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In his 2013 TEDx Talk, “The first 20 hours,” author and business expert Josh Kaufman busts the myth that learning new skills takes a lot of time.
Proficiency, Kaufman says, is really only 20 hours away.
Here are just a sample of the many you could pick from.
Learn to play a song on a musical instrument
Music theory is highly complex, but a week should be enough time to learn a single song on the ukulele or harmonica.
(At the end of his TEDx Talk, Kaufman shows off his ability to play a few chords in a medley of pop songs on his own ukulele, which he spent just 20 hours practicing on.)
On Quora, Karan Babar suggests picking a somewhat rare instrument if you want to impress people most.
Learn to drive stick shift
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Automatic transmissions are no doubt easier, but the ability to shift gears while driving still turns some heads. It’s also a useful skill to have if you ever need to drive someone else’s car.
The actual mechanics of using the clutch and gear shift are straightforward, but you’ll probably spend most of your week learning how to time your shifts correctly. Nobody likes to lurch.
Learn to solve a Rubik’s cube
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Speed-cubers – the people who solve Rubik’s cubes as fast as possible, sometimes in less than 10 seconds – will tell you there’s nothing all that special about the puzzle.
You just need to know a set of algorithms – or turn patterns – that orient pieces of the cube one at a time. Memorizing the order of those turns can be done surprisingly quickly.
A beginner could easily solve a Rubik’s cube in less than two minutes over the course of a week.
Learn to tell a great story
Storytelling is a skill just like any other: There are rules to follow and mistakes to avoid to do it successfully.
The greatest storytellers captivate audiences by telling authentic stories that deliver on a promise, explains author and entrepreneur Seth Godin. The stories have drama and an arc. They go somewhere.
Also important: Good storytellers know when to end.
Learn to parallel park
As Ankush Singhal writes, almost everyone needs to learn to parallel park to get a driver’s license, yet many people can’t do it well.
A week is plenty of time to get used to positioning the car next to the car in front and learning when (and how much) to turn the steering wheel.
Bonus points if you learn to do it all with one hand.
Learn to cook an amazing dish
Cooking for other people is about as primitive as skills get, so it helps to have at least one dish as your go-to.
Many pasta dishes can be pulled off without much difficulty, provided the sauce is well-seasoned and flavorful. Likewise, cooking the perfect steak doesn’t always require weeks-long dry aging.
Pair both with a complementary wine, and you’ve got an impressive meal to serve up.
Learn the basics of martial arts
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Self-defense is one of those skills you hope to never use, but it’s handy nonetheless.
Like cooking, protection is a primitive skill that can go a long way toward earning people’s respect.
Learn to recite multiple digits of pi
- Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr
Impressive skills aren’t always practical.
Memory experts remember long strings of words or numbers by “chunking” different batches together. To learn the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter – an irrational number that stretches on forever – spend each day memorizing six or seven numbers after the decimal.
As the days go by, add each new batch to the overall string.
Learn to speak the basics of a new language
People who speak multiple languages are called polyglots. Matthew Youlden and his brother Michael can speak over a dozen, making them “hyperpolyglots.” Recently, they learned to speak conversational Turkish in a week.
The Youldens credit a language learning app called Babbel, lots of flash cards, and Turkish pop culture as the keys to getting familiar with the new tongue.
Learn to break an apple with your bare hands
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Tough as the fruit may be, there’s a trick to splitting an apple with no knives or stomping required.
First, remove the stem. Then place your fingertips underneath the apple with the fleshy part of both palms on the top of the apple. Pull up with your fingers and roll your hands out. With a few tries, the apple should split clean in half – no super-strength required.
Learn to juggle
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Even if you seriously doubt your hand-eye coordination, juggling is probably within reach.
The easiest way to get the hang of it within a week is to start with two balls. Practice tossing just two up in the air, first with your right hand and then with your left. Work your way up to tossing a third when the first is at its peak.
Soon you’ll be able to put separate tosses into one fluid juggling motion.
Learn the basics of tailoring
- Flickr/Sandy Chase
People spend their whole lives becoming master tailors, but the fundamentals can come pretty quickly.
A week should be plenty of time to learn a basic sewing stitch or two, which kinds of fabrics are used in which garments, how to use a sewing machine, and how to take measurements.
You can also learn how to make alterations – just in case things don’t go exactly right the first time.