How to Learn Anything Faster
First thing's first: You'll need to get specific about the skill you'd like to learn. "Writing" by itself is a little vague. Do you want to learn to write poems? Blog posts? Essays? Books? Same with "rowing" -- do you want to row on a team, or by yourself? Each of these are a little different, and would require you to take different steps.
Once you've got a specific skill in mind, follow these steps to learn it quickly.
1) Break the skill into parts, and practice the most important parts first.
Deconstructing a skill into smaller pieces doesn't just make it seem more manageable; it also lets you distinguish the most important things you'll need to learn.
Then, you can practice those things first. The result? You'll be able to improve your performance in less time.
For example, let's say you want to learn how to play the guitar. You can break that skill down into components like reading music, proper posture, proper finger placement, learning scales, learning chords, finger picking, and so on.
So which are the most important? You might argue that learning common chords and the finger placement for those chords are two of the most important skills, since knowing only a few chords means you'll be able to play a ton of songs.
If you're not sure what the most important parts of your skill are, then reserve that piece for the next step.
2) Learn from an actual expert.
No matter what skill you want to accomplish, there's likely someone out there who's already good at it. The fastest way to get good at something yourself is to find a person who's already getting the results you want, figure out how they got to where they are, and model your own journey after theirs.
Here's where you might sign up for lessons, ask to go to coffee with a friend or coworker who's already good at the skill you're looking for, watch a film that follows an expert's journey, and so on. There are a ton of different possibilities for how to learn from someone who has already gotten where you want to be -- and thanks to the internet, you have a world of resources available to you.
3) Learn from multiple sources.
Studies show that the more different ways you experience a piece of information, the more likely you are to retain it. Why? Because different media activate different parts of our brains -- and when several different parts of our brains are working at once, we can retain knowledge better and remember things more quickly.
So don't just read books and articles related to your skill. Try listening to podcasts, watching videos, using apps to practice, and even jotting down notes as you learn.
4) Spend one-third of your time researching, and two-thirds of your time practicing.
You can only learn so much about how to do a skill from researching it. You can spend all the time you want reading about how to shoot a soccer ball, but when you get out there on the pitch, don't expect to have a perfect shot on your first try. You know what they say: Practice makes perfect.
But if you're starting from scratch, you've obviously got to do some research first, otherwise you won't know where to begin.
5) Pre-commit to practicing for at least 20 hours.
Remember that it doesn't take 10,000 hours to get good at something; it takes 10,000 hours to become a tip-top performer in a highly competitive field. To get good at something, Kaufman says it takes about 20 hours of focused, deliberate practice. So once you get into the practicing phase, make a commitment to practice for at least 20 hours before even thinking about quitting.
Now, 20 hours is a lot less than 10,000 hours, but it's still a big time commitment to carve out our busy lives. It's the equivalent of about 40 minutes per day for a month.
6) Get immediate feedback on your performance.
Once you get into the practicing phase, make sure you're seeking feedback on your performance and correcting mistakes before they become ingrained.
Feedback can come from a mentor, a coach, a friend -- from many different sources, depending on the skill you're learning. But the point of it is for you to learn where you're making mistakes that you don't know you're making, and learn correct or alternative strategies. The quicker you're able to get feedback and correct your form and mistakes, the quicker you'll improve.
7) Give yourself deadlines.
If you've done some reading on productivity, you may have heard of Parkinson's Law. It goes like this:
Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Remember that paper in college you had all semester to write, and yet you ended up writing the whole thing the weekend before it was due? Yeah, that was Parkinson's Law.
The trick to turning Parkinson's Law in your favor is to set deadlines for yourself. When you give yourself less time to get something done, it'll make you do it more efficiently. In other words, you need to kick your own butt a little bit.
Multitasking is a common bad habit we're all guilty of, but research shows it can make us a lot less effective and increase mistakes -- not to mention stress. If you think you're an exception, consider this: Only 2% of the population is actually capable of multitasking effectively. For the other 98%, all it does is cause us to be 40% less productive and make 50% more mistakes than non-multitaskers.
9) Get enough sleep.
Sleep plays a big role in our ability to learn new information and skills. When we're awake, new situations and stimuli can prevent new memories from consolidating in our minds. But when we're asleep, we're better at consolidating new memories. One study from a German research lab found that sleep helps our memory formation most if you know you will need the information later -- like when studying note-cards for a test.
In fact, some scientists believe the brain can actually change its own structure and organization in response to changes within our bodies and in our environment, like when we're learning a new skill.
When you get enough sleep while you're learning a new skill, you'll be able to consolidate those memories faster and make fewer mistakes overall.
10) Don't quit after the honeymoon phase.
Remember when I talked about those moments of frustration in #5 when people tend to quit?
When we experience the opportunity to learn something new, we enter what many people call the "honeymoon phase." This is where we experience releases of dopamine as we experience new things. In other words, we're hardwired to appreciate and seek out novelty because it makes us feel good.
But when the "honeymoon phase" fades, well ... that's when we experience "the dip." Our progress slows, we get frustrated, and many of us quit.
This is exactly why we pre-committed to 20 hours of practice before we quit. Make sure you keep track of that time to help motivate you when you feel a dip coming, and fight through it. Commitment through these moments of weakness are game-changers when it comes to getting good at a new skill.