Home > Meta Learning > My notes from The First 20 Hours

My notes from The First 20 Hours

Here are my notes from The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman. Notes are no substitute for reading a book because an author’s job is to sell you on the power of their ideas and explain the nuances, not just to trot them out in a list. So, with that in mind, here are the insights that I found useful and a couple of my own thoughts.

Early incompetence and frustration puts people off learning new skills, but this frustration barrier can be broken with around twenty hours of practise.

Whilst the ten-thousand-hour rule might apply to world class performers, far less effort is required to achieve personally satisfying results.

Intellectual learning is different from acquiring a skill, but it can facilitate better practise. This is called the Monitor Hypothesis. Training is the repetition of an already acquired skill to improve performance, so this too is different, but important.

Credentialing conflicts with skill acquisition because it discourages creativity and flexibility in favour of meeting somebody else’s arbitrary standards. Prefer practising in context.

I think this is true, but also problematic. It doesn’t automatically follow that standards are unimportant because they are arbitrary. The driving test, for example, could be considered arbitrary, as could the speed limit. Education and credentialing can also expose students to important but rare scenarios that wouldn’t occur in an internship. A self-taught pilot, for example, would not have simulator experience of dealing with engine problems. The solution may be to review a syllabus with the aim of rounding out knowledge.

Genetic advantages play a smaller role in performance than practise and, with regular practise, the neurological wiring of your brain can adapt to meet demands (neuroplasticity).

It is easier to overwrite ingrained skills than you might think.

Ambient practise (doing something without consciously trying to improve) is far inferior to deliberate practise.
This is extraordinarily good news for learners. Relatively short periods of deliberate practise can allow us to compete with those with years of experience.

Don’t abdicate ownership of your learning.
This isn’t explicitly mentioned in the book but I think it’s important. Whilst the author might attend a class or buy a textbook full of tutorials, it only ever forms part of his approach.

Rapid Skill Acquisition


  • Choose one lovable project and commit to twenty hours of practise
  • Make time for ninety minutes of practise each day by discarding low value activities
  • Find ways to become invested in the outcome (pre-commitment)

Initial exposure

  • Take one-on-one coaching for movement based skills
  • Skim through three learning resources, such as textbooks, looking for commonalities
  • Talk to people who already have the skill for advice and to set expectations


  • Define your target performance level
  • Break the skill into sub-skills
  • Imagine the opposite of what you want, to help pick out essential components and incorporate safety
  • Choose and prioritise which sub-skills to practise

Practise design and preparation

  • Obtain critical tools
  • Create fast feedback loops
  • Remove barriers to practise by:
    • Reducing ceremony
    • Increasing opportunities for practise
    • Minimising distractions
    • Rearranging your environment to make it easier to practise


  • Practise in timed bursts, starting with twenty minutes
  • End with a session close to bed time and don’t engage in similar skills between practise and sleep
  • Approach each practise session with a clear idea of what you want to improve
  • Emphasize quantity and speed whilst maintaining acceptable quality

Review and adjust

  • Regularly review your progress and scrutinize how you are practising
  • Continue to research so that you can shape your learning plan (it’s slightly misleading to view research and practise as separate steps, because they both happen intermittently. Research informs practise, and practise informs research).
  • Consider ways to introduce creativity into practise.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: