When I’m talking to someone about learning new skills I always get the same reply:

I want to, but I don’t have the time.

In this post, I’ll show you that you only need a little time and persistence to excel at anything.

Skills: "Learn as if you were to live forever.", Mahatma Gandhi
I’ve found learning to be the greatest pleasure in life.

It’s okay if you don’t have the time for new skills. Use this strategy to develop your professional skills. To have better relationships. Use this strategy to beat all your friends in your favorite game.

Here is the strategy in a nutshell:

  • Step 1: Pick a “baby step” habit that helps you towards your new skill. Do it daily.
  • Step 2: Get started. Do the first day of your new habit.
  • Step 3: Be persistent. You will fail at times but that’s okay.

Baby steps

When I first bought my exercise bike, I was pumped. I decided to use it for 20 minutes every day.

It did work for a while but after a few months, I quit.

A few more months passed and I decided it’s time. It was time to stop using my exercise bike as a hanger. Luckily, I’ve just finished the tiny habits course by Dr. BJ Fogg. This got me to try something else.

I decided to significantly cut my exercise time from 20 minutes to 3 minutes.

Was I being extremely Lazy? As it turns out, no.

You see, 20 minutes were enough to get me kind of tired. That made me feel as I’ve trained “enough“. So, I stopped at the 20-minute mark every day.

On the other hand, some days I didn’t have that time, so I skipped. Maybe once or twice a week. It was still enough to stop the habit from forming.

What about 3 minutes? The 3 minutes didn’t have the same effect. I always had the time and I was never tired from just 3 minutes. I usually did 6 or 7 and more than 20 on my good days (maybe once or twice a week).

This actually stuck. On the third month, my average time was at 25 minutes and my good days clocked over 40 minutes. I also felt weird not to ride the bike. I have successfully built a habit.

How to baby step towards success

Skills: "Slow and steady wins the race"
Better slow and steady than not at all. You know it.

In summary, to baby step towards a mastering a skill you need:

  1. A certain activity to every day
  2. A ridiculously small minimal amount of time to put towards that activity every day (2-3 minutes)
  3. Consistently doing developing the skill every day (building a habit of practice)

Don’t fret by the fact that 3 minutes aren’t enough to master the guitar (pun intended). You’ll quickly find that it’s almost impossible to do just that and you often spend much more time. After all, the point is not to master the guitar in those 3 minutes, but to build the daily practice habit.

Get started

Yeah, cliché as it may be, this is one of the hardest things. If I had started, just started, to build all the ideas I had, I would’ve retired on my very own island now.

If you’re like me, you have a lot of ideas, a lot of dreams, and a lot of things you have to finish to carry out them. So many, in fact, that you find your days are too short.

Have you ever wondered how ambitious people accomplish such great things?

They start.

Then, if they happen to stumble, they start again.

You know, as well as I do, this is easier said than done. Here is what helps me when I find myself procrastinating on great ideas.

Motivation Overload

I always say motivation is fleeting and push people to build better habits. In this situation, however, I find motivation to be a very useful thing. Not only motivating yourself but stuffing yourself with motivation.

I’m sure you know how to get pumped about an activity, but here are a few ideas:

  • Stalk someone who is successful in your activity online. Imagine living his life (yes, improved, you have better taste than that).
  • Learn something new about that thing you want to do. You can’t wait to try it out, already!
  • Watch a great speaker firing up an audience about that thing. Get fired up yourself.

Finally, remember that motivation is your starting point. If you’re serious about any of the skills you’re learning, you’ll quickly build a habit to replace it.

Momentum

Momentum is one of the most powerful things in this universe. Or not, I’m not that great at physics. For doing stuff, on the other hand, momentum is golden. That goes double for learning new skills.

Can’t start working on your project? Do something else productive instead, in other words – productively procrastinate. Once you finish the first task, everything else seems easier. Not ready yet? Do a few more tasks.

I usually find that just a single productive endeavor is enough to put me on track. And that’s quite easy if you pick the right tasks.

Pick easy tasks, nothing creative, that you can do in a couple of minutes. They shouldn’t be amazing, they only have to make you feel productive.

When I feel too lazy to write in this blog, I do marketing. The marketing I do is easy. I check the social media and reply to all posts, add some new posts to my Buffer, and browse to my RSS feed for ideas. This takes 5 to 15 minutes and 90% of the time I just can’t wait to get to writing after I finish.

Use the Force (Luke)

BB-8
BB-8 approves.

Do you know what works better than intrinsic motivation? A knife to your throat. Okay, a lightsaber to your throat. Actually, make that a lightsaber as a reward. Anyway, sometimes even motivation would be enough to get you going (e.g. night owls in the morning). In those cases – you use force.

Getting distracted a lot? Turn off the phone and turn on Cold Turkey on your computer (to block distracting stuff).

Can’t get out of bed in the morning? Get Alarmy. It will get you out of bed, I Promise.

Can’t do something in time, or at all? Set a goal in Beeminder and you’ll pay if you fail. Works like a charm. I’ve also heard friends can help you with any task, including this one.

Can’t build other skills? I trust you can google things, you’ll find there’s an app for everything, now.

You will fail! It’s not a big deal.

It’s just after New Years. Gyms are full. Everyone is getting fit.

Now, it’s 4 weeks later. Gyms are empty again. Everyone has quit getting fit.

It’s a matter of time for someone not in the habit of hitting the gym to skip a day. The next day is the hardest day of their journey towards fitness. They’ve lost their momentum, the task at hand is hard, and yesterday was so easy. Why not skip again?

Most new habits fail for the same reason. You miss one day and it’s as if you were never building a habit in the first place.

So, listen carefully, this is what you do – you don’t skip days. Just kidding, we’re all human and that stuff happens for one reason or another. Here is the real answer:

  • If you want to skip the day – skip the next day, instead. Since the skip isn’t instantly gratifying and its’ part of your plan it won’t break your rhythm.
  • If you’ve already skipped the day – make sure you realize that was your choice for that day. Don’t mistake that for choosing to quit the new habit as a whole.
  • If all else fails – get some of those friend things. They will be more serious than you are and they’ll annoy you if you skip a day, not to mention two.

The formula for building skills

Skills: "The man who is too old to learn was probably always too old to learn.", Henry S. Haskins
Know the things smartassess pretend to know.

Here is a quick rundown of the formula:

  1. Pick a baby step to do towards that skill every day
  2. Get Started every day. Repeat.
  3. Once you skip a day and “fail”. Get back to point 2.

That’s it. It sounds simple because it is simple. Use this process to push your work, side-projects, and hobbies forward.

Good luck!

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