My First Android App: 10K Hours

Ok, for people who haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, it includes the idea that to be really good at something you must practice. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but what is interesting is that he puts a number to the amount of practice you ought to do: about 10000 hours to be world-class. Gladwell goes through a lot of examples – Beethoven, The Beatles, Bill Gates. Some people might argue with some of Gladwell’s specifics, but what really is clear is that these people did practice quite a lot before they did any of their really cool stuff.

Gladwell makes a somewhat provocative claim: that what we normally think of as “talent” is basically the opportunity and willingness to practice. Some have disagreed with him on this point, saying basically that he is engaging in wishful thinking.

But when you look at 10000 hours, I’m not sure wishful thinking is really the way I would describe it. Having the opportunity to get that much time to work on a particular skill – well it definitely speaks to a certain amount of freedom from life’s usual responsibilities. It may simply be that 10,000 hours is correlated with great talent because if you are less than supremely talented, around hour 5000 or so somebody is going to insist that you stop practicing and get a real job.

Anyways, this has all got me thinking of my own life and how little time there really is for reflective practice. I may be here at Georgia Tech “training” to become a teacher, but even with practice considered quite broadly I’m not getting many hours in on a daily basis. You don’t have to buy much of Gladwell’s thesis to imagine that maybe 1000 hours of practice on a valued skill would be worthwhile. I am not on track, in that regard.

So this is all to say that I built an Android App to help motivate myself. It’s pretty simple: you tell it what skills you want to practice, how many hours your goal is, and then it logs how many hours you put in.


The most motivating line is the one that says how many years it will take to reach your goal at your current speed. It’s surprisingly how easily that can exceed a lifetime.

Anyways, if you have an android phone and would like to try my app, go here. You can also get the source here:

Given some motivation, I could probably test this on a couple more emulated systems and drop it in the android marketplace. Would anybody out there in internet land like me to go through the trouble?


  1. Matt Brubeck says:

    I got “10K Hours could not be installed on this phone” on my Android Dev Phone 1 with Android 1.6 (Donut). Does it require Android 2.x? I guess I should grab the source and try building it myself…

    Also, I was curious why it needs access to my phone number/status and SD card storage. Not that I don’t trust you. 🙂

  2. Marcus says:

    Great idea. Seems like there may be a few kinks to work out:,
    but I like the concept. A book you may be interested in is The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin. It’s a really thoughtful essay on the path to mastery.

  3. buffalo says:

    Hmmm…yeah, I would imagine you could compile it yourself because I doubt I used any 2.0 specific extensions. But tell you what…I’ll play around with it and see if I can post one that works for both tonight.

    Why it says it wants your phone number…well I suppose it must be some misconfiguration in the manifest. I’ll look into that too…

  4. buffalo says:

    Well, I was able to compile the new version without any trouble. The link in the main post should now link to a 1.6 compatible version.

    I have really no idea why it thinks it wants phone number and sd card storage. If you have any thoughts on that I’d be interested to hear them.

  5. Matt Brubeck says:

    Yay, it works! No idea why it thinks it needs those permissions, though.

  6. buffalo says:

    Marcus –

    Hey, sorry it took so long for me to get back to you. Things seem to get caught by the spam filters in funny ways these days. I’ll look into that.

    I suspect the reason you got that funny looking report is that you added a new item and then added a bunch of hours to it. Am I right?

    The way 10K hours works is it keeps the time when the item was created and your current total hours to calculate your rate. So if you want to (say) start a ninja thing and say you’ve already committed 100 hours out of the 1000 you want. Then put 900 as your goal and all should be fine.

    I could see how this might be confusing though. The real intention of “Add hours” is for when you just finish working and then realize you forgot to start logging for those hours.


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