How to Learn a New Skill in 20 Hours!

learn a new skill


There are two types of people… the ones who pick a skill they love, and master it for the rest of their lives. And the ones who want to learn a new skill every month without really becoming an expert.

By the title of this post, you can already predict which group I belong to… Seriously, I would love to become an expert in one specific skill. But there are so many different things I want to learn, that it becomes really difficult to focus on only one! 

I decided to embrace my peculiar way of being and study effective methods to learn a new skill till reaching a satisfying level for me. 

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I wrote an article before about mastering a skill based on the book “The Art of Learning” written by Josh Waitzkin (a chess prodigy). 

I highly recommend you to read that post because you can find really useful information on mastering a skill to a higher-level, interesting approaches on becoming more resilient, how to maximise focus using recovery periods, and many other amazing tricks! 
 

The First 20 Hours

The author of The Fist 20 Hours, Josh Kaufman, suggests a method to acquire a new skill in 20 hours. I was already familiarised with this approach, because of Tim Ferriss. Anyway, I really enjoyed the fact that the author talks about his learning experience with programming, yoga, touch typing, go (a game), ukulele and windsurfing.

Each skill has an individual chapter, where the author explains his process learning those different skills.

In my opinion, those chapters can sometimes be boring. But they are also essential to understand how to practically apply the principles to learn a new skill. 

learn a new skill

4 Steps to Acquire a New Skill Quickly and Effectively: 

Learning a skill can be very complex! So knowing exactly what your goals and intentions are is a crucial part. 

In Josh’s experience, his main goal when learning how to program, was to avoid the crash that happened when a lot of people visited his website. So that’s exactly where he focused his attention. 

Of course we are not talking about being GREAT at something by just practising for 20 hours. But to be able to do something well enough to satisfy your own needs. 

Here are the 4 principles you need to acquire a new skill quickly and effectively:

  1. Deconstruct a skill in very small subskills;
  2. Learn the essentials about each subkill;
  3. Remove physical, mental and emotional barriers that stop your from practising;
  4. Practise the most important subskills for at least 20 hours. 

That’s it! According to Josh, those are the only required principles to learn a new skill in 20 hours. To be honest, I really think it is possible to acquire a new skill in that time. 

10  major principles to a m​ore Rapid Skill Acquisition: 


  1. Choose a lovable project:
    -Choose something you really would like to learn and are excited about! 
  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time:
    -You really need to focus in only learning one skill for at least 20 hours, then you can move on to another one. 
  3. Define your target performance level:
    -This is really important in order to decide to which level you want to keep learning and practising. 
  4. Deconstruct the skill into sub skills:
    -And then focus on learning the most important sub skills! 
  5. Obtain critical tools:
    -Make sure you have all the resources you need before you start.
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice:
    -Put all the materials you need to practise in place you are constantly seeing and avoid distractions! 
  7. Make dedicated time for practice:
    -Establish how much time each day you want to dedicate on learning a new skill, and follow your plan! 
  8. Create fast feedback loops:
    -If possible ask a coach to evaluate your progress (some skills don’t require this step) or try to evaluate your own work. 
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts:
    -Focus your attention for shorter periods of time and focus on only one task! If you want to learn more about how to focus intensively, read this post.
  10. Emphasise quantity and speed:
    -If you want to learn a new skill in 20 hours, try to combine both learning speed (by eliminating unnecessary steps) and the amount of time you put into learning.
    Forget quality! In the beginning it’s impossible to be perfect.

Some of the steps above will come naturally to you, but it’s always important to remember them. 

At least retain this 3 major principles on learning a new skill: 

  1. Deconstruct a skill in very small subskills;
  2. Learn the essentials about each subkill;
  3. Practise the most important subskills for at least 20 hours. 

10  useful Principles to an Effective Learning Experience: 

  1. Research the skill and related topics:
    -Search on available sources (books, internet, online courses, youtube, etc) how to practise, and the most important steps on learning a specific skill.
  2. Jump in over your head
    -When making your research, you will find concepts and ideas that you will not understand. Be ok with being confused! It will later help you figure out what you need to research more to solve that confusion.
  3. Identify mental models and mental hooks
    -Mental models are basically connections that exists between a skill or idea and the world. Mental hooks are metaphors, analogies, mnemonics, etc that will help you to remember a new concept.
  4. Imagine the opposite of what you want
    -Imagine the worst possible thing that could happen. Now use that to identify important things to learn that weren’t so obvious before. (If I’m learning how to skateboard I can break my head. Can I use some kind of protection to avoid it? Yes). 
  5. Talk to practitioners to set expectations
    -If you know someone who mastered the skill you want to learn, ask them questions! 
  6. Eliminate distractions in your environment
    -Remove all electronic distractions and avoid being interrupted by isolating yourself.
  7. Use spaced repetition and reinforcement for memorization
    -Dedicate more time to the steps you haven’t mastered yet, and less time to the things you already know how to do.
  8. Create scaffolds and checklists
    -If there are some required steps to go over each time you practise, create a checklist with all of those!  
  9. Make and test predictions
    -I find this is a great way to improve by challenging yourself.
    (I am doing this skateboard trick wrong. How can I improve it? Well maybe if I kick the skate harder. I will experiment with it and make new assumptions).
  10. Honor your biology
    -Make sure you are giving your body and mind everything it needs on a daily basis! Without water, food, sleep and exercise, your brain won’t be so efficient on learning. 

“By knowing what you’re getting into, learning the fundamentals, practicing intelligently, and developing a practice routine, you’ll make progress more quickly and consistently, and you’ll achieve expert status in record time.”
-Josh Kaufman

Anyway, you need to hold yourself accountable! If you really want to learn a new skill quickly, you need to practise every day! 

Let’s say you decide to dedicate 1 hour each day to practise a new skill: 

(20 minimal hours of practise) / (1 hour of practise per day) = 20 days 

In 20 days you have dedicated 20 hours to learn a new skill, which might be enough to satisfy your needs! 

The formula you can use is:

(20 minimal hours of practise) / (daily number of hours of practise) = (number of days it will take you to learn a new skill)


The author, Josh Kaufman, really walks the talk. So most of his book "The First 20 Hours" is his detailed journey on learning these skills:

  • Programming;
  • Yoga;
  • Touch typing;
  • Playing Ukulele;
  • Playing Go;
  • Windsurfing.


If you have a ton of interests and you are always excited to learn new skills, the principles he teaches are definitely worth using.

But remember: pick only one skill and practise it deliberately for at least 20 hours. When you feel satisfied with your level of mastery, you can move on to another skill! 

“The amount of time it will take you to acquire a new skill is largely a matter of how much concentrated time you’re willing to invest in deliberate practice and smart experimentation and how good you need to become to perform at the level you desire.” 

-Josh Kaufman


Besides learning a new skill to satisfy a need or simply because you love learning, there is another advantage: you can find a new passion! Which later can turn into a new job or career opportunity.

So even if you’re planning on mastering a new skill for the rest of your life, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start by first practising intensively for 20 hours using Josh’s advice!

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