How to Learn Anything… FAST! A Conversation with Author, Josh Kaufman

How to Learn Anything… FAST! A Conversation with Author, Josh Kaufman

Written by Emilie

Topics: Education, Productivity

How many hours does it take to learn a new skill? Conventional wisdom (and Malcolm Gladwell) would have you believe that it takes a long time to get good at an area. Something like 10,000 hours?

About a year ago, I walked into a workshop about “fast skill acquisition” at WDS. As I entered the room, I was given a handout. The first thing printed at the top of the page read:

“Rule #1: ignore the 10,000 hour rule.”

As soon as I read that, I knew I was in the right place.

This is how I first met Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA and most recently, The First 20 Hours. Josh believes that it’s possible to acquire a skill in only 20 hours, and he has a methodology for doing so that is based on the scientific research as well as his own experimentation.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to speak with Josh about his technique for adopting new skills and how it can be applied by multipotentialites. This is a really important subject for us, and I think you’ll enjoy this interview.

Download the MP3 here (right click, “Save as”).

In this interview, Josh and I discuss:

  • The problem with the 10,000 hour rule and why it should be ignored by multipotentialites.
  • How Josh handled the birth of his first child and the subsequent vanishing of ALL of his free time.
  • The 4 step process for acquiring a new skill in 20 hours.
  • How to overcome the multipotentialite fear of commitment.
  • What do you do if you have 20 different skills that you want to acquire at the same time.
  • How disregarding competition can be liberating and helpful.

Learn More about Josh

You can learn more about Josh at and

Your Turn!

In your experience, how long does it takes to acquire a new skill? Do you have any tips for learning quickly?


  1. Jennifer says:

    I loved this! I just started a “Introduction to Databases” class on Coursera and was feeling a bit anxious. Your interview really spoke to me, I love how logical and natural you are able to break down our nature and inclinations as a multipotentialite. Josh is awesome! Will have to look into his books..

    • Emilie says:

      Thanks so much, Jennifer! I don’t do interviews very often these days, so it was a fun challenge and I’m glad I wasn’t too rusty. :)

      Have fun with your Coursera class! I just started taking a biology class on coursera and I’m loving it.

  2. Kacy says:

    I’m always regretting that I did not major in visual art. I majored in theatre but work as artist now. I need to learn the technical/skill side and this gives me hope because I ordered a very expensive masters course on painting via DVD. These two things ( information & hope that I can “master” it) makes me feel better about my first little show coming up next month!!

    Thank you, Emily:)

  3. Abigail says:

    Hi Emilie,

    I pickup quite fast.

    Here in my country, we don’t have the leisure of having trainings with new software, even new employees. They’d just hand out the software for us to install and learn it by ourselves. At first it was exciting, I was thinking that the company was entrusting us with soo much but later did I know that the company was instead being lax about it.

    My main problem is I tend learn things a lot. My brain doesn’t want to be relaxed. There was one time I was setting up for my pet project, I wanted to learn WordPress, then CSS, then SEO. I never knew how to stop.

  4. Joshua says:

    Hi! I recently discovered that I’m a scanner/multipotentialite, and it’s the most liberating thing I’ve ever experienced, even if things are still a bit rocky. First, I want to thank Emilie and the whole community here :)

    Anyway, I’m generally a very fast learner. That being said, I have discovered that there are certain things that take a while, even if us fast learners might still learn these things faster than others. One example, and one of my many interests, is language learning (I want to fluently speak 6 languages other than English). I’ve managed to get to a high-intermediate (B2) level in Spanish in about 7-8 months (by far the longest I’ve EVER stayed with one topic and one of my greatest achievements). My original goal was advanced (C1) in 6 months, and part of the reason I missed that was that I had no idea what I was doing or how I learn for the first three months. Anyway, although it does depend on how busy you are, I think anyone can learn a language to a decent level (B2) in a year or less. This article is a great starting point. Obviously I don’t have the space to go into all the details of my language-learning process, but I can say three things for learning in general:

    1) once you know how to learn one thing (and more importantly, how YOU learn), learning other things is easier. This is especially true of things in a category, such as a third language after the second.

    2) Breaks, even if only one day a week or one day every two-three weeks (I take Sundays off from language learning), is immensely helpful and speeds up the learning process in my experience because your brain can process the information in the background. Whenever I take a break from something for at least a day and come back to it I seem to be better.

    3) I find that approaching things like a game can be immensely helpful (this is a newer concept for me). It creates some psychological distance and makes it easier to not get stuck in your head or get swept away by negative thinking. “I want to learn web design… I should level up my html skills first.” However you choose to phrase things, a generally playful perspective, even for serious problem-solving ventures, can be just what’s needed to keep you motivated and create new ideas and/or approaches, plus it helps to reduce stress. A really good resource for this kind of thinking is HabitRPG. I use that and the pomodoro technique for everything I work on (and the pomodoro technique seems to speed up acquisition, as well).

  5. Brad says:

    I think that it’s obviously dependent on the skill and that any pursuit that has any depth cannot REALLY be learned in a mere 20 hours, but this isn’t the point. One can attain a reasonable amount of mastery of most skills in this time and that’s the key to me, as the results one achieves build confidence and desire to go deeper. The 20 hours meme is a good one as it encourages people to try things, as a 20 hour investment is nothing like a 10,000 hour one! (-:
    Brad Poulos
    Entrepreneur, University Professor, Keyboard Player, Business Consultant

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