship you are looking for?” “Zero percent,” she said. You can achieve what you want in life. You just have to make the effort, pay attention to what you are doing, and spend the time it requires to get there. Now start thinking about what it is that you haven’t gotten around to doing. Something important. Something that will really improve your life.


[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]