How to Learn Any Skill in 20 Hours

Learn Any Skill With The 20 Hour Rule

Does It Really Take 10 000 Hours?

In his book “Outliers”, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the 10 000 hour theory, which basically says that in order to master any skill, it takes 10 000 hours of deliberate practice. His research took the world by storm, and led to many studies, some of which claim to have disproved the theory. However, while I think there may be some truth to the 10 000 hour theory, this post is about becoming good at any skill, not necessarily becoming a master of the skill.

I’m going to use learning the guitar as an example. When I suggest that someone try their hand at learning to play the instrument, people often say “I can’t do this. It’s going to take too much time to learn”.

I can tell you without a doubt, this is not true.

I’ve had numerous people ask me how long I’ve been playing the guitar, wondering if they can pick it up too. Whenever I say that I started at the age of eight, there’s usually a look of demoralisation. The usual response is:

“Okay, I’m never going to be able to do this”.

Deconstructing a Skill to Learn it Faster

It certainly did not take me 13 years to become “good”. In fact, I know numerous guitarists who started just a couple of years ago and are already light years ahead of me in terms of skill.

I have taught people with no prior knowledge how to play a song in under a week! Most people think they’re going to be stuck at the beginner “I can barely hold the strings” stage for a few weeks before they can start playing songs. Not true!

When I was being taught to play, it took me a couple of weeks before I was able to play a simple two-chord song. The reason my progress was so slow was because of the method in which I was taught. It was a very ineffective. Once I quit those lessons and taught myself to play, my progress was exponential because I changed the way I was learning the material. I started using the 80/20 rule which you can read about here.

Once I got to a level where I felt that I had enough knowledge to share, I deconstructed the way in which I had learned, removed all the useless bits, rearranged it, and began to teach it to people in the most effective way possible. In fact, if you deconstruct a skill before you learn it, you can pick it up much faster. I’ll get into this in a future post.

Introducing the 20 Hour Rule

For any skill, all you need is 20 hours.

20 hours! That’s nothing! Especially when compared to the 10 000 hour theory. In order to actually be able to start applying the skill, all it takes is 20 hours. Once you get past that threshold, you will experience that the skill starts to become drastically easier as time passes. This could be applied to anything! It could be a language, drawing, dance, public speaking, acting, chess, any kind of sport, and indeed, the guitar.

In fact, this raised an interesting thought to me. Many people have told me that they’re not good at drawing. So many people are quick to say, “I have no talent”. I wonder how many hours they actually put in. If they had just put in 20 hours of deliberate practice, they might have had a very different response.

I recently watched this TED talk (you can watch it below) and it basically puts everything that I had discovered before into words with an excellent structure. Josh Kaufman breaks it down extremely well and it is very helpful to gain an understanding of what to do. It’s an excellent talk and I definitely encourage you to watch it. He also mentions starting with the 10 000 hour theory and how he discovered his 20 hour method.

The ramifications of this discovery are incredible! You can pretty much learn anything you want, in a very short space of time. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Before you say “I’m not good at that”, ask yourself: Have I put at least 20 hours into it?

TL;DR

  • It takes only 20 hours to pick up a skill and be able to apply it at a functional level
  • 10 000 hours enables to you master a skill, not simply become good at it
  • If you deconstruct a skill into its various parts, rearrange it and focus on the most important things, you can pick up the skill much faster
  • Watch the TED talk, “The first 20 hours — how to learn anything | Josh Kaufman | TEDxCSU“. It’s an excellent talk, and highly recommended.

 

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How to Study Less and Get Better Grades

How to Study Half as Much and Get Twice the Results

I have a very short attention span when it comes to studying. If it was anything else, like playing the guitar, learning a language, talking about interesting ideas etc., I could spend hours without getting bored. I sense you might agree here, so now that we’ve established that we all get bored with studying (and if you don’t, I’d like to do research on you, so leave me an email), this post details how I hacked my study sessions to ensure I study a lot less and at least achieve a distinction average.

Honestly, I could write a few posts on this because there are a number of tricks you can use to ensure that you study a lot less. However, much like the extremely powerful 80/20 principle I wrote about in this blog post “The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks“, I am going to give you my best tip. This is the 20% of my tool kit which provide me with 80% of my results.

Space Out Your Study Sessions

Okay, let’s get to it.

The secret is to break up your study into 25 minute intervals, with 5 minute breaks in between. So in an hour, you’d have 50 minutes of study time, and 10 minutes of break. It’s far more effective than the 3-hour long sessions that many people attempt. You can adjust that of course, I find that 20 minutes works best for me and I sometimes require 10 minute breaks for particularly heavy tasks.

The reasoning behind this is twofold:

1. I’m easily distracted when I study.

First I’m hungry, then I have to check Facebook because someone sent me a message, and… well you get the picture. The thing is, it’s hard to shut out distractions. Instead, you can work around it by giving yourself 5 minutes to do anything you want after a 25 minute session.

25 minutes isn’t that bad at all! In fact, you’ll find you’re flying through it faster than you think. This makes your hyper-focused on the task at hand. Knowing that you have a 5-minute break coming up every so often allows you to maintain an incredibly high level of focus for that 25 minutes.

2. Average concentration tends to take a heavy dip as the duration of study increases.

With this technique, you get to break up your study session so that you have a higher average level of concentration (I’ll explain this below).

The human brain has an attention span of roughly 20 minutes for most things, after which it sort of goes into a gentle slumber (flashback of history lessons in high school anyone?).

What do you remember the most of a study session? The beginning, the middle, or the end?

For most people, they remember the beginning, and the last thing they studied. The middle becomes a sort of fuzzy, mushy stew of information which is frustratingly hard to remember.

This is what happens when you study for long periods of time without regular breaks. You tend to remember the beginning and the end but not much of the middle. Concentration always takes a dip in the middle.

If you take a look at the graphs below (please excuse the poor illustrations, Microsoft Paint was all I had available), you’ll see what I mean. The first graph shows you how the average study session goes, with concentration taking a nose-dive soon after the first few minutes, usually ending up in pleasant daydreams and Facebook messages.

attention-curveCompare the graph above with the one below. You get a much higher level of average attention, because you have more frequent breaks, you’re have more beginnings and ends (thus you have improved recall) and you get to allow yourself some distraction every 25 minutes!average-attention

This is essentially the biggest secret that I have to improving your study sessions. You actually end up having to study a lot less because you understand things and remember them a lot better because each time you have a break, you come back refreshed and ready to tackle all that annoying material.

The Pomodoro Recipe

Here’s a quick outline of how you can structure your study session:

  • Start with the toughest material first, as you will get more tired with each session.
  • 4 sets of 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks, and then you get to have a 15-minute break before starting the next set of 4.
  • I sometimes do quick workouts during the breaks to get the blood flowing. This increases your energy levels as long as you don’t exert yourself too much.
  • I also break up study sessions into morning and evening sessions, at the times when I’m most alert. This way, it feels like I’ve had a massive break in between to recharge, but this depends on your preference.

Of course, the exact amount of time for the study period and break is up to you. I sometimes take 10 minute breaks if I’m working on something particularly tiring. However, sticking to the 25 and 5 rule is what I’ve found to be the most effective.

The Pomodoro timer

There are a few ways you can do this. You could just use a clock, but I prefer using a free app called Productivity Challenge Timer . You can of course use any Pomodoro app which are freely available, but I find this one highly engaging because of it’s funny descriptions and motivational goals that you have to unlock.

As usual, don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out yourself and let me know how it works for you! Better yet, if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear about it! Like I said, if there’s a way to do something quicker with less work, I’m in!

TL;DR

  • The Pomodoro technique is where you study in short bursts of 25 minutes and rest for 5 minutes.
  • This improves recall and increases the number of beginnings and ends in a study session, which is when people tend to remember the most things.
  • It makes it a lot easier to focus because you allow yourself 5 minutes to distract yourself and knowing that you have a break coming up every so often is very motivating.
  • Download a Pomodoro app and try it out for yourself! The Productivity Challenge Timer  is my personal favourite.
  • If you have any other suggestions or tools to improve your study sessions, let me know!
how-to-hack-any-skill

The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks

I sucked at poker.

In fact, I was one of the worst beginners there ever was. My friends thought I was easy money and I can’t say they were wrong. However, within a week, I was consistently finding myself in the top 3 (out of 10 players) whenever we played a game. I did this simply by employing one of the most amazing tools I’ve ever been introduced to; the Pareto principle or the 80/20 rule.

The point isn’t to brag. Rather, it’s to emphasise that you can pretty much do this for anything. Poker is incredibly complex as it involves statistics, body language and a variety of advanced tactics and skill. However, I’m quite lazy by nature and I couldn’t be bothered to learn every single thing about poker. Instead, what I did was to figure out the absolute essential things I needed to know which would help me get better very quickly.

So how can you do this? And by the way, even if you don’t like poker, this is pretty much applicable to anything you can think of.

The 80/20 Rule 

The Pareto principle, which states that 80% of results come from 20% of the input. This is something that I’ve found to be extremely true. So here’s what I did:

  • I needed to find out which 20% of poker knowledge I needed to know that would provide me with 80% of the result I was looking for (which was to get better and beat my friends)
  • I asked a good friend of mine, Joel Watt (who’s an excellent poker player), what mistakes beginners usually made
  • He also told me about a few specific but extremely simple things that would improve my playing ten-fold.
    • Starting hand rankings
    • Agression and the mistake of playing passively
    • The power of position at a poker table
    • Bet sizing
    • Beginners tend to play almost every hand (which they absolutely should not do)
    • Patience
  • All of this took about a day to learn and a couple more days to fully sink in.

Just this few tips made me a far more formidable player at the table. The next game that we had, I made it all the way to the final two. I lost, but it was an incredible improvement considering I was always the first one out.

How You Can Apply This to Any Skill

You can apply the same 80/20 principle to pretty much anything. I did this with every single exam and came out with better grades than I used to when I tried to learn everything. I wasn’t aiming for 100% of course, but I could easily achieve a distinction with minimal effort. I focused on the topics that I knew would be essential and ensured that I understood them in and out, rather than knowing all the topics at a surface level.

If you look at any skill, look for the 20% of knowledge you need or material that you need to work on/practice in order to achieve 80% of the results. I did this with language learning, playing the guitar, improving my fitness level, improving my cooking skills, personal finances and a ton of other things. I’m far from great at any of those things, but I’m definitely way better than I was before and with only 20% of effort. You can do it too.

Sometimes you don’t need to be an expert, or know everything to get good at something. Just 20% can put you head and shoulders above the rest.

Perfection is the enemy of progress.

-Winston Churchill

TL;DR

  • The 80/20 rule, or the Pareto Principle states that 80% of results come from 20% of the input.
  • Focus on learning the 20% that will give you 80% of the results.
  • This can be applied to any skill, such as language learning (for example, 20% of the most common words will allow you understand 80% of basic conversation)
Too many workout plans

Too Many Workout Plans to Choose From?

With tons of different workout plans out there, you’ll definitely know the difficulty of selecting just one plan to work with. I’ve been struggling to look for a workout plan that I can stick with simply because there are too many! You’ve seen them before, you know what I mean. You’ve got the 12-week shred, the Robert Strongman Guide to Great Abs, Flab to Fab, The Johnny Tripleceps 8-Week Grind and all sorts of other programs. I’m going to share with you one simple lesson I’ve learned which you can apply to pretty much any other field.

Analysis paralysis. Try saying that fast five times

It just rolls of the tongue really well, doesn’t it? Too much information leads to inaction. This is something that’s applicable to pretty much anything you can think of. With all the choices out there we tend to do exactly nothing. With too many restaurants, even picking a place for dinner can be a daunting task. It’s simple to figure out why. When we’ve got so many different options in front of us, we fear picking the wrong one. We fear committing to one thing and then realising at the end that it was the wrong choice.

The truth is, unless you’re training for something highly specific, like a competitive sport such as swimming, you can pretty much pick any workout plan and it will work as long as you give it a solid effort. Sure, it may not yield the absolute fastest and greatest result. But the thing is, for the average person, the fastest and greatest is completely unnecessary. This is something I’ve had a lot of difficulty coming to terms with because I read so much about fitness and workout programs and all the new workout routines.

You don’t have to know everything before you start. Tweak as you go

Think about it. 10, heck, even 50 years ago, people could get in amazing shape at the gym. They didn’t know about all the fancy new moves, all the greatest equipment, etc. They achieved it by just doing rather than excessive planning. Sure, now we know that sit-ups and crunches are actually damaging to your spine, but this is knowledge that you can apply as you go. If you didn’t know that, it’s not too late to fix it now. You don’t have to know everything before you start. If you find that one of your exercises is actually dangerous, just stop doing it and switch it up with something else.

The point is, just pick something and start

You’re not going to go too far wrong as long as you start working out. Like I said, tweak as you go, and change things up as you learn new techniques. The most important thing is to start. Avoid being what I used to be like, more committed to planning and selecting my workouts rather than actually working out. Analysis paralysis. There it is again.

TL;DR

  • Too much choice leads to analysis paralysis
  • We’re afraid of making the wrong choice
  • Pick one and stick with it, even an average workout plan will work if you give it a solid attempt
  • It’s not necessary to know everything before you start; you can tweak it as you go
Universities Kill Your Passion

Universities Kill Your Passion

Here’s a topic I’m very passionate about. Education is something that we have to spend years on, and by the end of it, you just want to be done and hope that you get a good job. Sound familiar?

As usual, check out the TL;DR section at the bottom for a quick summary of all the main points

I’ve had a long-standing belief that the quickest way to kill your passion for any subject or field that you love, is to study it at university. I say this because universities, or really any formal method of education really, educate students in a manner that is so dry, monotonous and worst of all impractical and inapplicable to the real world.

The Most Watched Ted Talk of All Time

If you watch Sir Ken Robinson’s talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (which I assure you is one of the most hilarious talks I’ve ever watched), you’ll find that he puts forth excellent arguments and raises highly logical questions about how our education system works (or doesn’t work, would be a better way to put it). I highly encourage you to watch this video if you haven’t already done so.

I’m talking about something quite similar here. I see the education system as a “McDonalidised” feature of modern society. I believe Ken Robinson talks about something similar in his talk. What I mean by this is that the education system has been developed to mass produce workers. And what happens with mass production? Every product looks and functions (or tastes) exactly the same, much like a McDonalds burger. The burger-making process is always the same, and is replicated all around the world, much like our education system.

When I was 15, my father handed me a book on investing and I thought “Gee, thanks, could there possibly be anything more boring?” However, I did end up reading the book and it changed the way I saw self-education. I had never thought that investing could be so interesting! I had been expecting a text book-like approach to the writing and that wasn’t the case at all!

I began to read more and more books on the subject, educating myself through videos and articles and finding out everything I could about the investing styles of people like Warren Buffett, Benjamin Graham, Peter Lynch and numerous other giants.

Enter university classes

I liked the topic of investment so much that I decided that I wanted to pursue a finance degree. Almost instantly, I regretted the choice. The way my college classes were teaching me the exact same material was so mind-numbing that I was prepared to drop out. I was amazed! The exact same topics, presented in two vastly different ways. That’s all it was. I ended up hating what I was doing. In fact, I learned so much more by learning about investments myself, than I learned in a four-year degree.

As a result of this, I decided to ask others about how they felt about their university courses. I have a friend who is brilliant with electronics and mechanics and he is completing his engineering degree. He absolutely detests it.

“They’ve pretty much taken all the fun out of engineering and made it a weird bunch of formulas that you have to use to calculate an end result which you don’t quite grasp because it’s far too abstract and theoretical”

 This is what he said to me when I asked about how he felt. I was surprised. I would have thought that someone who was so good at understanding complex electronic circuitry and high-level mathematics would have no trouble with his course.

This isn’t an isolated case though. I’ve talked to people who study languages who used to love the language, those who study commerce, music, engineering, social sciences, etc. They all loved their field of study when they were doing it themselves and every single one of them agreed wholeheartedly when I said that university tends to kill your passion for any subject.

 As a side note, if you want to learn a language, the worst way to do it is by taking a formal course which starts you off with grammar. I’ll get into this in a later post, but for now, google Benny Lewis and check out his approach to learning languages ( I use it for French and it works). 

I discovered the problem, and a simple solution to go with it

The problem that schools and universities have:

  • They take all the application out of it and teach you with a very rigid structure (which is necessary for standardised testing, but those are a problem in and of itself).
  • They make it dull and boring with lectures that do not engage students and make students think critically about the topic
  • Text books drone on and on to give you the same amount of information one internet article can provide you in a single page.

There are of course some excellent schools and professors who make the effort to make their classes very interesting and I applaud them. However these are a minority, and I’m addressing the problems of the majority. 

The simplest solution to this is to give students something practical to do. Apply what you learn and learn while you create!

An example of this is to have engineering students build a working prototype using the knowledge they’ve acquired in class. With languages, the point is to be able to actually use it. With investing, you can practice with a virtual stock-trading platform. With mathematics, you can give students physical problems to solve using math! It’s one of the most applicable subjects in the world and yet schools make this unbelievably boring.

But wait! There are problems with this idea

I can almost hear the yells

  • “But that’s too expensive to implement!”
  • “There’s not enough time to get each student to do this for every thing they study in 3 years!”

Those are all valid arguments, but it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to take much time! It can be incorporated in the outdated structure that is already in place.

We could start with the little things which make the biggest impact. For instance, assignments could be changed so they’re more practical. For example, finance students could have an assignment on a stock-trading platform and use analysis to make buy and sell decisions and write a report on that. Even just a single practical assignment can very much break up the monotony of the highly theoretical structures that universities implement.

There’s a lot more to be said on this topic, and I will go into more detail about this in my next blog post. I would love to hear your thoughts on all of this, so do leave a comment and tell me what you think or what your possible solutions are.

TL;DR

  • Education has become a standardised method of churning out workers
  • We have an antiquated system that lacks imagination and kills your passion to study
  • The reason is because the education system has a structure which is too rigid, and does not harness the power of using application.
  • Application could mean having engineering student build something by utilising the knowledge they learned in class, or finance students analysing a real-world company and making buy and sell decisions on a virtual stock-trading plaform
  • The possible problems are that it could be too expensive and too time-consuming to implement.
  • Possible solutions involve making smaller changes to start with, for example, making assignments more practical to break up the monotony of theoretical material presented in class.

 

Open-Mindedness and Being Receptive

On Being Open-Minded and Receptive to New Ideas

To start off, I’d like to welcome you to my new blog. This is essentially my way of putting down all the thoughts I have into an easily accessible, useful and shareable resource. The primary purpose of this blog is to facilitate and encourage an open discussion about pretty much any topic. Nothing is off limits and everything is purely for educational purposes and interest in knowledge.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of topics that we will likely get into: 

  • Meta-learning (something I’m extremely interested in and will definitely explain in greater detail)
  • How to’s on a variety of things I have discovered or learned over the years
  • The education system
  • Ideology
  • Philosophy
  • Finding your motivation
  • Confidence and body language
  • Books
  • Music
  • Politics
  • Religion

With all of these interesting topics, I am considering starting a podcast where I delve into these topics in much greater detail. If I do decide to go ahead with this project (it’s a lot more time-consuming than I had imagined), I will definitely link it to this blog so you can stay updated with all the episodes.

Controversial Topics? That’s Part of the Fun

The main emphasis here is not to pick fights with anyone, in fact, it is to find people who may or may not agree with my views and learn from them. If I am wrong (and I’m sure I will be on numerous occasions), I will freely admit that I am wrong, or made a mistake and either learn from it or change my mind on a previously-held view.

I think that something people severely lack nowadays is open-mindedness. I really feel that the best way to approach any kind of discussion with people is to be open-minded. At least give them the benefit of the doubt, the chance to explain their views and really just hear them out.

All too often people rush to their own conclusions and quite frankly, they reject anyone else’s opinion if it differs from their own. This blog is the exact opposite. Everyone is welcome to give their opinions and engage in discussion and constructive criticism. As long as there is no ill-intent, the discussions are open to everyone and I would love to hear your views.

Essentially, it boils down to being open to listening to the views of others.

This is something, as the title says, that will literally set you apart from others. The ability to listen and weigh both sides of an argument in a fair manner is the hallmark of intelligence in my humble opinion.

The point is to try and understand where someone is coming from and why they are saying what they’re saying. I don’t think there’s anything else you could ask for when it comes to a discussion. You’d be surprised, you may end up learning far more than you  bargained for.

What are your thoughts on this?

I highly encourage you to leave a comment and engage in discussion on any of the topics on the blog. Looking forward to hearing (or reading, in this case) your thoughts! Thanks for reading!

Improve Concentration

Make Dark Chocolate Taste Sweeter

I stumbled upon something quite interesting by accident today. I had just had eaten and had fallen into my usual afternoon lull, and I decided to have my usual post-lunch square of dark chocolate. I made myself a cup of green tea and sat down to enjoy the dark chocolate while watching one of my favourite tv shows.

As you would expect, the dark chocolate (70% in this case) was quite bitter, but I was already used to the taste so I had no complaints. However, I took a sip of green tea and went back to the chocolate and suddenly realised that the chocolate had become so much sweeter and tasted so much better. Two things were happening here:

  • The bitterness of the tea had made my mouth immune to the bitterness of the chocolate, so I could only taste the sweetness, which seemed to have magnified significantly.
  • The heat from the tea that had transferred into my mouth was melting the chocolate and a much higher rate and thus the flavour was much stronger.

I immediately googled this combination and it turns out the the Telegraph (I’ll link it below) actually made a post about this in 2015 about a study which had been done on the combination of green tea and dark chocolate! The findings indicated that dark chocolate and green tea significantly improve concentration in the afternoon, which is a problem that I struggle with all the time!

I avoid drinking coffee (unless it’s for exams), so this was fascinating to me. At the moment, I am definitely feeling a lot more alert so there might just be something to it. I’m aware that this could be a placebo effect, but I’ll keep doing this for a few days and see if it continues to work.

(Update: I felt that the effects were not quite as apparent as I continued doing this, but I would be curious to see what others think)

To take a look at the article yourself, check this out: Dark chocolate and green tea is the perfect concentration combination

Womenshealthandfitness.com.au has a post in which they actually recommend dipping the chocolate into the tea to make it taste better as the melted chocolate will cover more surface area, thereby enhancing its flavour (so I guess my discovery might actually be true!). Check out the article: Chocoholic anonymous – Smart ways to eat chocolate.

It is important to note however, that the study I mentioned above was conducted at Northern Arizona University, but was sponsored by Hershey Company.

Possible biases aside, I think it actually worked for me so there could be something to it. Try it yourself and let me know if it works for you. Share this blog post and get your friends to try it as well!