The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything

Cartoon brain activity drawings

Is it possible to get good at anything in 20 hours? Josh Kaufman thinks so. I was scrolling through Youtube, and I noticed this really cool interview with Kaufman who is adamant that you can learn anything in 20 hours. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What about all that 10,000 hour shit I’ve been told?” It is still arguable that it takes 10,000 hours to master something, but not everyone has the desire to perform at the elite level of any particular skill. Some of us just want to be good for crying out loud! Whether you believe Kaufman or not, I have listed his steps for getting good at anything in less than a day.

1.      Decide exactly what you want

As simple as the first step sounds, knowing specifically what you want takes effort.  Kaufman says, “If you’re able to clearly define what you’re trying to get, the easier it is for you to go out into the world and find ways to get there.” Be as specific as possible. Know the type of music you want to produce, who you want to work with, where you want to have your first show, the year you want to have it, etc. The key word is specific!

2.      Take the global skill and break it down into smaller parts

Deconstructing the skill simplifies the broad sense of the endeavor. Take it apart. Find out the small things you need to learn and move forward. Kaufman sees any new skill as a big bundle of skills that require different things. Kaufman expresses, “The more you can break apart the skill, the more you can decide what are the parts of this skill that would actually help me get to what I want?”

3.      Learn enough to self correct

Skim through multiple books and videos, find the information that specifically provides what you need to learn, and act on the information. It is easy to fall into the procrastination trap of feeling the need to study as much as possible before moving forward. Do not make that mistake! Learn just enough so you can self edit. The faster you can move from research mode to practice mode, the better.

4.      Remove practice barriers

Eliminate all distractions—TV, phone, nagging wife or husband, noisy ass kids, etc. Give yourself at least 40 focused minutes a day. Kaufman personally breaks his work sessions into two 20 minute groups. Simple enough. He also brings up a great point to make your tools easily accessible. Put your studio in your room or place your guitar next to your favorite couch instead of having to go to the garage to pull it out. You want to use as little “will power” as possible.

5.      Commit at least 20 hours to the new skill

In his Tedx Talk Kaufman says “We don’t like to feel stupid. And feeling stupid is a barrier to us actually sitting down and doing the work.” According to Kaufman, you will be able to overcome any initial frustration barrier and stick with it long enough to reap the rewards.  If you break it down to twenty minutes a day two times a day, you will reach 20 hours in one month. Easy enough.


My opinion: I think Kaufman’s steps are great. I would like to add, however, that Napoleon Hill made a remark regarding the ability of knowing exactly what you want. Hill asserts that it is not only important to know exactly what you want, but he also says you have to be realistic. It would be ridiculous if you told yourself that you will be a billionaire in the next month without having even the slightest idea of how you’ll get there (unless you win the lottery). Hill also mentioned the importance of giving in return for what you want. If you want to be America’s Next Top Model do you plan to coach aspiring young models in return for what you’re getting?

Also, Tony Robbins brought up one of the most important factors for his personal success. Robbins  immediately applied anything he learned through books or videos. His instant results gave him data to apply the next time around. In return, he learned at what appeared to be lightening speeds.


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