Want To Conquer A New Skill? Do It Every Day

At the intersection of psychology and productivity lies a simple truth: To do something well, you must embrace quantity.

Want To Conquer A New Skill? Do It Every Day

When you’re learning a new skill–whether developing dance moves or websites–quantity is way more important than quality.


Why? Over at Medium, entrepreneur-essayist Herbert Lui expounds on expansion:

Quantity should be a higher priority than quality, because it leads to higher quality. The shorter path to maximized quality is in maximized quantity, and executing on the feedback after each finished product.

To put it into startup terms, you’re making yourself maximally iterative. To put it into hardware, the idea is to get as many cycles as possible. To put it into workout terms, the idea is to get as many reps as possible. Try fast, fail fast, learn fast.

Why does the do-it-a-bunch technique work? Take it away, science:

We saw this in Karen X. Cheng, whose unstoppable drive to improve herself is worth another look. She hustled into a dream job as a Microsoft project manager, then realized it wasn’t her dream, then taught herself design and landed a sweet design gig. And, oh yeah, taught herself how to dance like this in a year:

What’s the motivation?


As Cheng told Fast Company in a subsequent interview, making the video itself provided an ample impetus: She knew that she wanted to share a clip from day 30, for instance, so she had to make a big enough improvements to make the video compelling.

“The dance video isn’t about dancing,” she told us, “it’s about working on something you’re passionate about.”

And that impassioned work ethic, Cheng explained, is an everyday thing. Growing up playing a range of instruments, she correspondingly absorbed a range of productivity hacks–the most crucial is to do it, whatever it is, every day.

Even at a micro level: When Cheng was learning to dance, she tapped out rhythms with one hand while piloting her mouse with another. Or, she says, if your skill-to-be-learned requires a special environment, like say rock climbing, you can take five minutes to visualize what you would be doing–mental practice, too, can make perfect.

Everyday volume

It’s like Edison said: If you want to have a great idea, have a lot of them. Or like Macklemore puts it, the greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, they were great because they painted a lot. Or as Lui, the Medium writer, paraphrases This American Life host Ira Glass, “the best way to refine your craft is to create a huge volume of work. Not to create the most perfect piece you can, but to create many pieces of work.”

Hat tip: Medium


[Image: Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.