Josh Kaufman is the #1 best selling author of ‘The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business’ and ‘The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast‘. In what has become one of the most viewed TED Talks of all-time, Mr. Kaufman explains how it’s possible to learn anything we want to in only 20 hours. Below are some of his key points from his talk. 

Finding the Time

To begin his talk, Mr. Kaufman explains the feeling of not believing he would ever have free time again after the birth of his first child. To Josh Kaufman, this idea was upsetting because he loved learning new things, which takes a significant amount of free time. Mr. Kaufman was even more upset when he read that learning anything new takes 10,000 hours.

Distorting the 10,000 Hour Rule

This idea was upsetting to Mr. Kaufman because 10,000 hours roughly equates to a full-time job, for 5 years. Upon further research however, Mr. Kaufman learned that the 10,000 hour rule applies only to acquiring expert-level proficiency in a subject. In other words, according to Mr. Kaufman, ‘It takes 10,000 hours to get to the top of an ultra-competitive field in a very narrow subject.’ Though this was the original message of the 10,000 hour rule, according to Mr. Kaufman this message had become distorted over the years, resulting in the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to learn something new. 

It Only Takes 20 Hours to Learn Something

Josh Kaufman soon found it does not take 10,000 hours to learn anything new. In fact, Mr. Kaufman asserts his research has shown that from starting a new skill, to becoming proficient in it, only takes 20 hours. 20 hours equates to roughly 45 minutes of practice a day, for 1 month. According to Mr. Kaufman, if you put 20 hours of focused deliberate practice into learning something new you will be ‘astounded at how good you are.’ 

Josh Kaufman’s 4-Step Method to Learning Anything

However, according to Mr. Kaufman there is a proper and intelligent way to practice in order to learn a new skill. In order to do this, Mr. Kaufman offers his 4 Step Method:

1. Deconstruct the Skill – This means deciding exactly what it is you want to learn, then breaking the skill down into smaller and smaller pieces. According to Mr. Kaufman, most skills are made up of other smaller skills so if we can get good at these smaller skills first first, we will be able to get better at the larger skill even more quickly.

2. Learn Enough to Self-Correct – Next, Mr. Kaufman suggests getting 3-5 sources on the subject and referencing them only to self-correct as we practice. To be clear, Mr. Kaufman does not suggest using these resources to procrastinate from the actual practicing of the skill. Instead, Mr. Kaufman asserts it is in the practicing that we learn the skill, so the 3-5 references should only be used to make sure we’re on the right course as we continue to practice. 

3. Remove Barriers to Practice – Again, as stated above the most important thing to learning a new skill is intentional practice. Thus, it is imperative to remove any barriers in the way of this intentional practice. This includes eliminating distractions from TV and internet, and anything else that will prevent us from actually sitting down and do the work. 

4. Practice at Least 20 Hours – Again, as stated above 20 hours is about 45 minutes a day for a month. According to Mr. Kaufman, the knowledge that we will acquire the skill we aim to learn if we complete these 20 hours of intentional practice should be enough to motivate us to keep going in order to learn the new skill.

Start at the Beginning

Josh Kaufman suggests if we follow this method, we can learn anything in 20 hours. To test his theory, Mr. Kaufman personally decided he’d learn to play the ukulele. Mr. Kaufman, didn’t own a ukulele, so he said the first few hours consisted of buying the equipment, strings, etc. This is only natural. According to Mr. Kaufman, often the first few hours of learning a new skill are dedicated to acquiring all the tools you will need in order to start practicing.

Putting it Into Practice

Once Mr. Kaufman had his ukulele, had it tuned, and was ready to practice, it was time for him to learn some chords. This seemed overwhelming because the book he had purchased has hundreds of chords in it. However, going back to step 1, Mr. Kaufman broke down these skills down into smaller parts and realized most pop songs were built off the same four basic chords. According to Josh Kaufman, this is similar to most skills: there are some core, simple, building block elements that are really important and used all the time. Thus, if we can learn these core elements, we will go a long way to learning the skill we desire to. By learning these four simple chords, Mr. Kaufman then demonstrated how he was able to learn to play hundreds of recent pop songs.

The Major Barrier is Not Intellectual, It’s Emotional

In closing, Mr. Kaufman suggests, ‘the major barrier to learning something new is not intellectual, it’s emotional’. By this, Mr. Kaufman means it can be easy to become discouraged by the idea of how hard it is to learn something new. However, as Mr. Kaufman asserts, we should take solace in the idea that if we simply put in 20 hours of intentional practice we too can soon learn anything we want.