Getting Started Professional Development

Take 20 Hours and Become an Expert in Anything [VIDEO]

Written by Miranda Pennington

It doesn’t take 10,000 hours to learn a new skill. It takes 20. And here’s how…

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, has demystified Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10,000” (supposedly the amount of time you need to invest in acquiring a new skill). He says you can achieve the same mastery in 45 minutes a day, for a month.

Here’s the path to learning.

1. Deconstruct the skill

Decide what you actually want to be able to do, and break it down into manageable parts. Do some research and figure out what the people who succeed at this skill had to learn along the way and where you can learn it too! Do you need to sign up for a class, or lessons, or tackle a reading list? Invest in some equipment or supplies?

2. Learn enough to self-correct. Learn just enough that you can actually tell when you’re making a mistake.

This is where a teacher comes in handy, whether it’s one-on-one or in a class setting. If your desired skill is a musical or dance-based one, this probably means a lot of listening and watching to pros performing so you learn to tell the difference between a good performance and a great one. Perhaps even record yourself so you can rewatch and examine your technique for improvement.

3. Remove practice barriers: i.e. remove distractions, yes, like you, Internet.

Other common barriers include pets, children, day jobs (ok, maybe you just need breaks or a little alone time, not a full removal). There are a ton of productivity apps that might come in handy here—Pomodoro helps you time, apps like Self-Control (mac) and Freedom (PC) block all web access from your computer, and leaving your technology outside to go practice hula hooping is its own reward.

4. Practice at least 20 hours. Finally, yep, practice for 20 hours.

It’s inescapable—whether it’s 20 hours or 10,000, at a certain point there’s nothing to do but spend time practicing the thing you want to learn to love to do. Pace yourself, take breaks, but otherwise, stick to it!



About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.