The ability to acquire new skills quickly is an important skill in a rapidly changing world. If you are at an important stage of your career, there are probably more skills you want to learn than you have time for.
As information becomes more readily accessible online, it’s important to focus on a few approaches that can accelerate your learning.
Anthony Robbins once said, “One skill you want to master in this day and age we live in, if you want to have an extraordinary life, is the ability to learn rapidly.”
Whether you need to learn a new skill to improve yourself or career, there are better approaches and systems that can make the process better and faster.
To achieve mastery faster, don’t reinvent the wheel, use proven tools and techniques that do work for learning new skills.
Whether you want to learn how to code, practice yoga, play an instrument or get good at marketing, design or people skills, there are a few universal principles that can help you pick up a new skill in near-record time.
Stage 1: Knowing your end goal is the critical first step to learning anything
One of the major barriers to learning a new skill is not committing to a specific outcome.
What exactly do you want to achieve? Do you want to become good enough or reach an advanced level?
“…most people never decide what they want, so it’s impossible to figure out how to get it,” says Josh Kaufman, author of The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast. He says, “Define what you want to be able to do in a clear, concrete manner — the more detailed, the better.
Before you dive into a new skill, visualize your end goal and work backward. That means knowing your picture before you take the first step.
The good news is, when learning a new skill, you don’t have to become an “expert.” You don’t have to become a celebrity chef to be a good cook. But knowing what you want will help keep you on track and help you move toward a clearly defined end goal.
Some people pick up new skills to get a valuable result that can help them improve their careers. Others learn to get good at life skills that can help them make smarter choices.
Stage 2: Deconstruct the skill into its basic, fundamental components
For any skill you want to master, ask yourself: What are the minimal learnable units I can start with?
With your goal or underlying purpose in mind, find out the most important components of the skills you want to learn. Or better still, the sub-skills you have to learn as a foundation.
The goal is to identify and list all the components necessary to start learning quickly, no matter how small.
For example, if you want to learn a new language, you have to break it down into different parts — vocabulary, speaking, listening, grammar and reading.
For your specific skill, pin down as many components as you can, but don’t worry about getting everything — you might not know them all.
The point is to find the basic structure or level and begin from there as quickly as you can. By breaking the skill into more manageable parts, learning becomes more manageable and less intimidating. And you can quickly learn one sub-skill at a time.
Deconstruction helps you focus on the right sub-skills at the right time. It helps you learn in the correct order that makes logical sense to your brain.
Stage 3: Focus on the 20% inputs to get 80% of the outcome you want
The Pareto principle, known also as the 80/20 rule is one of the best productivity principles. The principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
It can be applied to learning almost anything.
Most skills follow a similar pattern — a few sub-skills can get you the greater percentage of the results.
With the 80/20 rule in mind, find and practice the most important sub-skills first, and you are very likely to accelerate your learning.
For example, choosing to practice the most commonly written or spoken words in any language would produce the greatest increase in language skill.
Understanding the basic elements of the skill can help you learn the most important sub-skills rapidly.
Use the same principle to find the core materials or resources you need to learn — use introductory books, podcasts, videos to get the basics quickly instead of learning general ideas. Focus on the root, not the branches.
To learn a new skill extremely fast, forget your desire to know everything, and focus on practicing the essentials that can help you become “good enough” quickly.
The 80/20 rule can be extremely useful in choosing the right things to focus on to get the results you want. By knowing what to ignore right from the beginning, you won’t waste time on information or steps you don’t need.
“In other words, whichever sub-skills you decide to focus on, make sure they’re the most impactful ones,” writes Sean Kim, the founder and CEO of Rype. Do your homework, and start with basic practice as quickly as possible.
Rapid skill acquisition isn’t easy but it’s not impossible. It requires a huge burst of very intense focused effort.
So whatever you want to learn, define your end goal, break it down into sub-skills to make it easy to practice, and focus on 20% practice that can get you 80% of the outcome you want.
This article originally appeared on Medium.