Qq: Quota & Quality
How Much Is Enough?
A lot has been said about how much time you must put into your craft before you “master it.” You’ve probably heard about the 10,000-hour rule. Others have talked about “deliberate practice” where you not only put time into your craft every day, you strive to improve, seek out experts to critique your work, and basically give your life over to it.
I don’t disagree with any of this, but it’s that last part that doesn’t seem to get discussed much—giving your life over to it. For me, this is not realistic. Not only because I have other responsibilities, but because I think such singular focus might come at the cost of enjoying my craft.
Part of the 10,000 rule or “deliberate practice” is about achieving GREATNESS, becoming the next Martha Graham, Beethoven, or Toni Morrison. Nothing wrong with aiming for this, but there are a bunch of other layers between greatness and “never tried.” For me, these other layers offer life-long opportunities for joy and creativity.
Although I may not aim to be a “master,” I have also aimed too low. I found myself writing the same things over-and-over-and-over-and-over again in my journal just to say I’d done my ten minutes of writing that day. “Just writing” was a far cry from “deliberate practice” and the mindless effort might have even regressed my skills. It certainly dulled my joy and interest. I needed purpose and a higher standard of quality.
So, quota and quality—how much is enough practice (20 minutes? a few hours?), and what’s good enough to qualify as effort (a quick sketch? a polished outline?). You’ll have to decide how much is enough time/effort each day and to what level your daily work must reach to count as meaningful practice.
You could compare it to exercise. A ten-minute shuffle is better than no activity at all (see L), but really, a month of daily ten-minute shuffles is not going impact your wellness much. A fifteen-minute fast-walk, however, will start to reveal improvement after a few weeks. You’ll feel muscles strengthening and lungs improving. That doesn’t mean you start training for a marathon tomorrow (see B), nor do you need to strive for anything close to a marathon.
I suppose, ultimately, in defining Quota and Quality for yourself, you’re determining what you mean by “greatness” and what level of “mastery” you’re aiming for day by day.
Find the sweet spot between half-hearted effort and strenuous straining as you figure out how much time/effort and to what level of skill the daily practice of your craft needs over the long haul.
You can change it up any time. When you’re in great artistic shape, you can set a higher standard for quality. When you’ve got a long weekend, you can set a higher quota of time. And the reverse is true; during challenging times, a few minutes and brief effort will have to suffice and will be better than no creative work at all.