A Simple Way To Learn A New Skill Fast – In 4 Steps

A Simple Way To Learn A New Skill Fast - In 4 StepsThis is a 30-day challenge and a case study to test this four-step method as I apply it to a specific objective: To learn 3D modeling and animation using Cinema4D. My goal is to find out what works well and what doesn’t, what results I’ll get after this experiment and see what foundations are transferable or can be modified for learning other skills, whether cognitive or motor. I’ve been meaning to learn Cinema4D for a while but never really got too far with it. Will this challenge make a difference and get me through the 30-day hump?

I’ll also call this The Learn Something New In 30 Days Challenge for anyone who’s interested in doing the challenge and taking their spin on it with a different objective.

Learning a new skill often involves going through a frustrating and awkward phase, lavished with incompetence and humiliating performances that is quite painful to push through (Check!). On the other end of the tunnel is an acceptable level of competence where we begin to enjoy the fruits of our efforts. Getting a baseline level of proficiency creates a whole new level of motivation. Sadly, most of us quit before we get to that fun place. A place that encourages us to keep moving forward, reaching on to further heights. Who knows, maybe 10,000 hours later you might reach world-class status and be one of the best in your game. But first you must get through that initial no-fun zone that is often the place where people quit and dreams die.

And yes, you can also turn that awkward starting phase into a fun experience with the right attitude adjustment. However if you are not blessed with a sunny disposition that can turn almost any circumstance into a rainbow ride, then perhaps your approach to learning might save you by getting the results you want faster without having to fake a rainbow and unicorn phase. So without further ado, here’s the proposed 4 step method fused from ideas in The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman and The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss.

define your objective

Step 1. Define Your Objective

Clearly define what you want and at what performance level, to the point of almost being too specific. For example, stating that you want to learn 3D animation would be too broad. With too much to learn and no clear goal, you wouldn’t know what done looks like so you end up spinning your wheels jumping from one area to another without any significant progress. Instead of learning everything there is to know about the subject, decide on the sub-segment of that skill that you are interested in learning first, and focus on that.

You can use the following statement as general starting point to define a milestone: When I make this thing, I would have developed the skills necessary in order to get this particular result.

Here’s how this looks with the 3D animation example: Here is this idea of a 3D project that I would like to create from scratch using Cinema4D and it looks like this – A five second video where you see an iPhone modeled in 3D and it spins around 360 degrees. When I make this thing, I would have developed the skills necessary to build basic objects from scratch and make an object move.

With that objective in mind, you can then break things down into segments of what needs to be done and in what order. Once you’ve reached it, you can kick it up a notch and go for another milestone.

Research, Deconstruct, Sequence and The 80/20 Selection

Step 2. Research, Deconstruct, Sequence and The 80/20 Selection

I’ve fused these four ideas as they roughly point to the same thing. Out of the four steps, this is where you’ll spend the most time investing in pre-planning. There are general skills with a set of smaller sub-skills. If you are clear about what you want, it becomes easier to find what those sub-skills are and break that global skill into much smaller parts. Those smaller parts will help you get to that target level of performance as quickly as possible.

For example, if you have a stack of books and online courses on 3D animation, a way to do this is to skim all of them and find a commonly repeated thread or set of sub-skills. Find the two or three sub-skills that you will use most of the time that comes up over and over again. This is similar to the 80/20 rule where roughly 20 percent of the skills you learn are the ones used 80 percent of the time. Learn these first to get your foundations in place. Spend your time practicing those things and avoid those things that are distractions and are not going to help you. You will save a lot of time and energy.

Going back to my objective as an example, I’ve looked through online courses like Lynda.com, GreyScaleGorilla and Video Copilot, I saw that GreyScaleGorilla has a comprehensive basic course that covers the version of software that I have. And I also see recurring subjects covered over at Lynda.com. So I’m going for the GreyScaleGorilla 20 hour course that offers a tutorial section and a project section where you get to practice what you’ve learned as a project. Perfect!

Using our 3D animation objective above, the sub-skills I’ve identified are:

  1. Learning how to create a basic form object (cube, sphere, cylinder) – The foundation we’ll need to build that iPhone
  2. Learning how to add materials and texture to an object – Adding surface material to the iPhone
  3. Learning how to affect, move and animate objects – To spin the iPhone around 360 degrees
  4. Learning how to create an environment and lighting for your object – The environment around your iPhone
  5. Learning how to put everything together and output your work into video – How to get all these elements you’ve created into a 5 second video

In this example, these are the same basic skills you will be using whether you are building a basic cube or a complex cityscape. You also need to learn it in a specific sequence that builds on top of each other. Other skills use different methods that are counter-intuitive and non-linear, but that does not apply in this case.

pre-commit and add stakes

Step 3. Pre-Commit To Practicing At Least 20 Hours + Add Stakes

This is the part that can potentially save you a lot of time because the commitment and stakes serves as a check on your reasons for learning this skill. Would it be worthwhile for you to re-arrange your schedule and stop doing other things? Does the amount of benefit you get make the amount of effort worth it? Do you care enough about doing this to loose on the stakes you’ve put in place? If not, don’t do it. Go do something else more meaningful where you can get more for your effort.

Pre-Commit 20 hours. Twenty hours is 40 minutes a day for a month, if you want to break it evenly every day. Or break it down to two 20 min sessions every day for a month to break it even further down. I plan to do larger chunks as time permits within the 30 day period but having this fixed timeframe (20 hours in 30 days) and breakdown ensures you practice long enough to push through the early frustrations and long enough to see results.

After pre-committing 20 Hours, add some stakes by finding an accountability partner and throwing in some nasty consequences if you don’t follow through. You can be creative here or work out something simple like buying dinner or drinks or putting your money where your mouth is. I just found an accountability partner: Christina Z White, who will also go through the same course and attempt to create the same project. I have to share my project results with her to ensure I did my part. For stakes, I’ll choose something simple but extend it further by pledging to buy a drink for Christina White, Zaldy Serrano, Debbie Jue, Mei Li Ooi and Magi Khoo if I fail to commit my 20 hours and the corresponding project that I’ve outlined above.

Day one for me starts on Saturday this weekend October 11, 2014 and ends November 9, 2014. I will note the days and hours I’ve put in as well as what I learned in those hours. The entire foundational video course happens to be 20 hours long, so the additional project exercise that comes with the course and the project that I’ve outlined above will have to be on top of the 20 hours time spent learning the foundations.

Identifying Failure Points & Removing Barriers To Practice

Step 4. Identifying Failure Points & Removing Barriers To Practice

Assess possible failure points and address them in advance. Here are eight examples barriers that I came up with for learning 3D animation.

Failure Point 1: Higher priority projects coming up.

Solution: I don’t plan on doing 40 minutes every single day for 30 days, some days will be more and others none. The goal is to keep going until I hit the 20-hour mark. So if a priority project comes up, I’ll just re-arrange my schedule so that the time I allocated for practice that was not possible can be doubled up when the priority project is shipped. Priority does mean priority, so this trumps my goal of learning 3D.

Failure Point 2: Spontaneous unplanned events

Solution: If the event happens within the blocked time, I can attempt to finish it at an earlier time prior to the event or double up on a weekend when I am more able to secure larger blocks of time.

Failure Point 3: Feeling tired or not in the mood

Solution: Sit through it for at least 10 minutes, long enough to get you in motion. If I still feel the same way after 15 minutes, I’ll call it a night.

Failure Point 4: Failing to see the point, loosing sight of initial motivation

Solution: Review what made it interesting and important in the first place. See if that is still true.

Failure Point 5: Determined that the initial imagined benefit was not worth it after all in light of new information

Solution: Same above but in this case, this might be a point to save yourself time and drop it for a different activity if you realized this skill is not important to you after all. Sometimes the best way to find out is to give it a try, that way you don’t have to think about it again and you free yourself to pursue something that really matters.

Failure Point 6: Environmental distractions like TV, internet, other more interesting things

Solution: This is where having the pre-commitment of time would help but who knows, it might still come out and get ya. But I’ll go further and block between 9 pm – 10 pm for this goal so I’ll have a designated time blocked just for this.

Failure Point 7: Having a hard time starting

Solution: Again, sit through it for 10 minutes and see if you still feel that way after 15 minutes. If so, call it a night.

Failure Point 8: Tempted to try and learn other things that look shinier within the same goal

Solution: This is a real possibility. I have to keep in mind that foundations are what I’m after and shiny things can come later. I know I can get impatient though so I might give in to this distraction. It’s good to know that doing this often results in not progressing as much, so it’s good to keep that in mind.

Ok, that’s a lot. We won’t be able to anticipate everything so I’ll leave further assessments when the time comes. I’ll do a midpoint update on my next post, two weeks from now. By then I should be a week into it and have something to report. Till then, good luck with your efforts on learning something new and if you know of other methods that has worked well for you, please feel free to share.


About Pablo Sanchez

Enjoys crafting simple animated business videos that get your big ideas across to a larger audience. Honey, I Can Explain! is the place to go.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply