How I Obsessively Learned 90 Skills in Only 3 Years

My 3-steps approach can help you learn more effectively

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Photo by Conor Samuel on Unsplash

How to set your expectations right

People call me crazy when they hear me say that I’m learning three new skills a month, practicing each for 15 hours only. While there’s some truth to their claim, their doubt revolves around their expectations.

How to find and choose sub-skills

To choose the right sub-skill(s) to learn, you have to break down the skill you think you want to learn. People are often too broad with the things they want to learn. They tell me they want to learn “writing”, “programming”, “playing the guitar”, etc. Good luck learning those with just 15–20 hours of practice.

Skill tree for the skill of riding a bicycle
Skill tree for the skill of riding a bicycle
Skill tree built using Mind Meister. Click to enlarge.
Skill tree of “riding a bicycle”
Skill tree of “riding a bicycle”
Mind map created using Mind Meister. Click to enlarge.

How to define a concrete goal you’ll follow through

For this, I like to define SMART goals. SMART stands for:

Specific:   [play “Over the Rainbow” at regular speed]
Measurable: [speed]
Attainable: A single song with a few simple chords
Relevant: [so I can play it for my son]
Time-bound: [by the end of the month]
Specific:   [sustain a 10-minute business conversation in Spanish]
[do SCRUM meetings]
Measurable: [minutes]
Attainable: SCRUM is structured and limits the vocabulary needed.
Relevant: [so I can do SCRUM meetings]
Time-bound: [by the end of the month]
Specific:   [run a Facebook traffic ad with a cost per click of under $1]
Measurable: [cost per click]
Attainable: A FB ads expert told me $1 is very good and doable.
Relevant: [so that I can run effective ads for my businesses]
Time-bound: [by the end of the month]

Steps to learn skills in 20 hours or less

There are only three steps to learning any skill: Prepare, Practice, and Ponder (3P). These steps, however, need to be repeated a few times during the process. We’ll call those “3P Cycles”.

Diagram of the 3P Cycles, explained below.
Diagram of the 3P Cycles, explained below.
Steps to learn skills in 20 hours or less. Mind map created using Mind Meister. Click to enlarge.

1. Prepare

In this step, you want to focus on finding any information you can about the skill or sub-skills you want to learn. The process usually involves Googling different ways to learn what you want to learn and read about what you want to learn. You can also watch short videos. You should also schedule your practice sessions in this step.

2. Practice

In this step, you want to spend time taking action on the skill or sub-skills you want to learn. This is where the learning will happen. With the preparations you did in the first step, you should know exactly what you need to practice and how to practice it.

3. Ponder

In this step, you want to spend time reflecting on at least three things: what went right, what went wrong, and how you can improve. The deeper you dig, the clearer your next move should be and the easier it will be to get the next cycle going.

The first cycle

Goal: Start grasping the complexity of a skill
Duration: 5 hours
Main activity: Prepare
  • A mind map (see the “riding a bicycle” example above)
  • A skill tree
  • What sub-skills do I want to focus on?
  • Is that even a skill I’d enjoy learning?
  • Can anyone help me with it?
  • Do I need to pay anything to learn this skill? Do I want to?

The second cycle

There are two variations for this cycle. The main one is preferred, but if you have doubts about the skill, you can do the alternative. Let’s look at the alternative first.

Diagram of an alternative for the second cycle, explained below.
Diagram of an alternative for the second cycle, explained below.
Second alternative for the second cycle
Goal: Redefine the skill you want to learn
Duration: 5 hours
Main activity: Prepare
Diagram of the second cycle, explained below.
Diagram of the second cycle, explained below.
Goal: Choose sub-skills and practice them
Duration: 10 hours
Main activity: Practice
  • What went wrong?
  • How would I rate myself based on the results I was expecting to get vs what I actually got?
  • How can I improve?
  • What are the sub-skills I’ve performed least at? Why?
  • Do I need to adapt my planning? What do I need to update?
  • Did I learn anything about myself this week? What is it?

The third cycle

Again, there are two alternatives for this cycle. The main one is more focused on pondering while the other one focuses on extra practice.

Diagram of an alternative to the third cycle, explained below
Diagram of an alternative to the third cycle, explained below
Goal: Practice more
Duration: 5 hours
Main activity: Practice
Diagram of the third cycle, explained below.
Diagram of the third cycle, explained below.
Goal: Practice a bit more and then reflect on your journey
Duration: 5 hours
Main activity: Ponder
  • How would I go differently next time?
  • What are the next steps?
  • If you found yourself liking the skill but wasn’t always motivated, you might want to consider another skill that uses the sub-skills you just learned.
  • If you were motivated to practice daily, keep the momentum and push the skill further.

Conclusion

I used to only think about the three steps: prepare, practice, and ponder. As I became a better learner, I realized that these steps needed constant revision. That’s when I broke it down into cycles. That changed everything. My learning and motivation greatly improved.

dannyforest.com <- my new home. I don’t write on Medium anymore.

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