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The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything... Fast! by Josh Kaufman Book Summary

The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything... Fast!

The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast! by Josh Kaufman is a book on how to efficiently acquire skills. Written by the same author as The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, this book promises to teach you how to learn anything… fast - presumably, within the first 20 hours.

Although I found the first three chapters of this book interesting, I think this book should have ended after chapter three. It seems like in order to fulfill some kind of page quota, the author added another six chapters outlining their journey on learning six new skills. Those chapters focused more on the content of what they learned as opposed to how they applied their principles to learning those skills.

Although those chapters can be fun to read, the majority of the value of this book can be had from the first three chapters.


Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that you need 10,000 hours to learn something. What he really meant was that this was how long it took to become a master of something, to be on the level of chess grandmasters and NBA players, for example. For learning how to be “good enough” and to break through the initial learning curve, you need far less time. Quality is more important than quantity in the beginning, and deliberate practice is important. You also need to have a growth mindset that believes you can learn new skills.

Skill acquisition is the process of learning a skill to the point where you can begin to apply and practice that skill. For example, learning how to ride a bike or juggle three balls would be skill acquisition, and is accessible to everyone. Training to compete in the Olympics or performing in Cirque du Soleil is a different story. That requires more time and training.

There are four major steps for rapid skill acquisition:

  1. Deconstruct skill into smallest possible subskills.

  2. Learn enough about each subskill to be able to practice intelligently and self-correct (set up feedback loop).

  3. Remove physical, mental, and emotion barriers to practice.

  4. Practice the most important subskills for at least twenty hours.

The author then outlines principles for rapid skill acquisition and effective learning, which can be found below.

Ten Principles of Rapid Skill Acquisition

  1. Choose a lovable project.

  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time.

  3. Define your target performance level.

  4. Deconstruct the skill into subskills.

  5. Obtain critical tools.

  6. Eliminate barriers to practice.

  7. Make dedicated time for practice.

  8. Create fast feedback loops.

  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts.

  10. Emphasize quantity and speed.

Ten Principles of Effective Learning

  1. Research the skill and related topics.

  2. Jump in over your head.

  3. Identify mental models and mental hooks.

  4. Imagine the opposite of what you want.

  5. Talk to practitioners to set expectations.

  6. Eliminate distractions in your environment.

  7. Use spaced repetition and reinforcement for memorization.

  8. Create scaffolds and checklists.

  9. Make and test predictions.

  10. Honour your biology.