The First 20 Hours – Josh Kaufman Book Summary

The First 20 Hours – Josh Kaufman | Free Book Summary

The First 20 Hours – Josh Kaufman

The First 20 Hours is a book about rapid skill acquisition: how to pick up new skills as fast as humanly possible.

Learn Your Chosen Skill By Focusing Your Energy

There are probably many skills you’d like to acquire. Still, an essential first step of rapid skill acquisition is choosing to focus on one. Start by making a list of all the skills you’re interested in, and pick the one most exciting to you right now. This excitement will help you stay motivated through your practice.

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One Thing At A Time

Don’t try to learn multiple new concepts at once because you’ll progress slowly, which is not motivating at all. Did you know you can achieve a magical “flow” state by spending more time focusing?

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Josh Kaufman explains that you should practice in 20-minute bursts so that you can focus all your energy on your chosen learning task. On top of this, these bursts should be characterized by deliberate and consistent practices. Hence, quantity and speed are more important than the quality of your learning. The faster and more often you practice, the more rapidly you’ll acquire the skill.

Ten Major Principles of Effective Learning

  • Research the skill and related topics.
  • Jump in over your head.
  • Identify mental models and mental hooks.
  • Imagine the opposite of what you want.
  • Talk to practitioners to set expectations.
  • Eliminate distractions in your environment.
  • Use spaced repetition and reinforcement for memorization.
  • Create scaffolds and checklists.
  • Make and test predictions.
  • Honor your biology.


Deciding how talented you want to become at your chosen skill is the third principle of rapid skill acquisition. This is called your target performance level. It’s important because if you can envision the end goal, it’ll be easier to get there. Decide what level of skill is “good enough” for you. For example, if you’re learning to play an instrument, consider whether you want to learn a few songs by heart or jump into a jam session.

Utilize Smaller Steps

As well as choosing your skill level, you also have to utilize smaller steps. Break your chosen skills down into bite-sized pieces you can tackle one by one. You don’t attempt to down an entire meal in one bite, and you shouldn’t try to learn a skill in one swing. By dividing up the work ahead of you, progress will be easier, and the steps you need to take to succeed will be more clear-cut.

Acquire the Tools You Need


As well as defining the specific skill level you want to pursue, Kaufman also suggests you need to identify the tools you need to succeed at your skill level. These tools are the fundamental building blocks of your skill. For example, for Kaufman’s ukulele pursuit, the first tool he required was a working ukulele. Though this is a simple step, it is essential to find what materials and environments you’ll need to succeed in learning a new skill.

Limit Distractions

When learning a skill, there will always be barriers that interfere with your learning process. Therefore, consider any emotional roadblocks that may stand in your path, like fear or self-doubt, as well as distractions (like a ringing phone). After completing this process, try to eliminate any hindrances.

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

Give Yourself Time to Practice

In today’s world, people are busier than ever. So, if you want to learn a new skill, you need to make time to practice. This is Kaufman’s seventh principle of rapid skill acquisition. Identify other activities in your life that you aren’t fond of, and work to cut those out to fill that time with practicing your new skill. Your goal is to free up 60-90 minutes a day to dedicate to practicing.

Prioritize Quantity and Speed By Practicing in Short Bursts

Shortening your working periods helps mitigate the risk of working on difficult or tedious activities for extended periods. This is crucial as prolonged challenging work can be draining and often leads to inefficiency. When you first start learning, the hours of practice seem to drag on longer and longer. People tend to think they’ve actually spent more time working at the beginning of learning something new simply by how arduous learning the task is at the beginning.

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