Skill Development: Can You Learn Something New in a Month?


skill acquisition

Can you really learn something new in only a month?

If you want to stay ahead  in life it’s important to develop additional skills and habits.

But in this faced paced world is there time to learn new things?

Not easily.

This is why it is important to take a proactive approach to skill acquisition.  When you understand the psychology behind picking up new talents, you can make rapid improvements to your life.

With that said, is it possible to “skill hack” and learn something new within a month?

In this article we’ll review some of the popular theories and thoughts on how to quickly master different skills.

10,000 Hours to Master a Skill?

Malcom Gladwell famously stated that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to be a master at any skill in his book Outliers.

But on the other hand, there are people like Josh Kaufman and Tim Ferriss who publish books that show how to quickly learn skills quickly.

Who is correct?

Does it take 10,000 hours to master a skill, or 20 hours?

The answer is both are true. With all due respect to Ferriss and Kaufman, you are not going to pick up a cello and be Yo Yo Ma in 20 hours, or pick up a golf club and be Tiger Woods in a month.

You can’t become an expert, but you can become competent.

In 30 days of deliberate practice (1 hour each day) you could learn the basics of cello and play a few songs people recognize. You could learn golf to the point where you don’t embarrass yourself on the green. You will not be an expert, but you will be 80% there.

That final 20% of the skill is the toughest hurdle to climb,  This where time and practice become important.

What Gladwell was talking about is the level truly mastering a skill. If you want to be 100% fluent in another language, with no trace of an accent, expect 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.  However if you want to learn a language and be understood, then 30 hours of deliberate practice will do it for you.

How can you quickly learn something new?

It’s something that’s possible if you dedicate a month to the process.

30 Days to Learn Something New

30 Hours is still a VERY short time to become competent in any skill. Practice makes perfect, and that is not a lot of time to practice.

The only way you can become competent in a skill in such a short time is to make sure that your practice is deliberate, effective, efficient and precise.

You can’t just get 30 hours of willy-nilly practice and consider yourself competent.  You need to have a plan, goals, milestones and uninterrupted practice. This last one is essential, because one hour a day isn’t a lot of time.  Each hour of practice requires 100% to your attention with absolutely no interruptions.

11 Tips for Learning a New Skill

To illustrate this point, let’s say  you’d like to learn a new language.
Here are 11 strategies that can help you have simple conversations in a new tongue within 30 days:

#1. Focus on the important things. What do you want to learn? How do you get there? A language may have 15,000 words, but learning the right 1,500 words can help you understand 90% of a conversation instead of 10%. This is all about setting up a plan to learn what is important first.

#2. Make a plan. If you want to have success in new skills you must have a plan. It must be written out. Period. End of story.

#3. Break it into chunks.  You won’t get it trying to learn it all at once. Study different areas of your skill at different times.  The training on the specific areas needs to be intense and in depth.

#4. Create drill sets. Repetition is the key. Drill yourself on the core essential until you know them backwards and forwards.

#5. Create tangible milestones. Each day of the month should have an outcome with specific milestones.  So if you’re learning a language, you should set a goal of learning 100 new words or practicing on a related software program for one hour.

#6. Get out there and do it. For languages this means getting out and talking to native speaking people. You may fear embarrassment until you are good, but nothing teaches like getting out there and doing it.  This is why people recommend total immersion for learning a language. When you HAVE to learn something, you will find it easier to do it.

#7. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. You will have one hour of deliberate practice each and every day.  However, the most important thing you can do is review and repeat the key points throughout the day.

#8. Be persistent. There will be days when you don’t want to learn. Days when you feel you can’t and won’t get it. My advice is to do it anyway.

#9.Have patience. It takes time to become competent at anything. Understand that you will not become an expert in a day. Everyone has to learn, so you will have to put in your time to do something well.

#10. Create practice work and tests.  Buy a program or study guide for the skill you’re developing.  Use this information to practice and test your new abilities.

#11. Self-correct: Keep track of your training in a journal.  If something is giving you a hard time, set aside time to work on that area.

Ultimately learning something new in 30 days is still an ambitious goal.  You have to work hard at it and be effective in your study time.

The good news is it can be done.

Simply follow these 11 steps and you can quickly pick up a new skill. You can even try a 30 Day Habit Challenge. and spend a month focusing on this talent.  With a little bit of practice and repetition, you can develop additional talents on a regular basis.

Want to learn more about learning? Check out some of these awesome books to help you learn efficiently


12 Responses to Skill Development: Can You Learn Something New in a Month?

  1. Chris Bailey July 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Great post, thanks a lot for this! I think the distinction between truly learning something and learning the basics of something is pretty important, especially because when you go from knowing 0% of how to do something to even knowing just a part of it. That’s the point at which, at least to me, I’ve felt like I was a master at what I was learning.

    I think at that time, though (and I hope this makes sense) – you know some stuff, but you don’t actually know enough to know what you don’t know. Which makes it appear that you know more than you actually do.

    I think that’s when focusing on the important things and on reaching your milestones matters the most!

    • S.J. Scott July 29, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      I do get your point. It is a key one for any learning curve too. Once you really know how little you know about something, I think you are at the start of “really” learning. I would think that a month of intensive learning MIGHT be a enough to get to that level too, where your knowledge is passable, YOU might realize you have a ton more before you are an “expert”, but you still know enough to get by. It all depends on the depth of the topic and how good your study and learning habits are.

  2. Michal July 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    I use 10 to 15 minute chunks to practice different skills. Persistence, patience and repetition are the key. The less you practice, the longer it takes to see the results, but they will come.
    I met a guy who learned to play guitar practicing just 7 minutes a day. He has been doing it for three years and he is much better than me although I have been playing a guitar for about 10 years. I just don’t practice playing a guitar daily.

    • S.J. Scott July 29, 2013 at 6:17 pm #


      Great point, and a wonderful example. It does not have to be hours a day. In fact, after too much time spent on one thing each day, you get diminishing returns. But being regular and persistent in your practice and application of new skills are paramount. Thanks for a great comment and a wonderful example.

  3. Neamat Tawadrous July 13, 2013 at 3:11 am #

    Hi S.J.,

    Great Post and you provided very smart strategies to help with learning a new skill.

    Learning something new is possible but as you said is an ambitious goal that needs hard work and it takes a lot of practice, and patience is the most important virtue to have to keep doing what you have to do to achieve your goal of learning a new skill.

    Thanks S.J. for sharing these great strategies with all of us. Have yourself a great weekend ahead.

    Be Blessed,


    • S.J. Scott July 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

      Thanks Neamat,

      Glad you liked it!

      Patience and Persistence are two of my favorite virtues. I am not always able to exhibit them myself (as much as I would like). But they are so key to success in just about anything. There is no rapid road to any success worth having. It all takes time and effort, all you can do is make it the most efficient and effective use of your time, effort, patience and persistence.

  4. Alden Tan August 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Sick blog!

    I heard of the 10,000 hours thing, but meh, I don’t take it too literally. I fear it would fuck my mind up.

    • S.J. Scott September 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

      I’d agree that the 10,000 hours rule can be pretty daunting. But I also feel that “skill hacking” isn’t as easy as some people proclaim. I think there is a happy medium somewhere where you work at something for awhile and become good enough to suit your purposes.

  5. Tony J. Robinson September 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm #


    Great post! One thing I’d like to add is maybe finding a mentor. I know this helps me a lot when I’m trying to learn something new. Having someone to model could really cut down the learning curve. And it doesn’t even have to be someone you personally know, it could be modeling through a podcast, or a good book. But just find someone who’s really good at what it is that you’re trying to do, and do it exactly like them.

    • S.J. Scott September 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm #


      I hadn’t really thought about it, but you are right, a mentor can be a great assistance in helping you overcome obstacles and speeding up the learning process. Finding people that have “been there and done that” and learning from their mistakes and missteps is certainly a big timesaver.

      Thanks for the additional thoughts!


  6. Li-ling (BeHappyHQ) October 28, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    I do very much agree that learning something takes persistence and effort. However, I am coming to find that there are some things at which we are just naturally better at than others, and because of that, perhaps when we are trying to accomplish something that we are naturally less inclined to, we may have to work harder at it. This does not mean that we should quit or stop.

    Much of the joy is in the journey leading to the icing on the cake, which is the accomplishment.

    We have been trying to re-learn Mandarin Chinese as a family and have found Memrise a brilliant resource. It builds in many of your tips and adds a fun element too.

    • S.J. Scott October 28, 2013 at 2:26 pm #


      For sure some people have strengths and weaknesses. Some things will come easier than others, of course. The cool thing is when you DO put in that effort to learn new things, and keep at it you can build a learning “process” in your brain that makes learning future things easier. It is like exercise: the more you do it, and the more you push yourself, without creating fatigue or injury, the stronger and better you get at it.

      I have heard that learning Mandarin is one of the toughest languages in existence. It is cool that you found a great resource to help you.


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