How to Learn New Skills

Josh Kaufman’s TED Talk is an interesting, funny, useful, and inspiring performance. The author talks about the emergence of his idea to study the issue of learning new skills and his shocking findings and also explains how anyone can master any skill in just 20 hours (Kaufman, 2013). The chapter in Learning How to Learn also refers to Kaufman’s study, since understanding procrastination and its overcoming is the core of any learning process.

The possibilities of mastering a new skill are of interest to many since learning is useful for personal development and career; however, the absence of free time interferes with this desire. Kaufman (2013) also wondered about self-development and a total lack of time after the birth of his daughter and therefore decided to investigate whether he has a chance to learn something new. The author says that his first findings were shocking since many books said that a person needs 10,000 hours or five years of work to learn something new at a good level. However, he found that these data refer only to the expert level of mastering skills in ultra-high-performing fields. For this reason, Kaufman (2013) conducted his research and found that 20 hours of training is enough to learn almost anything at a good level. Such findings are encouraging and inspiring for many people.

However, a person must use these twenty hours in the right way to achieve results. Kaufman (2013) identified only four rules that make this learning effective. The first is deconstructing a skill, or dividing it into small parts, and highlighting the most important ones. This step is logical, since, in the first stages, a person does not need all the details to learn how to do something new. For example, a student learns the vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation of a foreign language, but does not start the study with phraseological units.

The second rule is self-correction, which is expressed in making mistakes and correcting them instead of gaining theoretical knowledge. The third and fourth rule is the removal of barriers and distractions, which will allow a person to practice at least twenty hours of a new skill (Kaufman, 2013). An interesting feature of these points is that not only the Internet or the noises around the student are barriers but also his or her insecurity or laziness. Kaufman’s performance of a song on the ukulele is excellent evidence of the effectiveness of his method, since he has learned how to play by using it. Thus, Kaufman gives a professional speech by combining humor, music, scientific research, and his own experience as evidence of the reliability of his study.

Three of the four elements of the Kaufman method rreferto the theory of procrastination, which makes learning less effective and reduces the weight of the first twenty hours of it. Kaufman (2013) mentions procrastination by explaining the second point about self-correction, and he expresses it in the moment of delaying practice under the guise of reading about the skill. However, as well as the regular postponement of tasks for later, such a reading more interferes with learning than contributes. For example, after reading 30 articles on how to learn French, a person does not come closer to using it. Oakley et al. (2018) discuss this aspect in the chapter “I’ll do it later, honest!” and suggest the Pomodoro technique, which is very similar to the third element of the Kaufman method. This technique involves eliminating all distractions, including the telephone, TV, and relatives, and focusing on learning for at least 25 minutes, which ends with a small reward (Oakley et al. 2018). Although Kaufman talks about 45 minutes of practice per day, he does not claim that this is the only correct approach, so the Pomodoro technique is also suitable, and a person can continue their studies after 25 minutes if he or she wants it.

Moreover, the theory of procrastination coincides with both physical distractions such as noise or the desire to eat, but also with stress and fear of failure. Although Oakley et al. (2018) focus on the first type of barriers, Kaufman says that people do not like to be stupid, so they often stop learning after several failures. However, the result is always the same, since postponing practice for several hours or days becomes a habit and makes learning less effective (Oakley et al. 2018). This flaw also emphasizes the fourth point of Kaufman’s speech that anyone needs to practice new skills for at least twenty hours to get a result. At the same time, a person can forget about his or her desire for months due to procrastination, which will practically annul all previous efforts.

In conclusion, although Kaufman’s speech is focused on the way of learning but not procrastination, this theory manifests itself in almost all elements of the author’s method. Understanding the things that people usually do and fail helps them recognize what they need to do to succeed. Consequently, Kaufman’s speech is inspirational and encouraging for anyone who wants to learn something new and can escape the traps of procrastination.


Kaufman, J. (2013). The first 20 hours – How to learn anything [Video file]. YouTube. Web.

Oakley, B. A., Sejnowski, T. J., McConville, A., & Young, O. (2018). I’ll do it later, honest! In Learning how to learn: How to succeed in school without spending all your time studying. Penguin Random House.

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