How to Become An Expert (At Just About Anything) In Just 45 Minutes A Day

Steve Spring
Apr 26, 2018 · 6 min read

“If you rely on finding time to do something, it will never be done. If you want to find time, you must make time.”
― Josh Kaufman

Let’s face it, we are all busy.

I am pretty sure that you are extremely busy right now.

Working at a startup requires you to wear many hats.

And you need to become an expert in many areas.

But how do you find the time to master all of these skills when there is never enough time to do the things that you already have on your plate?

That’s a good question, right?

What if I told you that from this moment on, you can become an expert in almost any field in only 45 minutes a day?

Sounds pretty good, huh?

First, let’s look at some history.

The 10,000 Hour Rule

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” ― Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

For years, we have been told that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in any field. This “rule” was first made popular by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.

Gladwell made this statement based on some original research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University. Ericsson’s research found that it takes about 10,000 hours or 5 years of working full-time to reach the top of ultra-competitive performance fields.

What his research actually found was professionals in fields like golf, music, and chess take about 10,000 hours of practice to reach the top levels of their fields.

In these fields, more time spent in focused practice, led to better performance than those who practiced less.

Why The 10,000 Hour Rule Doesn’t Matter

“What separates the great performers from those that don’t meet that high bar is not necessarily time spent practicing, but again, what they do as they’re practicing.” — K. Anders Ericsson

The 10,000-hour rule is based on what it takes to become excellent at a highly competitive sport.

But, what if you don’t want to become excellent in a highly competitive sport?

What if you want to become good enough to master something that you have never done before like writing a blog post on your company website?

What if you only want to become good enough to produce the desired result?

In that case, the 10,000-hour rule doesn’t matter!

You don’t need to spend the time required to master the skill.

Your priority is to practice just enough to get the result that you need.

Here’s the good news, recent research by Josh Kaufman has proved that you can reach this level of expertise with only about 20 hours of deliberate practice.

The 20 Hour Rule

“The trouble comes when we confuse learning with skill acquisition. If you want to acquire a new skill, you must practice it in context. Learning enhances practice, but it doesn’t replace it. If performance matters, learning alone is never enough.” ― Josh Kaufman, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything

Many studies in the field of skill acquisition have shown that the first few hours of practicing any skill result in the most dramatic improvement.

The first time you try anything new, you are horrible at it. Think about the first time that you tried to share your story. It wasn’t pretty, was it?

As you continued to practice, you learned the most critical skills, and you began to see rapid improvement.

As your skills increased, you reached a threshold where your rate of improvement began to drop off, and it took longer to see results.

Researchers call this the “power law of practice,” but most of us refer to it as the learning curve. The interesting thing about Josh Kaufman’s research is that he found that you can reach this threshold after about 20 hours of focused practice.

Here’s how.

Set Your Target

“If you’re learning golf, being on the PGA tour after 20 hours’ practice is not going to happen,” he says. “But learning how to tee off in a reasonably straight line, fairly consistently — you could totally do that within 20 hours.” — Josh Kaufman

The first step is to decide what you want to be able to accomplish.

Kaufman calls this your “target performance level.” This is simply deciding what you want to be able to accomplish when you are done.

Once you are clear on what you want to accomplish, break it down into a set of smaller skills, and focus on mastering each one.

For example, becoming an expert at writing a blog post for your website involves several skills. You need to be able to write a compelling headline, choose the right image, tell a good story, and craft an effective call to action.

You can’t master all of these skills at once, so you need to pick one to get started with. In this case, you decide that being able to write a compelling headline is the best skill to start with.

Setting the right target will help you to avoid wasting your time on skills that will not provide an immediate return on your time.

Hit The Books

“Research enough to start practicing, but not so much that it is procrastination.” — Josh Kaufman

Next, you need to spend an hour or two researching the skill that you want to master. This might mean skimming through a couple of the top books on the subject, or just reading a couple of articles on the internet.

It doesn’t mean reading everything that has ever been written on the subject.

Your goal is to learn just enough to start practicing, evaluating your progress, and being able to self-correct when you get off course.

If you are trying to learn how to create a compelling headline, you could just Google, “How to create a compelling headline.” There is so much free information on the internet that you have enough to get started.

One thing to keep in mind is that as much fun as it is to learn something new, your goal is to learn just enough to get started practicing your new skill.

You can study as much as you want after you start practicing.

Remove The Barriers

“If the guitar is in its case, you’re not going to practice as much as if you took it out of the case and put it on a stand right where you sit all the time.” — Josh Kaufman

Removing the barriers to practice is the most difficult step in the process.

The key is to get rid of anything that will distract you while you are trying to practice.

You will need to turn off your TV, silence your phone, and turn off notifications on your computer.

Removing any unnecessary distractions will help you make the best use of your time.

Practice For 20 Hours

“Pre-commit to at least 20 hours of practice. Little and often is best; you’ll reach 20 hours by doing 45 minutes daily for around a month. “I find hours one to four are terrible,” says Kaufman. “Around hour three or four you start to get the hang of it and see some results.” Once you’ve completed 20 hours, decide if you want to continue, or try a new activity.”

You have set your target, researched your skill, and removed anything that might distract you while you are practicing.

The last step is to actually practice your new skill.

Kaufman recommends that you commit to practicing it deliberately for 20 hours. Practicing it deliberately means that you have a specific goal every time you sit down to practice. You have a plan and follow that plan until you are done.

If you are trying to learn how to write a compelling headline, you might want to create 20 headlines, run them through the Headline Analyzer, and evaluate each one.

Continue to practice until your 20 hours is up and use a timer to keep yourself accountable.

Once you have completed 20 hours of practice you will have mastered a new skill and be ready to move on to your next challenge.

Takeaways

  1. Determine what you want to master
  2. Break it down into a series of skills
  3. Focus on the most important skill
  4. Learn enough to get started
  5. Remove any barriers to practice
  6. Commit to 20 hours of practice
  7. Just Do It!

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 319,583+ people.

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Steve Spring

Written by

Husband, Father, Christian, coffee lover. Writer for Live Your Life On Purpose, The Startup, Better Humans, BeYourself and The Ascent.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +540K people. Follow to join our community.

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