ProdPod: Episode 87 — Two-Minute Book Summary: The First 20 Hours

Reading Time (est.): 3 minutes


Learning, in the way that humans can, is one of the fundamental ways that set us apart from all other species on Earth. Skills acquisition is one of those kinds of learning that we do really well, and many of us want to do more of, better and faster. I’m one of those people, and when I picked up The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything…Fast by Josh Kaufman, I was skeptical. However, he outlines successfully a 10-step process for rapid skill acquisition and I think he’s onto something potent. Here are the principles of the book.

  1. Choose a skill that really intrigues you. It’s through this deep desire (and nothing less than that) that will get you to invest those first 20 hours.
  2. It’s next important to remember that you can really only acquire one skill at a time with this method. Add another skill to your pile and it’s a pile…which means less focus…which means less desire. You get the point.
  3. Now we’re into Dr. Stephen Covey’s habit #2, “begin with the end in mind.” If you can envision the outcome in a clear picture and defined boundaries, success with that skill is that much closer.
  4. Once you have your one-and-only skill mapped in your mind, it’s time to break this skill into its most basic parts. What are the individual components of the skill? A checklist, diagram, mind map, or workflow chart are good for this stage of rapid skills acquisition.
  5. Okay, so now you need all your tools. Gather up all the physical things you’ll need to learn and practice your skills. For example, if I were going to learn to play the guitar, I’d get my chord book, the guitar itself, a couple picks, a tuner app on my smartphone, music stand, etc., altogether in my dining room where I plan to practice.
  6. Then, you need to figure out what might hinder your practice time. Are you distracted by Web browsing, phone calls, email or your dog or cat? Will you need to get up repeatedly for something to drink? Are you feeling anxious? Mitigate your risks by avoiding distractions in your environment, keeping all your ancillary needs within reach, and addressing the emotional hurdles to getting into the zone.
  7. The seventh step is to schedule at least 90 minutes a day of practicing your skill, leading up to a minimum of 20 hours of rapid skill acquisition. This time should be sacred in your calendar.
  8. Next, we want to know what success looks like quickly. Kaufman calls for fast feedback loops by using experts at your disposal, tools and apps for tracking or measuring your success, and even using audio or video recording to review your practice. The faster and more feedback you get, the better you’ll learn.
  9. Your practice should be done in sprints of 30-minute increments, which the author bases on the Pomodoro Technique. This takes 25 minutes of practice and five-minute breaks for your mind and body, and your goal is then three Pomodoros (or, 30-minute increments) per day…which gets you to 90 minutes of practice a day.
  10. Finally, with all tools, measurements and tracking, and time constraints, remember, this is not a time to beat yourself. You’re going for more quantity of time practicing over perfection. Progress is the key. You’re learning and it should be fun. Laugh at your mistakes, stumbles and fumbles, and then keep working at it.

That’s The First 20 Hours in a nutshell. Go read it, learn a new skill in just 20 hours, and be more productive.