How to Acquire Any New Skill in 20 Hours or Less

October 28th, 2013 - 67 Comments

When I moved to New York, a friend of mine took me out for lunch to welcome me to the city. While we were eating, he made an offhand comment that stuck with me: “Besides work, most people hardly ever leave the 3-block area they live in.”

Years later, after living here, I realize how right he is. We get comfortable. We know what’s around us. And most of all, we don’t want to take a risk (and possibly look stupid) by trying something new.

His point wasn’t just about where we live. The more and more I get better at my own craft, the more resistance I’ve noticed in myself to try something new. When was the last time you learned a new language, took up a new sport, or traveled to a totally different country?

It’s uncomfortable to imagine being a beginner at something again. What if I fall off the skateboard? What if people laugh at me? Ah, screw this, I’m gonna go watch TV.

That’s why I love people who constantly try to reinvent themselves — especially masters of their craft — because it would be easy to coast.

A while ago, I invited one of my friends, Josh Kaufman, to talk about mental frameworks (like the ones I used to answer hundreds of emails/day). As a reminder, Josh founded PersonalMBA.com and is one of the deepest thinkers on systems that I know.

Today, I’ve invited him back to talk about the process of how to learn a new skill. If I want to learn windsurfing, do I really need to spend 10,000 hours? How do I get “good enough” to enjoy something faster than that?

I like having Josh share his techniques because he’s a total weirdo. Instead of using off-the-shelf software, like 99% of people in his business do, he built it himself. When I looked at him disgustedly, saying “Why, dude?” he smiled and said, “It was fun.”

No! It’s not fun to build a shopping cart. But he loves the process of pushing through the initial pain to build something new.

His new book, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast, will teach you exactly this.

The First 20 Hours. How to learn anything... fast

What I like about Josh is he breaks down learning all kinds of new skills — like playing a new instrument, learning a new language, picking up a new sport, or even learning to cook. These are the things we always talk about wanting to do, but never actually get around to doing. And in today’s guest post, he’ll show you how to acquire any new skill in 20 hours or less. (By the way, I especially love the part where he preemptively yells at you below.)

Take it away, Josh

*     *     *

In less than 12 months, I’ve learned the following:

1. How to code. My entire business now runs on software I wrote myself, and if I ever decided to stop running my own business, I could land a six-figure position pretty easily.
2. How to do yoga. Now I can practice by myself at home in a safe, effective way, and I’m getting stronger and more flexible every day.
3. Learned how to windsurf. It’s a challenging, physically demanding sport, but it’s super fun.
4. How to play the ukulele. I know how to play many popular songs, and I can pick up a songbook or tab and figure out how to play pretty much anything.
5. How to play Go. It’s the oldest strategic board game in the world, and WAY more complicated than chess.
6. How to touch type (again). I now type using a keyboard layout called Colemak, which is much more efficient than the QWERTY keyboard layout most people use.
7. How to shoot and edit a movie. I bought a camera and shot my first short film: a trailer to launch my second book, an international bestseller that hit #2 on Audible.com overall. Outsourcing production of the trailer to a professional would’ve cost at least $20,000, so even after purchasing my camera and gear, I had an immediate 300%+ ROI on the project.

I learned all of these brand new skills on the side, without quitting my day job or ignoring my family. In the midst of these projects, I overhauled a 140,000+ word manuscript (the second edition of my bestselling business book, The Personal MBA), taught three business training courses, took care of my two-year-old daughter, helped my wife build her business, and wrote the manuscript for my second book.

How? I learned how to acquire new skills very, very quickly.

It’s not rocket science. If you’re smart about how you practice, you can go from knowing absolutely nothing about it to being quite skilled in only a few hours. Put in as little as 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice, and you’ll easily outperform 99% of the human population.

If you learn to practice in an intelligent, strategic way, there’s no limit to what you can learn.

Even rocket science.

*     *     *

Skill Acquisition: What Would You Like to Learn?

Take a moment to think of all of the things you want to know how to do. Would you like to:

* Learn how to speak or write a new language?
* Figure out how to draw?
* Play a musical instrument, or learn to sing?
* Start your own business?
* Get better at negotiation or public speaking?
* Program, design, or learn some useful new technology?
* Fly an airplane?

Learn how to acquire new skills quickly, and you can pick up ALL of these skills, and many more. You can learn things that’ll help you make more money. You can learn things that’ll raise your profile, earn the respect of people you value, and create new opportunities. You can learn things that’ll permanently enrich your life, and open up entirely new areas of the world for exploration and enjoyment.

*     *     *

The 3 Major Barriers to Learning Something New

So why don’t most of us spend more time systematically picking up new skills? Three reasons:

1. Most people don’t commit to learning anything specific. They just say things like “I think it’d be totally cool to learn how to speak Japanese someday,” and never actually make a plan to sit down and practice. Even worse, they never take a moment to figure out WHY they’re interested in that particular skill, so it’s close to impossible to make it a priority vs. other, more urgent matters, like going out drinking with friends or watching old episodes of Breaking Bad.
2. Learning new skills is often intimidating. When you’re learning something new, there are enormous gaps in your understanding of the topic. You’re very aware of what you don’t know, and you don’t know where to begin. That ambiguity generates fear and uncertainty, both of which make the ancient survival-oriented parts of your brain freak out. What’s the easiest way to stop feeling afraid? Give up.
3. Learning new skills is usually frustrating. Let’s say you push through the uncertainty long enough to actually sit down and practice. Here’s what’s going to happen: YOU WILL SUCK. Completely, totally suck. What’s the easiest way to stop feeling stupid? Stop practicing, and say to yourself, “it really wasn’t that interesting to begin with.”

Here’s the thing: indecision, intimidation, and frustration are universal barriers to skill acquisition. They’re entirely predictable, so you can prepare accordingly.

The key to rapid skill acquisition isn’t involve complicated memorization techniques or mental hacks. It’s just a simple, systematic way to spend your time and energy doing things that help you build real skill, and avoid things that don’t.

*     *     *

Don’t Worry About Being an Instant Elite Ninja Master of the Universe

Let’s get one huge misconception out of the way right now: when learning a new skill, you don’t have to worry about “mastering” the skill or becoming an “expert.”

Say you don’t know how to paint, but want to learn. Here’s the absolute worst way to go about it: compare your current level of ability (nouveau third grader) with Picasso, Michelangelo, or any random artist that posts on deviantART. Anything that you produce will look like garbage in comparison, so why bother?

Even worse, you may have heard that it takes “10,000 hours” to master a skill. That’s at least 4 hours of practice every single day for almost 7 years. Who has time for that?!

Here’s the thing: you probably don’t need to be an expert.

Skill acquisition is tied up in many ways with social status: being good at something is a status signal, so our brains track our perceived competence vs. others constantly. When you don’t think you’re as good as other people at something, it’s common to feel self-conscious, and your mind starts looking for ways to protect your fragile ego from feelings of inferiority.

That’s why you get so uptight when you try to learn something new: your brain kicks into social comparison mode, even though it’s unnecessary at best, and counterproductive at worst.

Most of the time, you don’t need to be an expert – you just need to practice enough to get the results you want, whatever they might be. Comparing yourself against other people during the beginning stages of skill acquisition is wasted energy, and it’s a very real barrier to improving your skills.

In the vast majority of cases, people decide to pick up a new skill to either (1) get a particular valuable result or (2) have fun. That’s it. Social comparison is meaningless – who cares what other people can do if you’re able to get the results you want?

Here’s a simple example: I recently learned how to cook on the grill. I wanted to grill burgers, chicken, steak, vegetables, etc. for my family, so I could help out around the house. It only took a few hours of practice, as well as a few simple tools, to get really great results. (Pro tip: using an interval timer and a fast digital thermometer makes grilling anything way easier.)

Am I the most mindblowing expert ninja grillmaster who has ever lifted a spatula? No.
Am I now an internationally recognized celebrity chef? No.
Do I need to be in order to cook a delicious dinner for my family? Absolutely not.

When you decide to learn something new, you’re not competing against other people: you’re competing against your own previous lack of ability, and any improvement is a win.

Once you grok that early phase skill acquisition isn’t a competition, leveling up your skills and abilities becomes much, much easier.

*     *     *

Here’s the core method to acquire any new skill, personal or professional, as quickly as possible:

1. Set a concrete, specific Target Performance Level

Setting what I call a target performance level makes it much easier to identify exactly what you’ll need to actually practice. It sounds simple, but this is an extremely common point of failure: most people never decide what they want, so it’s impossible to figure out how to get it.

Define what you want to be able to do in a clear, concrete manner – the more detailed, the better. Instead of relying on a mindless, broad goal like “learn how to code,” setting a target performance level like “deploy a functioning Ruby on Rails application to Heroku” is much easier to practice.

Likewise, deciding on ONE skill to work on at a time is crucial. It comes down to arithmetic: you need a critical mass of experience doing something in order to build noticeable skill. If you spread your efforts over too many skills, you won’t improve any of them.

Choosing only one skill to work on is often difficult, so here’s a simple method I use to make it easier to decide. Make a list of all of the skills you’d like to learn. When you’re ready to commit to a new skill, take out your list, and ask yourself this question:

“If I could only learn half of the skills on this list, which ones would I keep?”

Cut your list in half. When you’re done, cut it in half again, and again, and again, until one skill is left standing, Highlander-style. (In the end, there can be only one.)

Remember: you’re not deciding that you’re never going to pick up any of the other skills on your list. You’re just deciding you’re not going to focus on them right now. Pick one skill: everything else can wait.

2. Deconstruct the skill to avoid overwhelm and make practice more efficient

Most of the things we think of as skills (like “public speaking” or “playing the guitar”) are actually bundles of smaller sub-skills that are used in combination. By breaking the skill into more manageable parts, practice becomes way less intimidating, and you can work on improving one sub-skill at a time.

Like so many things in life, skills follow the law of critical few (often referred to as “Pareto’s Law” or the “80/20 principle”). Breaking down the skill into smaller parts is the first step in figuring out which sub-skills are critical.

Take golf. When you “play golf,” you’re not just doing one thing. Driving off the tee, hitting with an iron, chipping out of a bunker, and putting on the green are completely different skills, so it’s best to practice each in isolation. Driving, using an iron, and putting happen most often, it’s probably best to practice those first. (I don’t even play golf: this basic level of deconstruction is possible after watching someone play golf for a few minutes. It’s really not that difficult.)

Most skills follow a similar pattern: a few subskills are critical, while the remainder are rarely used or contribute less to the end result. Practice the most important sub-skills first, and you accelerate your overall rate of skill acquisition.

3. Use 80/20 research tactics to find the most important subskills quickly

Next, find a few books, courses, DVDs, or other resources about the skill. Don’t try to finish them all in detail: skim them all, one after another. The most important techniques and ideas will appear often, in multiple sources, allowing you to establish which sub-skills are critical with more confidence.

An hour or two of research is all you need: too much research is a subtle form of procrastination. You want to do just enough research to identify the critical sub-skills, avoiding the inefficiency of “just getting started” without a strategy.

When I was learning to code, I bought over 20 books on the subject. I thought the best way to learn was to read the books, and THEN try to write my own program. The reality was the opposite: I only started to develop real skills when I used three introductory books to identify a few critical ideas, then spent my time actually writing programs.

Do your homework, then shift to real practice as quickly as possible. Practicing the skill in context is the only thing that generates lasting results.

4. Anything that gets in the way of focused, deliberate practice is an enemy that needs to be destroyed

The more effort it takes to sit down and begin, the less likely you are to practice. We’re all cognitive misers: if something takes a great deal of thought or effort in the moment, we’re less likely to do it.

Want to learn how to play the guitar? Guess what: keeping your guitar in a case, in the back of a closet, on the other side of your house pretty much guarantees you’ll never practice.

Here’s what I did when I wanted to learn how to play the ukulele: I kept it close to where I worked every day. All I had to do to start practicing was reach over and pick it up, so I practiced.

One of my friends (and former clients), Tim Grahl, has a great rule of thumb:

“I assume that future Tim is going to be stupid, lazy, and make bad decisions, so I set up my environment to prevent that from happening.”

Instead of relying on willpower to force yourself to practice, it’s always more effective to change your environment to make practicing as easy as possible. Little changes, like placing your guitar in an easy-to-reach location, make an enormous difference.

Likewise, anything that distracts you or pulls focus while you’re practicing holds you back. Close the door. Unplug your TV. Disconnect your internet. Mute your cell phone. Do whatever it takes to keep your attention on the task at hand.

Anything that gets in the way of focused, deliberate practice is an enemy that needs to be destroyed. No mercy.

5. Use precommitment psychology to break through early resistance

Now, the moment of truth: are you willing to rearrange your schedule to complete at least 20 hours of deliberate practice? (That’s roughly 45 minutes of practice a day for the next 30 days.)

Sit down, take out your calendar, and do the math. When exactly are you going to practice? What are you going to give up, reschedule, or stop doing to make the time?

If you “don’t have time,” or aren’t willing to accept the necessary tradeoffs to MAKE the time, that’s a sign the skill isn’t a real priority at the moment.

There’s no shame in that. If you’re not willing to commit to at least 20 hours of practice to acquiring a new skill, then you’re probably better off dropping the project and doing something else. It’s better to clarify your true priorities and make a conscious decision to stop than dabble just long enough to feel guilty about giving up.

If you’re willing to invest at least 20 hours of focused effort in learning a new skill, precommitting to putting in the time makes it much more likely you’ll practice enough to acquire the skill. This technique is called a “pre-commitment,” and it’s extremely effective at changing behavior.

Here’s how the 20 hour pre-commitment works: once you start practicing, you must keep going until you either (1) develop the level of skill you want, or (2) complete at least 20 hours of practice.

In my experience, pre-commitments are critical. Making a credible promise to yourself (or to other people) before you start practicing is key if you want to get results as quickly as possible.

Here’s why: if you’re “just dabbling,” it’s easy to quit as soon as you face the slightest difficulty. Remember: the early hours of practice are going to SUCK. You’re going to be horrible, and you’ll know it. It’s very, very easy to get frustrated and give up.

Making a pre-commitment completely changes your inner dialog. You find yourself thinking and saying things like “I’m going to keep going until I get what I want or I reach the 20 hour mark. If I suck, I’m going to suck for 20 hours. That’s okay. I expected this. I’m going to keep going, because getting better at this is important to me.”

There’s a wide (and growing) body of evidence that perseverance in working toward long-term goals in the face of setbacks, frustrations, and adversity – usually referred to as “grit“- is an essential element of success in every field. If you’re able to persist when the going gets tough, you’ll reap outsized rewards. Making a pre-commitment makes it much, much, much easier to keep pushing through early frustrations and setbacks. It’s simple, but it works.

There’s nothing magical about the 20 hour mark, by the way: I chose that particular threshold purely for psychological reasons. 20 hours isn’t long enough to feel intimidating, so it feels easy enough to pre-commit, but it’s long enough to see dramatic results.

In my experience, the first few hours of learning anything are frustrating and confusing. A 2-4 hours in, you begin to get the hang of it. By hours 4-6, you start to see really exciting results. By hours 15-20, you’re better than most people will ever be.

After 20 hours, you’ll be in a much better position to judge the skill: do you find is valuable? Are you getting the benefits you were looking for when you began? Could you benefit from further practice?

You can learn many skills, like basic cooking techniques, in a few hours. Here’s an example: I learned how to grill hamburgers, steaks, ribs, and chicken this summer. I can cook dinner for my family, and the food tastes great, which was my target performance level. If you get the benefits you’re looking for, there’s no need to keep pushing forward unless you really want to. You don’t have to be a world-class black belt 6-sigma ninja master of absolutely everything you ever decide to learn. Define what you want, persist until you get it, then move on.

Other skills, like programming, benefit from continued, more challenging practice. I’m about 150 hours into web application programming at this point, and I’m still learning a ton. The core process is the same: if you’re willing to invest the time and energy, you can use this method over and over again to level up a skill all the way to mastery.

*     *     *

Success is in the SYSTEM. Knowing this stuff is meaningless unless you DO it.

That’s the core of rapid skill acquisition: five simple steps that will help you acquire any new skill as quickly as humanly possible. In practice, I use two more detailed checklists to systematically acquire new skills, which I discuss at length in The First 20 Hours.

Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of “yeah, yeah, yeah, this is all common sense. Tell me something I haven’t heard before. Where are the brain hacks? What about study skills, memory palaces, and nootropics? Can I learn faster by rigging up a 9-volt battery to zap my brain with electricity?

First, to echo what Ramit has been saying for over eight years now: YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO THESE THINGS. Reading about this stuff isn’t enough. Skills require practice, and practice requires effort. No practice, no skill acquisition.

Second: SIMPLE THINGS WORK. This strategy is simple, and it works. If you use it, you will learn fun and useful things in very short periods of time. Unnecessary complexity is stupid.

If you actually sit down to practice, and use this method to practice in an effective/efficient way, you’ll be amazed at how good you become. You’ll be able to do things you’ve never been able to do before, and you’ll see real-world improvements in your abilities extremely quickly.

If you’re willing to work, simple methods can produce extraordinary results.

*     *     *

Whining is NOT An Effective Skill Acquisition Strategy

One last thing: I recommend removing the phrase “I don’t have time” from your vocabulary. You have all the time you’re ever going to have, and you’re in full control of how you choose to use that time.

If a skill is a big enough priority to learn, you have to MAKE TIME to practice it. If it’s not important enough to rearrange your schedule, be honest with yourself, drop it, and move on.

Whatever you decide, stop whining. Whining is not an effective strategy for skill acquisition.

Allow me to channel Ramit for a moment:

LOSERS SAY: “I don’t know how to do that… so I can’t do it. OMG, learning is so hard: I heard it takes at least 10,000 hours to be any good. I don’t have that much time anyway, so I’ll wait until someone finally invents The Matrix so I can upload new skills directly into my brain while I sit on the couch watching Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

TOP PERFORMERS SAY: “I don’t know how to do that… but it’s important, so I’m going to figure out how. I’m going to practice in a way that helps me improve as quickly as possible, and stop doing things that get in the way. I don’t have an unlimited amount of time and energy to do this, so I’m going to MAKE time for practice, and use it as efficiently as possible.”

The result? Top performers get better and better at skills that help them make more money, get more done, and have more fun… while losers sit on the couch complaining about how the world is so unfair.

Rapid skill acquisition isn’t easy. It requires a huge burst of very intense effort. Skills require practice, full stop. It’s supposed to be hard… but the results are well worth the investment.

So what are you finally going to learn how to do? Decide what you want, break it down, focus on the most important subskills first, make it easy to practice, and pre-commit to at least 20 hours of practice before you begin.

Then get started, and practice well.

*     *     *

Here’s what to do now

Make a public pre-commitment in the comments section about a new, high-value skill you’re going to practice over the next 30 days. Make your target performance level concrete and specific, and include details about WHAT you’ll be able to do and HOW you’re going to practice.

*     *     *

Josh Kaufman is the bestselling author of “The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast” and “The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business.” You can find more of Josh’s ongoing research at joshkaufman.net.

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67 Comments

 

Comments

  1. […] How to Acquire Any New Skill in 20 Hours or Less is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich. […]

  2. I’m committed to 45 min of songwriting every day for the next 30 days. Have never written a song but I’ve told my family I’ll have one done by Thanksgiving.

    • Hey, Joe! I’m taking this great Coursera Songwriting Course, We are just starting week 3. I bet it will help you write your new song : )

  3. I will play 20 min./day of guitar until I can play a song for my wedding in August

  4. This book I have given away over 10 times so far this year.

    It’s truly remarkable, and IF YOU CAN’T DO this and be better there is precious little hope for you.

    • Thanks, Chris – I really appreciate it. Also, totally agreed: some people would much rather complain than do the work. They don’t tend to do very well in life. Much better to exert a bit of effort and reap huge rewards.

  5. Hey Ramit and Josh,
    this article is great.
    Actually I’m working on my first iOS app right now and I’m definitely experiencing the different sub-skills that I need to be aware of. UI design, user experience, coding, testing and debugging – just to name a few.

    It’s true that learning from multiple resources and then implementing the common patterns leads to rapid results and that really keeps me motivated.

    Though I’m struggling with the focus aspect of this, I’m always working on two or three projects at a time. I know that I should get rid of this and I probably will in the future, but for now it’s a hard thing to do.

    Do you have any further tips on this?

    Best regards,
    Jan

    • Jan – I’m the world’s biggest poster child for being interested in many projects at the same time. I’ve found that the best way to focus is to use a bit of mental accounting when choosing a project: by focusing on one skill/project to completion, I’m *not* choosing to never pursue my other projects – they’re just on hold temporarily while I work on getting to my Target Performance Level on my prime skill.

      This helps prevent the mental thrashing that comes from Loss Aversion. The focus helps me build skill much faster, so I get to the other projects sooner, not later. Simple, but it works.

    • I think Josh missed the point. I had the same experience trying to learn Django for web development.
      To use Django, you learn Python.
      To do the web page templates in Django, you learn HTML.
      To make the HTML web pages interactive, you learn JQuery. To customize Jquery you learn Java Script.

      It is like a never ending black hole. Once you sort of feel like your getting it, here comes Python version 3 and Django 1.6. Not completely different, but not the same. Lather, rinse, repeat. It keeps things interesting.

  6. I’ve been slowly learning the tremendous power of repeating the same habit at the same time of every single day. I’ve wanted to start a blog forever and always put it off because I didn’t think I’d have enough to say, or I didn’t think people would value my opinions. I saw other huge blogs out there and thought I could never compete with them. You know what? That mindset was stupid. Finally at the start of this year I set a different goal: to write every single morning for at least 10 minutes at the start of my day. I sucked at it at first, but I stuck with it and now it’s part of my routine. I’m still very far off from the blogs that scared me, but having the blog doesn’t scare me anymore and it’s because I focused first on solidifying the one, most critical habit. All of the rest of it is learned along the way.

  7. Awesome article Josh! I’m planning on practicing the board game Go for 30 min a day, 5 day/s per week between now and Christmas. That should give me the competitive edge I need to beat my brother-in-law in a 1v1 dual over Christmas vacation.

  8. Thanks for the extra motivation! I am planning on running the First Run of the Year 5k on New Years. My goal is to run an 8 min. mile average. I plan on (continuing) running during lunch hour, and run a minimum of 4 days a week, with a different exercise on the 5th day. I plan on doing longer distance runs, average length runs, intervals, practicing the course (which is by my work), race pace runs, and some running faster than race pace.

  9. I want to learn how to code in Python, so I did some research and started by completing the course on Codecademy (finished yesterday, took about 2 weeks). Now I’m looking to take Google’s Python Class, and I have two other online courses lined up after that. I want to be able to develop a website for an idea I have, and I hereby commit to working toward completing those courses by doing some part of the course every day.

  10. Hey Josh,

    Any reason you chose Colemak over Dvorak? I’m transistioning from QWERTY to a new layout, and am curious to know about your reasoning.

  11. I couldn’t stop reading this! Totally inspiring! Josh, your writing is incredible – how many hours did you invest in learning to write this well? Ramit, you’re alright too, 4-hour man! haha Anddddd my next 20 hour goal is learning To speak Dutch. Boom!

  12. Great article Josh. My plan is to master walking hip drops in belly dance by the end of December.

  13. Fantastic post. Thank you.
    The emphasis on “you probably don’t need to be an expert.” is so true. Sometimes I remind myself that “expert” is subjective to a certain extent, and relative. If I’m working on a project for someone (i.e. consulting or freelance) I don’t have to know everything about a topic, I just have to know enough to do it and more than the person I’m working for or with. *I have to fill in their knowledge gaps.* I can always learn more from books and from this thing called “the internet”.
    Sometimes the person who’s not an expert is a better fit for the project or job than the person who is a super-expert because of all the other things they offer, such as other skills or personality type and a demonstrated pursuit of knowledge.

    Also a good point: “It’s better to clarify your true priorities and make a conscious decision to stop than dabble just long enough to feel guilty about giving up.” Sometimes people try to learn things because they think they should, not because they want to, and this makes it harder on them. It’s perfectly okay to drop skills you don’t want to acquire and focus on those that interest you, which you’re likely to learn more easily, or at least, more willingly. If you hate doing something, or don’t want to learn something, don’t do it. I tried learning PHP once, thinking it would help me at work. I decided that I didn’t have the patience and there were enough people around me with those skills, so I chose to focus on the skills I did have and to keep those sharp.

    Josh’s comment at #7 resonates with me too. I’ll check out his book!

    P.S. Good job listening to the Thermapen recommendation. I own two and recommend them often. Alton Brown uses and recommends it too.

  14. Josh, are you saying that we can become a doctor, just by practice? Gosh, I really wasted my time at medical school! I’ll tell that to some patients that they can see Mr. 20hourlearnanything and have their surgery done!!

    • you know that’s not the case, yeah you can’t become a doc or surgeon in 20 hour, but your can spark the fire to become one :) , you only see the dark side my friend :)

    • Snark much?

      How about telling your patients to spend 20 hours learning enough basic health information to know whether or not they need to come see a doctor? (Oh wait, that might lower your income…) How about telling them them learn healthy ways of living instead of the modern damaging ways? (Same objection, eh?) Do you truly think a person needs a medical school degree level of learning in order to speak a language, cook on a grill, write code, determine how to market a product?

      And historically -just hoe DID most doctors become doctors?! Oh, right — by studying with other doctors, not by going to school!

    • Except “becoming a doctor” isn’t a skill, though it does require an enormous collection of skills. Research, writing, anatomy, decision making, perseverance, sleep-scheduling are a few. As well as in-depth knowledge and in-depth trivia of many overlapping fields. Imagine if you were in med school and you came across this great blog post which helped you become more effective with your studies.

      I imagine many med students do waste a certain percentage of their time (like anyone else.)

  15. I’m picking up my ukulele for about the 3rd time in as many years to learn it right this time. When I was a kid I spent hours every day playing the piano and I’m very proficient at it now and what I love is that I can just sit down and play for pure enjoyment now. So yes, the ‘you will suck’ part is a huge roadblock. I want to be able to pick up the uke and play it with enjoyment and not have to think too much about it. 20 hours I can do! Will do. Am doing.

  16. Awesome post, Ramit & Josh.

    I’ve developed a stronger interest in Online Marketing, especially after an info interview I had yesterday with a college alumnus. After learning more about the Operations and Strategy sides, I found a great Skillshare course on digital strategy where students get to practice and create a mock campaign. Will dedicate at least 20 hours to this over the next few weeks.

    Branching off of that, the alumnus advised I learn basic HTML/CSS specifically for email marketing. Crazy how before, when wanting to learn about coding, I got overwhelmed with all the resources I had and didn’t know where to start. I never sat down to actually think about how exactly I would use this new skill to my advantage. Now I have something specific (code HTML emails) to add to my “to-learn” list in moving towards my online marketing goals.

    • Hey Valerie, Let me recommend the book “Head First HTML5 Programming: Building Web Apps with JavaScript.” (I’m guessing this one will be as good as their previous on HTML 4 and CSS2). I had been doing websites for 8-10 years (the way-old “table” style) and needed to update my skills to use CSS (cascading style sheets). The Head First book was super at leading me to delete from my brain my old ways of doing things and learning (easily!) the new ways (which, of course, are now the old ways… {sigh}) They come at it from several learning styles, and the exercises lead you to understanding it all! (Not affiliated with them, just REALLY benefited form their book!)

  17. Great post. Sometimes things are so simple that we think things MUST be harder than they actually are… it’s a good wake-up call to realize they actually aren’t. Thanks for the post!

  18. I’m going to learn to power clean properly. Got some youtube coaching videos bookmarked. So …. twice per week into my existing program, maybe down to once when the weight gets heavier. In 30 days it’d be super to be able to clean as close to my bodyweight as possible (only 120lb don’t worry).

    • Excellent example of something you can break up into smaller sub skills to master. Remember to load your hamstrings, thrust hips, shrug, and keep those elbows up! I’m 165 with a 235 PC so I hope you take my advice. You’ll reach your goal In no time

  19. I really loved this. Actually, what really sparked my interest was that you learned how to program in 30 days / 20 hours of dedicated learning. For over eight months I’ve been dabbling in web development – attending classes, going to conferences, trying to connect with people, looking at jobs. But I didn’t have the proper skills. I even interviewed for an internship but couldn’t do the coding test.

    I struggled with figuring out to get good at it. Taking classes randomly for several hours wasn’t providing to be useful in a long-term way, and didn’t seem compatible with how I liked to learn (ie: immersion). I tried to attend a web development bootcamp (very expensive!) but couldn’t afford to go and bootcamps don’t offer full scholarships. I tried to meet up with a friend once or twice a week where we’d code together and work on our projects, but she was really busy and it just never came to fruition. :/

    So I’m REALLY happy to have found something that can help me focus on learning how to code in a specific / estimated amount of time. I actually found your book at B&N earlier today and I can’t wait to buy it!

  20. Ok so there are two things on my to-do list to learn or get better at. the first is learning to program computers. I’ve made various attempts at this one over the years but never got very far. I can write HTML/CSS and have written some basic games text games in Python but that’s it. I want to be able to do this and get $$$ whether FT or on the side. I will do this for 30 days and if I can’t get myself to do this then I’ll finally admit this is not a skill I really want to learn…

    Once this has been done I will pick-up juggling again. I can already do better than most people but I want to get really proficient at the pins and rings. I can’t do this until December since my equipment is in storage following a cross-country move so it’s perfect time to program first and juggle second.

    To up the ante I’m going to tell my wife that for everyday I fall short of doing these consecutively I will change all diapers (we have two in diapers right now) on the weekends for an equal # of days.

  21. I want to learn programming Python in a level that i can write my codes jn my dissertation in python rather than matlab.
    The second priority us to learn basics in spanish and be able to understand the signs in the market.

  22. I’ve been trying to work on my basketball game for years now. But I’ve always been more excited to play pickup games than to practice. As a result, my game has been at a plateau for years. Then, last spring, for a span of about two months I actually dedicated 1-2 hours a day to just doing drills. My game improved tremendously.

    I have slumped back into a plateau now, and will thus dedicate 20 hours, over the next two weeks, to pure drills.

    The few times in my life where I have implemented systems, they just worked better. My goal is to design systems for many other aspects of my life to eliminate the willpower factor. Thanks for this illuminating post Josh.

  23. That was a LONG post, and packed with lots of TRUTH. I’m going to write my CV, even though I never used one to get a job, and have owned my own businesses since I was 16. As a college professor I knew the CEO and president, and ditto in any other company. In 20 hours or less I am writing the CV that will get hired in the foreign company I choose, even though the position and my speciality doesn’t yet exist, and my salary requirements are higher than some, and I am not yet fluent in the language. Hey, thanks again Ramit for a post that helps me get unstuck and do something I would love to do, and that I’ve been avaoiding!

  24. This post really struck a chord.
    I am in lousy physical shape. I know it, I complain to myself about it, and yet I don’t do anything about it. I’ve been thinking for the past 3 weeks about starting running. I have all sorts of excuses for why I can’t possibly do it right now, and that translates into not doing it at all.
    Then I read this blog post. This is exactly what happened next.

    When I got to the end, I said, I’m going to go for a run. Right now.
    My Inner 6-Year Old (MISY) said, You can’t run, it’s midnight!
    Me: That’s perfect. I hate exercising when other people can see me, so this is ideal.
    MISY: But we just ate dinner.
    Me: That was over 2 hours ago.
    MISY: But we’ll get all sweaty and gross.
    Me: Showers work after midnight.
    MISY: But it’s really cold outside.
    Me:After 30 seconds it’ll feel great.
    MISY: (whiny) BUT I DON’T WANNA!
    Me: Tough. I want to go to Belize, and dive, and lay on the beach. I won’t do it looking like a beached whale, which is how I feel now. I want to do something about it. So if you’re not going to help, then shut the hell up.

    And I went for my first run – 16 minutes, over half of which was active running. After the first 2 minutes, I had a huge grin on my face because I was actually DOING it. At the end, I stood in front of the mirror looking at how flushed my skin was, and told myself out loud how proud I am of me.

    So my goal is simple – I want to run 1 mile in 10 minutes. That’s all. Just 1 mile. Not a marathon, not a 5K. Just 1 mile in 10 minutes. My 3 sub-skills are stamina, breath control, and speed, all of which I know will come with practice.

    I’ve copied this post’s link and emailed it to myself. Tomorrow night, when I go through email, I’ll see it and read it, and go for a run. Then I’ll mark it unread and do it again the next night, and the next, until it’s a habit.

    Josh, immense thanks for the post and the kick in the ass. Ramit, thanks for being wise enough to give Josh the space to share these gems. If I ever have the good fortune to meet either of you, dinner’s on me.

  25. I have whittled the nine projects I would like to learn down to three: Once I reach the 20 hour mark on each project, I will maintain it and add another project until all nine projects are at Target level performance. The three projects are:

    1) Practice piano 30 minutes a day, six days a week.

    2) Cook a new meal once a week which is 2 hours a week

    3) Put my moms website connected to her publisher with my project related to her book. I will work on this for 10 minutes, daily.

  26. I started a new job a few months ago and I feel out of my element in terms of my proficiency in Excel. I only know the most basic functions and formula tools so I’d like to become much better with it.

    In 30 days, I’ll be proficient in intermediate Excel features such as vlookups, charts and graphics, and overall make professional looking spreadsheets. I’ve already identified 3 books with companion spreadsheets and material that I’ll buy to guide me.

    Really enjoyed this post. Thank you.

  27. I’ve written research proposals for a few years saying I was going to do Drosophila neurobiology as part of my new exciting biomedical project, just give me a job and money (despite the fact that though I’ve done Drosophila germline stem cell research and neuroscience in mouse embryonic stem cells, I’ve never actually looked at a fly brain!).

    Now, I’ve got the job and enough funding to get started. I started the job at the beginning of October, but how much fly brain stuff have I worked on since I started? About 6-8 hours of research and reading some background papers. Given, I’m still at the same place, same desk, same lab bench — and still finishing the research project I was doing in the job just preceding this one.

    So my goal is to learn enough Drosophila neurobiology to do what I need to for the project I have proposed.

    1. read the methods sections of the research papers in detail to find out how other people have done it — but just the methods and just enough to know the details I need

    2. organize the equipment/reagents necessary

    3. practice dissections while waiting for antibodies and whatever else I might need.

    4. do the dissections/stainings and start figuring out the imaging

    5. practice the imaging and perfect the dissections/stainings

    6. should have it all!

    Goal 2 is to learn enough to make myself a proper scientific/professional web site
    Goal 3 is to learn enough yoga to do a 10 min. routine by myself every morning

    Thanks, guys! I will get this all done in the next few months! :-)

  28. This is such a great post! I’ve just started blogging and this is a dream blog post (as many of Ramit’s are)- substantive and inspiring. I want to start giving workshops in my field so my next 20hr project will be in public speaking. Can’t wait to get started. Thanks!

  29. This is a great post!
    I’m taking a course on corporate finance on coursera. I spend an hour each day, 6 days a week, so by the 8th week of the course I can look at most corporate financial statements and translate them (I’m a translator) without looking up the dictionaries or online sources.

  30. Awesome post. I’ve done this for many hobbies, including art (pencil drawing, fancy lettering, fooling with pastels) and languages (taught myself the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets as a kid; now tackling the Arabic and 200 Chinese radicals. Vocabulary can come later if I am still interested). One big change I’ll now be making is acknowledging that continued research is procrastination in disguise. Lots of fun to watch 15 pastel tutorials, but no less fun, and more productive, to stop after 3-4 and actually get out the $1 box of pastels. Thanks Josh and Ramit.
    Note to self: a rich life includes broadening hobbies that make more of the world familiar to me and bring joy. Does not include mind-numbing escapist gaming/surfing.

  31. I’m going to learn how to read and write in Arabic. I’m quasi accustomed to seeing the language but I can’t speak, read or write. Here’s an effort at changing that.

    • hey ! Melody,

      can you share your first 20 hours plans , thanks !!

    • Joker,
      To pass on the great advice I got from a polyglot group on LinkedIn, you learn written language with the fingers, not the eyes. Get a notebook, find a proverb or a joke or any short text you like, and write it over again and again. THEN you study the rest of the alphabet. This worked for me. After that I started using SSR flashcards, downloaded free from Anki.com to go with their free software. (There are other SSR options. Anki is the one I use and like.)

    • *Ankiweb.net, sorry about that.

    • @Rivka : thank Yo ! :)

  32. Just to chip my experience:

    Several years ago I got the chance to get out with my co-workers for a weekend of snowboarding. As a 35+ couchpotato who never stepped on anything like a ski or a snowboard, this was a challenge.

    My company was so nice to arrange three 1-hour practices runs with a teacher. The teacher naturally explained EVERYTHING but how to learn to snowboard. So I had to figure out my own system, which in hindsight was surprisingly simple. I identified my biggest obstacle and that was breaking. I scaled to breaking movement down to a small step, and purely focuses on getting to know the breaking movements. When I knew the basics of breaking, which roughly is the same movement as making corners, I knew how to go down slowly. I build the speed up, fell down a lot, but learned how to snowboard down a piste. I was wonderful and totally amazed myself I could learn snowboarding in less than 4 hours of focused attention to one particular movement (breaking).

  33. “Want to learn how to play the guitar? Guess what: keeping your guitar in a case, in the back of a closet, on the other side of your house pretty much guarantees you’ll never practice.”

    This sparked a memory of how I accidentally became quite good at the piano – something I’ve wished to ‘get back into’ for ages. And it was THIS DAMN SIMPLE: put the piano next to my computer. When I feel like I’ve had enough work – I naturally turn to my piano and play for 10-15 minutes at a time.

    BAM. Piano has just been relocated from living room to my office. Wife + guests: sorry.

  34. Great Post!

    This is so well timed for what we all hope to be which is better, faster, smarter. To see this kind of validation touches the universal desire in us all. Thank you, Josh, for sharing this profound insight.

    I particularly like concepts around pre-commitment as first introduced by a Nobel-prize winning economist Thomas Schelling as part of a self-management system called Egonomics.

    It is now showing up in technologies to track things you commit to as well as wearable devices to gather and report on data collected about you as you live life. This technology is termed the “quantified self” movement. It is very popular and powerful.

    I would like to add more to the evolutionary part of the discussion. As it is one thing to recognize and grow our abilities that arises in us, it might be another to measure them and create a “big data” set out of our efforts.

    I am on a mission to help raise consciousness as a matter of calling and most certainly face challenges with learning and procrastination on a daily basis. Definitely would like tighter abs!

    In my journey for tighter abs (healthy eating) and to a greater goal of improved relationships, and ultimately be a better benefit to the world, I’ve definitely struggled with finding time to do it all.

    I’ve struggled to lose weight, I’ve had a hard time with my coaching startup staying on task, I found writing my book to be fraught with challenges. I’m now reaching daily goals with help from these theories and more. As they say, “Don’t Break the Chain!”

    However, the most important thing I’ve learned doesn’t come from theories or high-tech gadgets but from learning how life really works. I gained the most power over learning something new with this following understanding:
    I’ve learned to understand that thought is just thought and that every feeling comes from my thoughts in the moment – 100% of the time. This is a huge paradigm shift.

    It takes away the blame, excuses, and outside loss of control then giving me the power to own my thoughts and subsequently address actions. (or in my case inactions which is more my experience.) The loss of energy and waste of time spent with “problems” simply went away.

    I can’t help thinking we are all on this path of life working hard to learn things and the change we most easily can make is changing how we react to our thoughts in the moment. Which will grease the way ahead to any goal we want to accomplish.

  35. Excellent post Josh. I think figuring out how to get those first 20 hours is critical. I bet most people give up before they reach 20 hours quite often.
    Thanks!

    • Nah, ‘figuring out how’ is overrated. DOING the 20 hours, even if not at prime efficiency, is what’s critical. Once you are 4-5 hours in chances are you will know if further research is needed or not.

  36. A post worth reading. Acquiring new skills always require determination and focusing on what you want to learn in the first 20 hours not only is a great way to build a foundation but it will help you realise what is in store for you up ahead.

  37. This is amazing stuff. I will add this book to my arsenal along with Tim Farris’s 4 Hour Chef.

  38. Josh –

    I’ve been unknowingly doing this for 6 years now. In fact I’ve got 6 years worth of detailed journals to prove it. Each year I choose several large scale goals and then track my progress daily over the course of the year after I’ve broken the goal down into the exact subsets I need to accomplish. It was something I started with a roommate when I was in college. I’ve carried it on and he’s plateaued. I read Personal MBA one year and loved it. (one of my goals was to get an MBA) I can breakdance, golf, handletter and can do a fairly decent job on Photoshop. Your advice is killer and has confirmed to me that I’ve got many more journals to fill over the course of my life.

    Ramit – I love that you’re bringing in guys like Josh and am grateful for the constant reminders to fix the psychology behind the problem and not just the superficial issues.

  39. I never received the freebies that you promised.

  40. I will Cache coding
    To understand Cache database
    To write PP
    To analyze code
    To understand programming behind reports

  41. Thanks for this article full of very interesting insights. As a complement, I found it is also useful to emerge oneself in what you are trying to learn. For example, listen to related podcasts, find biographies of people in the same field, find blogs, magazines, TV programmes etc…
    It is a good way to create a motivating environment.

  42. […] How to Acquire Any New Skill In 20 Hours of Less on I Will Teach You To Be Rich.  Interesting article about learning new skills in less time. […]

  43. When I wanted to learn how to code websites it was really overwhelming. Wish I would have had this post to read back then as I probably would have made a lot more progress. It really just took me sitting down and working on it.

    If you lay one brick at a time and keep at it, eventually you will have a house.

  44. I must be slow – it takes me a lot longer to grasp things than others. Well, that’s not entirely true, it depends largely on how I’m trying to learn. As a tactile learner, I do better by doing than by reading or having something demonstrated. Thanks for this post – it has inspired me to reattempt a few goals I let move to the bottom of my priority list.

  45. This was better than any advice Ramit has given. Well worth the read. Nice job.

  46. I’ve been studying copywriting on and off for a year. I’m making a precommitment to narrow down the top 3 copywriting skills and practice them for 20 hours over the next month. Then put my new skills to use!

  47. That was really good – now time to get to work on it. Thanks!