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Learning Something “Fast”

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Book Review

We all know that my title should be “Learning Something Quickly,” right?  But then it wouldn’t sync with the actual title of the book that I am reviewing, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast by Josh Kaufman.  And it is such a catchy title that the concept had me intrigued before I even looked at the bright, bold cover. C’mon, who doesn’t judge a book by its cover?  I know the cover has to grab my attention for me to pull it off the shelf.  But this book, I sought out before I even glimpsed the catchy cover!

I have to say that this book was hard to put down – I must have been trying to learn how to learn something fast!

Quick Summary

The gist of Kaufman’s book is that while it may take 10,000 hours to become the EXPERT in a field of study, it really only takes about 20 hours for someone to go from nothing to basic competency IF they apply themselves in specific ways, hence the title of this review, The First 20 Hours.  After I read the book, I did have to go and look at Kaufman’s TED talk on the same subject.

I probably did that in reverse order. You should see the TED Talk first, then read the book if you are curious for more.

Spoiler Alert

I’ll give you a run-down on the book contents:  Rapid skill acquisition takes focused, persistent practice and you just have to do it.  Do it for one hour per day for twenty days even though it’s hard, boring or fill in the blank for whatever is stopping you.  Kaufman encourages people to do this well in his TED talk. But in his book, he really goes deep into the details of several case studies or experiments he performed to test his theory about 20 hours. He learned yoga, touch typing, GO, how to play the ukulele, and windsurfing (not at the same time – though maybe someone should suggest that to him – can’t you just picture the dude on a windsurfer with a ukulele?  We are talking major YouTube viral potential.)

I found the book’s chapters outlining Kaufman’s strategy for how to get “rapid skill acquisition” particularly helpful.

Learning Something Quickly

The best part of Kaufman’s book contains the elements of how to learn something fast by:

  • Breaking down the desired skill into tiny sub-skills.
  • Learning about each sub-skill – enough so that you are able to correct yourself during practice
  • Removing any barriers to learning these sub-skills – this includes anything that would make it harder for you to practice from the physical (like not having a tennis racquet if you want to learn tennis) to the mental or emotional (like hating to get up at 4 am if you want to learn ice hockey and that’s the only rink time you can get.)
  • Practicing the most important sub-skills for at least 20 hours.

Then, he enumerates 10 principles which, in my opinion, are the heart of his method.  I loved the list so much, first I put it in my bullet journal, then I made a beautified version to print out.

image 10 principles rapid skill aquisition

Ideas for learning something new

If you are stumped for what to learn next, here’s some ideas:


The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast by Josh Kaufman is a great book with lots of helpful tips. A good follow up book if you are learning to learn is Ultralearning by Scott Young. I’m using both methods to learn to blog. I’ll get back to you on how I did!