You're probably familiar with Malcolm Gladwell's famous 10,000-hour rule. It states that if you want to master any complicated skill, from golf to violin, you're going to have to put in that many hours of practice. For the time-strapped, it's pretty dispiriting. Who has 10,000 hours to spare?
The researchers whose work Gladwell based his famous dictum on have disputed his "rule." Talent matters too, they've pointed out, as does the way you practice (simply racking up the hours won't cut it). Which is fascinating, but not helpful for those of us hoping for a way around spending more than a year's worth of hours mastering a new skill.
But at least one author thinks he's found a shortcut. Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast!, broke down the basics of his method into four steps for TED Ideas recently. Put his method into practice and you can learn any skill by putting in just 45 minutes a day for a month, he promises.
1. Break down the skill.
"The first thing you need to do is to decide what you want to learn, and then break it down into smaller, manageable pieces. Let's say you want to bake your own bread. It's a multi-step process that includes making dough, letting it rise, punching it down, shaping it into a loaf, and baking it in the oven. You'll start by identifying the different tools and skills behind each step," writes TED's Mary Halton, explaining Kaufman's first insight.
2. Learn the basic theory ... but no procrastinating!
OK, now you know what you need to learn, but before you dive into actual practice, you need to understand the basic theory behind whatever you're undertaking. The key here is to inform yourself adequately without wasting time. Resist the temptation to study everything under the sun on your new skill.
"Get three to five resources about what it is you're trying to learn," Kaufman recommends. "It could be books, it could be DVDs, it could be anything, but don't use those as a way to procrastinate."
3. Make practice dead easy.
Humans are naturally lazy creatures who will latch onto any possible excuse to avoid effortful practice. So consciously remove every barrier that will keep you from putting in 45 minutes a day -- hide your phone, enlist a friend to hold you accountable, or even bribe yourself by bundling your practice with something you love, suggests TED.
4. Commit to 20 hours.
"To overcome what Kaufman calls the 'frustration barrier' -- that period in the beginning when you're painfully incompetent and you know it -- you must commit to sticking with your new activity for at least 20 hours. By that point, he says, 'you will be astounded at how good you are,'" reports TED.
After 20 hours will you we playing Rachmaninoff, beating Tiger Woods on the links, or speaking fluent Arabic? I, for one, am highly skeptical. But you probably will make sufficient progress that you'll be motivated to continue working on your chosen skill. From there, anything is possible, so Kaufman's method might be worth a try.