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Brian P. Hogan
Brian P. Hogan

Posted on • Originally published at bphogan.com

Getting Good

So you want to get good at something in a creative field like music, writing, or even coding? Folks might tell you that you need thousands of hours of study. But that's not necessarily true. The key to getting good at something is to do it over and over while incorporating feedback along the way.

Think of the one thing you're amazing at. How long did it take you to get to your level of skill?

There are no shortcuts, but there is a strategy.

Daily Practice

Whatever you're doing, practice it daily. 30 minutes. Every day if you can.

30 min a day is 3.5 hours per week which is 182 hours a year.

It adds up. So does your skill.

If you want to write, write every day. Even if it's crap nobody sees. Write. Learning to draw? Draw every day. You don't have to show or even keep everything you do.

Want to learn to play guitar? Play every day. Nobody has to hear you all the time. It's ok to play alone.

Learning a new framework? Spend 30 minutes a day working toward that goal. You might not produce some output every day. But that's ok. You're improving your understanding and making progress. After some time, you'll get more confident and your output will improve.

I have over a thousand unfinished songs that nobody will ever hear. I do some kind of musical composition every day because I want to get better at it, and daily practice is how you do it.

Some folks say that they'd rather dedicate a day a week and have a long block of time. That's dangerous because something might come up that causes you to have to skip that day. A soccer game for your kids, a family outing, someone gets sick, or you just feel awful. If you miss that day, you lost a weeks' worth of practice. IF you do your work over the course of a week, you can miss a day and you've only lost 30 minutes.

Practice. Every. Day.

Get Feedback

Get feedback on your progress and act on it. Learning happens through feedback AND practice. Practice alone doesn't level you up, and feedback is useless if you don't incorporate it.

Writing a book? Get peer reviews along the way. Work with an editor. Have these folks check your facts as well as your writing.

Composing music? Share your progress with other musicians and ask them to tell you what they like and what they might suggest to make it better.

Learning a framework? Use your network to find people willing to give you feedback on your progress. Share your code with them and ask them for suggestions.

Get as many perspectives as you can on your work. If you've practiced enough, this will be less painful. If you haven't been practicing, this can be harder.

Then take that feedback, sit on it, digest it, and identify common themes. A trusted friend or coworker or mentor can help a lot here, helping you identify common themes. This is one of the most valuable things my editors have done with me when I write a book. I get a bunch of feedback and then together we look at places where lots of folks get stuck, or where folks disagree.

Some feedback might not be helpful, or you may disagree with it, and it's up to you how you want to act. You don't have to incorporate every piece of feedback, but you should act on it, either by using it or discarding it.

Feedback is a gift. If you ask for it, be respectful of it, even if it stings a bit.

Do more than you watch or read

Watching hours of videos of playing guitar, or mixing and mastering, or buying every coding course under the sun is not helping you get leveled up. Watching or reading hours of material to understand concepts is called passive learning and it's only part of the learning process. Passive learning, including lectures, is good for getting introduced to a topic, or for seeing how an experienced person does something. And it feels like learning.

But it's not all of learning. Remember, learning happens through practice and feedback. I can watch all the React courses out there, but if I don't do the practice of writing the code, and I don't get feedback, I won't get better. The same goes for any other skill. YouTube has videos on hanging and mudding drywall. And they're quite informative. But if you've ever tried to do this, you'll find that you can't just upload that info to your brain. You'll have to screw up quite a few areas of drywall before you start getting good at it.

So, watch the video and follow along. Then practice that part over and over. Move on to the next lesson when you're comfortable. Make the move from passive learning to active learning.

Conclusion

You don't need thousands of hours to learn a new skill. Dedicate time every day to the thing you want to do, get feedback on it, and be sure you DO more than you WATCH.

Develop a good practice plan for yourself. Put your 30 minutes on your calendar every day. Decide which days are your "passive learning" days where you'll watch videos or read papers. Then decide which are active days. Or maybe you'll do a little of both.

Finally, give yourself a break. Everything you are good at now didn't happen overnight. It happend over a lifetime with little bits at a time, where you absorbed new concepts and got practice and feedback on them. This is how we learn, and there are no shortcuts. So don't get frustrated if you don't see immediate results. You know the process now. Follow it and then, one year and 182 hours later, look back on your accomplishments.

Good luck!

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