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The First 20 Hours Summary

Here’s The First 20 Hours summary. Know the ways on how to learn anything fast. This is a guide to rapid skills acquisition.


The First 20 Hours author Josh Kaufman explains how to deconstruct complex skills and learn them fast. He also explains that deliberate practice is important in the first 20 hours of learning a skill.

Yes it might take at least 10,000 hours before you become world-class in any particular skill. But you don’t need all of that to become skillful enough. Here you will learn some of the ways to become good at something without spending much hours.

About the Author

Josh Kaufman wrote two international bestsellers. These are The Personal MBA and The First 20 Hours. He focuses on business, entrepreneurship, and rapid skills acquisition.

His research has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, WIRED, and other media outlets. He has also been featured as a speaker in IBM, Google, Stanford University, and other innovative organizations.

Main takeaways: The First 20 Hours Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. It’s possible to learn a new skill in 20 hours or less.
  2. Focus on one skill at a time.
  3. Remove everything that gets in the way of practice.

It’s possible to learn a new skill in 20 hours or less

We’re all busy. And we have short attention spans. We give up easily. We easily get bored. But here’s the thing. We still want to learn new skills.

We might need that new skill for our career. Or we might just want to impress our friends with our mastery of something difficult. The problem is that we don’t have the time, energy, and willpower to learn.

You don’t need much of all the mentioned. What you need is to set aside 20 hours or less. Then you can master anything. You will become better than 90 percent of the people out there.

You might be already familiar with the 10,000-hour rule. It means you need to practice continuously if you want to become the best. If your goal is to become world-class, that’s the way to go.

But if you just want to learn a new skill because you want something to be proud of or “it’s nice to have another skill mindset”, you don’t need that 10,000 hours. With that 10,000 hours, you can learn dozens of new skills.

Josh Kaufman did it in different skills. He mastered each of those skills in 20 hours or less. Those skills have varying difficulty levels. But he proved that it’s possible to master anything in record time.

In his book, he tells how he learned yoga, programming, touch typing, Go, ukulele playing, and windsurfing. He did it by deconstructing the skills, getting the critical tools, using checklists, and setting performance levels.

Focus on one skill at a time

This is important. We all want to learn everything. Now we know that there’s a faster and easier way to learn, it’s tempting to go all at it in one shot.

However, that’s counterproductive. If you want best results, focus on only one skill at a time. This way you’ll have lots of mental and physical energy for each learning session.

If you’re trying to learn more than one skill at a time, it’s tempting to give up when one gets a lot harder. There comes a time when the skill is boring. Or you realized it’s harder than you think. You’ll then switch to another skill because it might be easier. It goes on and on until you’ve mastered nothing.

To avoid that, focus on one skill. This will make it easier for your brain. And you will have no other options but to focus on that. It’s also more satisfying when you feel you’re accomplishing something each week.

Remove everything that gets in the way of practice

This means everything. It includes all the mental, physical, and emotional barriers. You must be 100 percent dedicated to whatever you’re learning.

Those barriers might make you give up early. For example, you’ve realized along the way that the skill is actually useless. You won’t be using it for your work or daily life.

Your mind will always be in conflict. You won’t give your 100% energy to learning a particular skill. You won’t feel the motivation. You would give up and move on to other things.

Aside from the mental and emotional barriers, you also need to get rid of physical ones. You should have the energy to practice. Your environment should encourage you to put in the hours.

One key is to modify your environment. For example you want to learn how to play the guitar. Put the guitar and your learning resources beside you. Put them where you can always see them.

Also remove the other stuff that might distract you. Remove the other books, gadgets, computer, basketball, and other things. This way you have no other choice left but to practice. You’ll feel the compulsion to just get it over with whenever you see that guitar.

You’ll also learn the following from The First 20 Hours book:

  • How to use fast feedback loops to accelerate your learning
  • The importance of spaced repetition
  • Why should you choose short bursts instead of marathons
  • Why you should jump in fast
  • The importance of having a mentor

My personal takeaways

The First 20 Hours is an easy read. The lessons are concise. We can apply the lessons for the next 20 hours or so after reading the book.

It’s motivating to learn new skills in record time. We will impress our friends and colleagues. They’ll wonder how do we do it. The reason is just we know how to learn.

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