If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers

“Study Hacks” answers the question “Why elite players are better than the average players?” in his post titled “If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers.”  Interesting conclusions…

  1. The obvious guess is that the elite players are more dedicated to their craft. That is, they’re willing to put in the long,Tiger Mom-style hours required to get good, while the average players are off goofing around and enjoying life.  The data, as it turns out, had a different story to tell…The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).
  2. The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.
  3. But the researchers weren’t done.  They also studied how the students scheduled their work. The average players, they discovered, spread their work throughout the day.  The elite players, by contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods…one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
  4. The researchers asked the players to estimate how much time they dedicated each week to leisure activities — an important indicator of their subjective feeling of relaxation. By this metric, the elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players, and the best of the best were the most relaxed of all…furthemore, the elite players slept an hour more per night than the average players.
  5. The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players but they are not dedicated these hours to the right type of work.  And furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly through the day.  So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.
  6. This analysis leads to an important conclusion… if your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you’re chronically stressed and up late working, you’re doing something wrong. You’re the average player…not the elite. You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.
  7. The solution suggested by this research, as well as my own, is as simple as it is startling: Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.

Image: Frenetic Wallpaper at Layoutsparks.com


  1. Reblogged this on minimaleffectivedose and commented:
    Yet another example of finding the Minimal Effective Dose and still be an Elite Achiever….


  2. Revisit number 7–your syntax and your thought got fouled up: “You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.”


  3. Interesting lessons, but so true. Better to spend some very concentrated efforts and pure dedication for less time than to do it half way all day!


  4. daveneedham says:

    Reblogged this on Peak Alignment and commented:
    Do you ever feel like you are doing more work than the ones who seem to be getting ahead? Maybe you’re doing it wrong…


  5. Love this!


  6. Excellent….and I think that it even carries over to perception….if we think that we are “making progress” as we invest our time versus feeling like “I will never get this done…”, it makes a HUGE difference. So, if you believe that you’re reaching your goals in those two hours of work, your brain will be more willing to relax and recharge during those “off duty” hours…. More and more data does point this direction, doesn’t it? Thanks for sharing!


  7. Kamela Dolinova says:

    Fantastic, David. Thanks for checking out my blog, by the way – I won’t always be writing about music, of course, but it’s great to be in good company.

    This study really thrills me, as it backs up what I think is one of the more important messages that people in our hectic society aren’t hearing often enough: that relaxation and sleep are not only good for you in general, but actually improve your performance.


  8. Kamela Dolinova says:

    Reblogged this on This Touching Life and commented:
    I’ve happily just discovered David Kanigan’s blog, full of non-corny inspirational material. This post describes a phenomenon I wish more people would get into their heads (and bodies!): that a more relaxed approach to life and especially more sleep leads not just to a happier existence, but to more powerful performance in your work. To my mind, it goes back to giving your body love if you want to thrive in your life.


  9. Totally true and thanks for sharing your insights
    Thanks for the like about the bucket and the dipper 😉


  10. Excellent advice


  11. Shared it with my son on facebook.


  12. hopewinter says:

    Great post – I often tell myself I’m doing good because I feel so busy and at the end of the day, I fall into bed exhausted. But, how much of my busy time did I have the laser-beam focus that I should have had? Lot’s to think about here for me…


  13. STELLAR POST! Thanks David


  14. David: Had to move this over to The Mastermind Century Group Blog… we have several folks at work struggling with this very thing… important read here… hope you don’t mind–linked back to your blog. Thank you for the excellent work. Enjoy following you. All the best


  15. Good post ,thanks for sharing . What I need to improve on is focused work vs. hard work


  16. Your archives are a treasure trove, Dave! Glad I came across this post this morning — gives me a better perspective as I’m charting my day . . . and for days ahead. Thanks for taking the time to share these insights.


  17. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    This is spot on. I’ve seen it played out this way for years already. I feel a related blog post coming on…



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