The First 20 Hours

I am a learning addict. I love to learn new things, perhaps it is my innate curiosity to know more about how things. But I am always looking forward to learning something new, acquiring a new skill, sharpening my existing skills.

I am always looking for Hacks, Shortcuts, Tips,Tricks to acquire a new skill. However, what I found frustrating was that there wasn’t a proper framework to learn. I am sure you have faced the same dilemna.

I found myself frustrated by starting numerous side projects and goals that I wanted to accomplish (learning French, learning the Guitar,learning Salsa) and never completing them.

This changed for me when I read The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman. This book gave me the confidence to know that I can learn pretty much anything I wanted, using the framework laid out in the book.

The central theme of the book is that you can learn anything – any skill within 20 hours. You can learn enough in 20 Hours to be good at something.

We are not talking about becoming an expert or master. Don’t confuse this with the 10000 rule. That is to become a Master of Your Craft – to become an elite performer.

We are talking about skill acquisition here, and how to do it rapidly in just 20 hours.

Using the ideas and techniques in the book, the author Josh Kaufman was able to learn

  1. How to code using Ruby
  2. Play the Ukelele
  3. Learn windsurfing
  4. Practice Yoga

“Skill acquisition requires practicing the skill in question. It requires significant periods of sustained,focused concentration. It requires creativity, flexibility, and the freedom to set your own standard of success”The First 20 Hours

In one of my previous posts, I talked about the importance of choosing a lovable project – i.e a skill that you are highly motivated to learn ; and one that excites you learn.

I presume you have now chosen a project or skill that you love to learn, and you are pumped to get started.

In this article, we will talk about the steps needed to learn that skill you desire in a short time-frame.


As per Josh Kaufman – here are the 4 basic steps of Rapid Skills Acquisition:

  1. Deconstruct the skill into sub-skills
  2. Learn enough to practice and self-correct
  3. Remove barriers to learning
  4. Practice for at-least 20 hours

Let’s discuss each of the 4 steps in detail

a) DECONSTRUCT THE SKILL

No matter what you are trying to learning – any skill consists of multiple sub-skills. For example, if you wanted to to be good at Baseball you need to improve your Running Speed, Arm Strength, Hitting, Fielding,etc.

Once you know what the individual sub-skills are- then you can create a structured learning process to acquire the skill.

Finding out the sub-skills in learning any new skill is not difficult. You can get information at the local library. There are numerous books, DVDs, and of-course Google to help you with that. Information on anything is available to us in plenty.

Keep in mind – you don’t need to memorize each and everything. You are not studying for an exam here.

The purpose of this exercise is for you to understand what is required to learn. Don’t go overboard into analysis paralysis. This could confuse you and possibly even demotivate you to get started.

Deconstructing the skill will help you save time which you would have otherwise spent in trial-and-error. There are people who have spent hours and maybe years mastering something. Rely on their experience & expertise – you are able to get all that information either online or through books.

B) LEARN ENOUGH TO SELF-CORRECT

We often fall into analysis paralysis. Often the more we know the more confused we become. Our confidence is shattered even before we start learning.

If learning something new makes you nervous don’t worry -you are not alone. We have all been there. We are all humans and we don’t want to feel stupid in the beginning. Remember the time you learnt how to drive a car.

The key is to accept that it is going to be lousy in the beginning. If you accept that, it will be easier to learn.Practice the sub-skills and learn from your mistakes. Self-correction is one of the fastest way to learn.

I remember the time when I wanted to get my Driver’s Licence. I enrolled in a Driving school to learn from an instructor. The first couple of sessions the instructor taught me only the basics- the brakes, the gas pedal, the steering, the rear view mirror, indicators,etc. It took me couple of sessions to get comfortable to know where everything was.

I remember the apprehension and nervousness for the first 2 classes when I sat in the car.

The same analogy applies to learning anything. Find out what tools are needed, and then slowly pick it up one sub-skill at a time.

C) REMOVING BARRIERS TO LEARNING

This is the Achilles Heel for most of us. Nowadays, it is even more difficult to concentrate on one particular thing at a time. Thank you World Wide Web!!

There are constant distractions -Television, Internet, your smartphone. And of course well-intentioned family and friends who do not want us to stress a lot by learning new things.

Once you know what the potential distractions are – you can create a schedule or game plan to acquire the skill.

I am currently learning Portuguese on Duolingo. I usually get home late in the evenings. By the time I get to my Portuguese lessons it is late in the evening and I am exhausted from the day. Many times I skipped my lessons.

Once I identified that I was able to I was able to schedule my lessons properly. I currently do my lessons on the train ride back home. I am not as exhausted as I would be when I reach home. So this reduces my excuse of being tired. I now learn Portuguese the first 20 minutes of my train ride back home.

“The Major Barrier to Learning is not intellectual, but emotional”Josh Kaufman.

It is also important to remove any emotional barriers – self limiting beliefs, doubts, confusions,etc. Our brain constantly plays tricks on us. Or you could distracted to learn the next skill before you even finish the current quest (shiny object syndrome).

The fewer distractions you have while practicing, the more quickly you’ll acquire the skill.

D) PRACTICE FOR AT LEAST 20 HOURS

In the book, Josh Kaufman does research to validate that it takes 20 hours to learn anything. He gives us case studies of how he was able to learn multiple things as he was putting the ideas into the book together.

20 HOURS – that’s not a lot.Right?

Is it too good to be true?

To demonstrate the validity of this theory he decided to put his reputation on the line. He was invited to deliver a TED talk on the 20 Hours idea. He decided he will show the audience you can learn a musical instrument in 20 hours.

He practices the Ukelele for 20 hours, and delivers a live performance in-front of a Live TedX Audience in 2013.

He also talks about the initial frustration barrier that most of us face in learning something new. By committing to 20 hours one can overcome that barrier by sticking with the plan. If you stick with it and practice long enough you can reap the rewards.

This video summarizes all the main concepts from his book, and he ends the speech with him playing the Ukelele.

It does not have to be 20 hours at a stretch. But it can 30 minutes a day for 40 consecutive days, and you can pick up the skill.

I remember when I had to obtain my Drivers License, I enrolled in the Driving School; I consistently practiced with the help of my instructor.

In a few weeks (15 to 25 Hours) I was able to learn how to drive on General Roads to obtain my G1 License. A disclaimer – I failed my driving exam twice. And that forced to re-learn some of the sub-skills such as parallel parking, reverse parking,etc.

Similarly when I had to obtain the Graduate License to drive on the Highway- I had to take another 20 lessons ie. 20 hours of driving classes to become confident to drive on the Highway. This time I passed my Driver’s License exam in one attempt.


We have looked at the 4 steps to learn just about anything.

I strongly encourage you to read the book The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman. It will definitely change your outlook on learning & skill acquisition.

Infact, you will be inspired to learn new things. I am sure you have a bucket list of things to learn.Why not put it into practice and start learning?

What are one or two things that you have been postponing to learn, but never got around to it? Maybe now is the time to get started.

If you found the post resourceful, feel free to share!!

Written By
Nissar Ahamed is the Founder & CEO of CareerMetis.com. He is also the host of The Career Insider Podcast and the co-host of The C.A.R.E. Podcast

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