Learn anything in just 20 hours

In his enlightening 20-minute TEDx Talk, Kaufman poses the question “How long does it take from starting something and being grossly incompetent and knowing it to being reasonably good?” The answer, he argues, is just 20 hours. That equates to 40 minutes a day for a month, or 20 minutes a day for two months. With just 20 accumulated hours of focused, deliberate practice, you can go from knowing absolutely nothing to performing something well.

That’s encouraging if you are faced with the daunting task of having to learn a new skill at work, learn all about new technology, learn to play a musical instrument or even learn a new language. So how can you go about pursuing this 20-hour challenge? How do you ensure you invest those 20 hours in the most productive way? Kaufman defines four steps to learning a new skill;

1. Deconstruct the skill.

The more you can break down a skill into smaller sub-skills, the more you’re able to decide what the parts of this skill are that are most necessary to learn, so you can prioritise which ‘sub-skills’ to practice first. And if you practice the most important things first, you’ll be most efficient in your learning and improve your performance in the quickest possible time.

2. Learn just enough to self-correct.

In this step, Kaufman suggest you learn just enough to start practising and self-correcting yourself as soon as possible. We tend to procrastinate in the form of feeling the need to gather all the information we can before we start applying that knowledge into practical learning. The key to acquiring a skill quickly though, is to startquickly. As a rule of thumb, you only need three to five resources about what it is you’re trying to learn; be it books, podcasts, online courses. Three to five is enough to start on your journey of learning the skill at hand. The goal is to acquire a lot of knowledge quickly. Skim reading is better than deep reading. Focus on noticing themes and ideas across all the resources. By noticing the themes that come up again and again, you can trust the accuracy of the patterns you notice and prepare your practice accordingly. To summarise, get the bare minimum resources you need and then hurry up and get on with the actual process of applying this new knowledge.

3. Remove the barriers to practice.

Distractions are the number one hurdle to learning any new skill. These fall into one of two categories – biological and environmental. Biological distractions are family members colleagues and pets while environmental distractions are TV, mobile phone, laptops. To ensure you have 40 minutes of uninterrupted, focussed time to dedicate to your new skill, let people know you are not available during this time, turn off all devices, lock yourself in a room, go to a library or cafe, basically whatever you can do to avoid distractions.

4. Commit to practice for at least 20 hours.

Committing to the actual physical learning of a new skill is the hardest step. You need to overcome the biggest barrier of all to acquiring a new skill – the emotionalbarrier. We are naturally resistant to change, and it scares us to feel stupid and incompetent at something, so we tend to avoid it. By pre-committing to practicing whatever it is that you want to do for at least 20 hours, you will be able to “overcome this initial frustration barrier and stick with the practice long enough to actually reap the rewards.” Embrace the confusion that comes with learning a new skill. Recognising this confusion can help you define what you are confused about, which helps you to define what it is you need to research to learn the new skill. The more confused you are at the outset, the more internal pressure you will feel to figure things out and the faster you will learn. So, move towards the confusion and fear to overcome it.

The next time you have to learn a new skill, try this well tested approach. By breaking a seemingly overwhelming process into bit size chunks, you might just astound yourself with what you can learn in just twenty hours.

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