What Will You Learn This Year?

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with an old friend of mine that I respect quite a lot. He’s one of those people that seems to know how to do everything – he can fix computers (and write code), handle almost any home repair, play the guitar, beat almost everyone I know at chess, discuss literature extensively, and so on.

We were simply talking to each other about our reflections on the past year – both personal milestones and otherwise. I reflected on the true birth of my writing career and the growth of my children (especially the change of my daughter from a newborn to a walking, talking toddler), while he related some of his own personal successes.

Then he asked me an interesting question. What will you learn this year?

I didn’t really know what he meant by that, so I asked him to elaborate a bit. He told me that each year, he chooses a particular skill that he wants to learn and devotes an hour a day minimum to learning it at an adequate level, with a goal of devoting at least 500 hours to the skill over the course of a year.

One year, for example, he wanted to learn how to play the piano at least reasonably well from ear, while another year, he wanted to become a strong chess player.

During that year, he’d spend an hour or an hour and a half each day doing deliberate practice. Deliberate practice, as I discussed before, refers to practicing by simply mastering individual techniques within a larger skill instead of practicing the skill as a whole. For example, he might spend an entire day doing nothing but playing one basic piano lesson over and over and over again until he could do it blindfolded, or he’d spend one day doing nothing more than working on a single chess problem until he found the best solution for it. Afterwards, if he had some spare time, he might play around with his growing skill a bit, but most days the deliberate practice itself would suffice.

Thus, at the end of each year, my friend had (reasonably) mastered a new skill to add to his repertoire. Even better, most of those skills he has learned are much like riding a bicycle – you can pick them up at a later date and shake off the rust pretty quickly.

Upon hearing the idea, my wheels immediately began to turn. What skill could I learn in 2009 by applying an hour of daily practice?

I decided to give it a shot with a few simple caveats, since this is my “trial balloon” year to see how it works for me.

First, I wanted to completely master a fairly trivial skill rather than becoming merely adept at something more complex. No matter what I choose, I’ll likely show some improvement over the year, but I’d like to be able to move from almost completely unable to do something to being able to do that thing at a very high level in a year with an hour of practice a day. Doing it this way would allow me to clearly demonstrate to myself (and to others) how effective a policy of an hour of practice a day for a year really is. This means focusing on a fairly narrow skill.

Second, I wanted to focus on something fairly novel that I could use as a parlor trick of sorts. In other words, I wanted something I could very easily show to others, either as a conversation starter or as an inspiration that anyone could do this. What sort of narrow skill could I build? I ran through a long list of ideas, from the incredibly esoteric (shuffling a deck of cards with one hand) to the rather useful (improving my vegetable chopping speed).

Finally, I wanted something I could easily practice almost anywhere. This eliminated several of the options. I was left mostly with things like shuffling a deck of cards with one hand (as it would only require me to have a deck in my pocket) and other such tricks.

So, what did I finally decide on? What sort of skill am I planning on learning in 2009 by devoting an hour a day to it? Don’t laugh…

I’ve decided to master the Rubik’s Cube, with the goal of being able to solve it in three minutes or so from any position.

Why choose that skill? First of all, it’s something I can do anywhere. The only piece of equipment I actually need is the Cube itself, particularly once I get the hang of solving it. Second, it’s something that’s easy to demonstrate as a skill to others. Third, solving the Cube promotes logical thinking skills as you’re doing it. And, finally, it’s something I’m not good at at all … I can currently solve a side with about five minutes’ work, but after that, I’m stuck.

So, each day, I’m going to spend an hour attempting to master solving the Cube. I’m going to take a three minute video each month to show my progress as well, starting with a video showing me fumbling about with the Cube. At the end of the year, if all goes well, I’ll make a post showing all of the videos (or a selection of them) to show how an hour’s worth of practice can make your skill progress.

Now, how about you? Could you devote an hour a day this year to learning a new skill? Spend some time thinking about it… and come up with a plan.

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  1. liv says:

    I want to learn how to play the stock market this year :)

  2. Wonko Beeblebrox says:

    An interesting concept… I don’t have 60-90 free minutes each day to give to it without sacrificing another treasured activity, though…

  3. Battra92 says:

    I want to learn more about making my own food. my goal is that there be as much homemade items as possible in my house. Since I’m moving out I’d rather buy as few items as possible.

  4. Trevor - 14 Year Old Money Blogger says:

    I’ve been doing this for the past year actually.

    My hour is devoted into learning more about finance. Any kind, just learn and it has done me well =D

  5. zach says:

    goodluck with the rubiks cube. It took me practicing everyday for a week to learn how to do it…fastest I ever did it was 1m26s…which took about a month after learning it…than I hadn’t done it in a very long time and even a bit rusty can still do it under 5m.

    To be fair, I did have someone show me certain moves one does with the cube (there is about 5). Some you repeat over and over and others are needed for a step or two. any rate, it can be done no matter what position the cube is in?

    Are you planning to use an online guide? Or just all your own? While I can’t tell you the moves over here, I could tell you the sequence in which the cube is suppose to get done….but that probably defeats the purpose of your skill mastering huh?

  6. Chiko says:

    This year I want to learn how to blog, it’s all new to me.

  7. DiegoAndresJAY says:

    “At the end of the year, if all goes well, I’ll make a post showing all of the videos (or a selection of them) to show how an hour’s worth of practice can make your skill progress.”

    I like the idea of showing a still frame of the cube at the beginning of the week followed by a still frame of either how close you were after 3 minutes or how long it actually took you.

    I’m not sure if one frame would show how close you were to solving it or not, but it’s something to work with.

  8. Sam Ribnick says:

    Trent – I like the idea about truly mastering a skill. As someone who tends to jump from one thing to the next when my interest flags, it would be a good exercise in discipline and focus.

    For the Rubik’s Cube specifically, a friend taught me how to do it years ago, and I can do it in around 2-3 minutes. I’m curious if you are planning to (a) learn from others (either in person, or via the internet) and then try to master the moves and get your time down or (b) figure out the whole thing by yourself.

    My perspective is that you probably can’t figure it out by yourself in a year. I’ve never known anyone who has actually has (though obviously someone has at some point). If you learn from what’s already out there, you will still have a good challenge in getting your time down below 3 minutes – that takes a lot of practice.

    Probably someone will jump on this comment thread and say you can figure it out on your own, but this is my perspective. Either way, good luck and I’m very inspired by the idea of mastering something small.

    Sam

  9. Emily says:

    I really do like this idea; I have tried doing something similar in the past. I have discovered that it’s easy to decide to learn something new and get started — but it’s very hard to keep it going and stay committed enough to learn really well. I’ve tried learning guitar and bagpipes, and tried learning knitting more recently. Each time I started to get the basics, but got busy with other things (and got frustrated with the slow pace of learning — I’m not a kid anymore and it takes longer!) and lost interest and let it go. So I say kudos to you if you can both pick something new to learn, start it, AND stick with it — that is definitely the hardest part.

  10. Anastasia says:

    I take a somewhat different approach to learning. Whenever something interests me, I look for more information about it. Usually I start with Wikipedia, or a Google search. Some of those things have lead to big searches and lots of study. Some of them drop off rather quickly.

    Learning is critical to me – it’s something I couldn’t live without. Sometimes it comes in the form of practicing a skill, sometimes just a bit of reading. The important thing is that I keep learning.

  11. C.I says:

    Ha, as I was reading the post I had a feeling the Rubik’s cube would be picked. It really is an impressive thing to be able to do on the spot. To be honest, if, as you say, practice 1 hour a day, you could learn it in 2 weeks, 1 month maybe is more reasonable, 2 months at the absolute maximum. Assuming you aren’t trying to solve it on your own of course without guides, which is nearly impossible unless your a skilled mathematician of sorts.

    I’m a university student and I got my roommate to teach me. It took me 2 weeks from when I started to being able to solve it consistently. Shortly after that I could get it in under 2 minutes easily.

    I suppose it may be harder to learn online, than having someone actually teach you. I learned by layer and he wrote out the algorithms and showed my some tips for recognizing patterns, there are only 4 algorithms of about 10 moves each that need to be memorized.

    I think you should add to your goal of solving the 4×4 rubiks cube by years end, because you will find out quickly that the regular 3×3 should only take about 20, maybe 30 hours to learn, most definitely not 500. The 4×4 cube requires much more memorizing.

  12. Kristen says:

    I’m already working on improving my jewelry making skills and my writerly skills, although my husband and I are thinking about tackling a second language.

  13. Sandy E. says:

    One of my goals this year was to spend 1 hr. each day at the piano, so I was really surprised then to read your article. I have some piano skills – I read music – but they are rusty. I started yesterday and 1 hr. went by as though it were 30 mins. I am going to do the ‘deliberate practice’ each day, and am looking forward to next year to see how well I can play then. All my adult life I wanted to do this, so feel relieved I’m finally going to.

  14. Treva says:

    Wow, Trent. This was a serious eye-opener for me. I now have some thinking to do.

  15. Emma says:

    I don’t think the rubiks cube example is laughable at all. As you’re well aware a lot of the loftier goals like languages and stuff are abandoned very early on in the year, as they require a serious amount of mental energy. As you spend so much time at the computer it’ll probably provide some downtime and dexterity (as well as dazzle your kids). Post a video when you get the timing down!

    I’ve got a similar goal this year related to taking up a new sport. An hour a day is probably pushing it, but four or five hours a week is very doable.

  16. Jeff B. says:

    Trent – can you post the resources you find for cube solving technics? My 10 year old likely playing around with it and I think it came with basic piece moving sequences but am curious if you find any better resources… Thanks.

  17. How about a “trick” that is useful and requires no “equipment” at all? How about speed multiplication. Okay, I realize it’s less likely to impress the ladies at parties, but here goes …

    The easiest thing is squaring double digit numbers.

    If it ends in 5, like 25, 35, 45, … even a five-year old (reportedly some of the smartest people in the world) can do it.

    For example 65*65 is 4225. You take the 6 multiply it by 6+1 and put the result in front of 25, hence 6*7=42 .. and 25 = 4225 .. similarly 95*95 = 9*10..25 = 9025

    Next, squaring any double digit number close to 50.

    Let take 57. First you find out how far it is from 50, that’s 7. You add 700 too 2500 and then you add 7 squared (49) to that and sum up 2500+700+49. Hence 57 squared is 3249.

    61 squared is 2500 + 1100 + 121 = 3721

    41 squared is 2500 – 900 (because 41 is 9 below 50) + 81 = 1681.

    If you learn all squares from 1 to 25 by rote, you’re covered up to 75.

    To work out from 100, e.g. 89 go 10000-2*1100+121 = 7921 .. so instead of 1100 you use 2 times that. Otherwise it works like before.

    This can be done very fast.

    Multiplying any two digit numbers requires some practice.

    For example 47*94 … most probably learned to do it like this: 28 + 630 + 160 + 3600 = 4418. This is mentally very inefficient but supposedly quite pedagogical.

    Do it like this … 7*4 is 28 .. write down the 8 (that is the last digit of the result) and carry the 2. Immediately add the 2 to 7*9 and get 65. Remember 65. Add 4*4 to 65 … to get 81. write down 1 and add 8 to 4*9 to get 44, write that down. 44.1.8 is your answer. The challenge here is to keep the right numbers in your short term memory which is right at the limit of what most people can handle. This requires some concentration. However, the amount of numbers you need to remember with this method is about half of the numbers needed for the pedagogical method.

  18. Debbie M says:

    I’ve been thinking about learning shorthand.

  19. Kevin says:

    What’s the point? So you can impress someone by solving a puzzle?

    You’ve already mentioned that one of your goals for 2009 is to lose 52 pounds. If you’re 30 years old and need to lose 50+ pounds, you have an issue. Wouldn’t it be far better for you and your family if you got in shape and dropped the weight? Why not spend some time every day working out?

    Losing 50 pounds for the sake of your health and the security of your family would be far more impressive (to me, anyway) than learning how to quickly solve a puzzle. JMHO.

  20. steve says:

    You can learn the rubiks’ cube, by yourself, with no outside reference, within 2 months. It’s not THAT hard. It will require close observation and study, (of how the tiles/cubes move, and the sequences that accomplish various changes.

    I learned it when I was a schoolkid (when it was a craze) and didn’t have a book to refer to.

    Getting to the level of solving it super fast would require lots of memorization and practice, so I’m guessing 4 more months and you’ll be doing it in less than 2 minutes.

  21. Kelly says:

    Community education courses are an inexpensive way to learn new skills . I have often thought that I should learn a new marketable skill every year . Perhaps this will be the year .

  22. Trace says:

    What a great idea, isn’t it? I guess I’ve been challenging myself to learn something new for about 15 years or so. This past year I’ve been working on learning how to trim my horses’ hooves myself. I’ve read, worked with my trimmer, and will attend some clinics in the Spring. Yes, time and money up front, but after learning this skill, I will save about $600 over the course of a year. More than that, this skill will allow me to take care of my horses without relying on anyone else or their schedule. Priceless.

  23. Adam Baker says:

    The Rubik’s cube can be learned to do in a sub 3 minute time within 10 hours very easily. I’ve taught many people within an hour or two and if they did it once or twice a day could easily get under 3 minutes.

    Using the same method it’s easy to get to 90 seconds with just practice. Usually within a couple weeks. You use the same moves you are just faster to recognize and faster to execute.

    Going for a sub-90 second time requires new shortcuts based on different orientations. Without around 10-15 new shortcuts, you can cut around 30 seconds off.

    Going from 60 – 45 seconds is the hardest part of all. Requiring you to really memorize around 20-40 different moves and shortcuts. Cutting seconds from there involves adding exponentially more moves.

    Trent, I think you will quickly realize this is a very obtainable goal and will quickly switch to something else within the next month. It’s very fun and rewarding and can easily impress people. The best is when you walk into a situation where someone else is playing with one and solve it for them. Of course, solving a cube that’s not lubricated will often double or triple your average times. (Most times you stumble upon someone with a cube it will be very stiff and new)

    Good luck!

    Adam Baker

  24. Josh says:

    Learning to do the rubik’s cube is a great goal! It took me about two weeks to learn it from youtube videos. A word of advice, every video I have seen so far go really fast, so you will probably need to watch them a couple times.

    My biggest goal for this year is to learn Italian. I started about a month ago and it is going pretty good.

  25. Jennifer says:

    I love this question. One year I learned to make bread and that has really benefited. This year though I want to figure out how to get rid of harmful bugs without using pesticide. I also want to figure out what all those little packets of info that our mutual fund companies send us actually mean for me.

  26. Jamie says:

    That’s a great choice Trent! I kinda feel it coming =) There’s this great series of videos of how to solve the cube, I hope it’ll help you out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsQIoPyfQzM

  27. DB Cooper says:

    I’m currently learning to play guitar, and I devote an hour or more most days to focused practice. In years past I’ve taken up mountain biking, fishing, golf, and many other recreational habits. I run nearly every day. My wife has always been supportive. I think, however, that if I sat around playing with a rubic’s cube for an hour *every* day, she would likely have issues with that! Plus, I think I’d get to the end of the year and think I could have done much better with that time. To each his own,

  28. BigDude says:

    I want to work on my writing skills for 2009 and hopefully start blogging

  29. Amateur says:

    Don’t forget to pick something fun and can be shared with people who care about you, not strangers you’d like to impress!

  30. Laura in Atlanta says:

    I’ve always wanted to know how to roll a coin across my knuckles!

    (And Trent? Rubik’s cube is actually quite easy once you know the various movement patterns to follow. And learning those patterns isn’t going to take you a year – but still, it IS a fun skill to have. Not THAT hard, and it’s not gonna take you a year. I bet you have it down in about a week or so.)

    Another skill I’d like is to learn to count cards. not sure why, I don’t gamble, but I like numbers and odds like that.

  31. thribble says:

    Great question – and I’m not laughing at the cube idea, I think it’s an excellent one. It’s given me the inspiration for my final new years resolution. We’ve just bought a house that has given me an hour long commute, complete with tram changes etc (rather than the 10 minute walk I had before!). I will use that hour to learn about Australian politics. We moved here a couple of years ago and are looking at citizenship – which means we have to vote. Hence I feel I ought to start finding something out about how this country works and who does what, state and federal-wise.

  32. I’m surprised not to see mention of learning foreign language. I’d love to learn Mandarin, the most widely spoken tongue on our planet. And better my command of Spanish (the world’s #2 language), and of course Portuguese, Hebrew, Tagalog, Telugu, maybe Russian, … Would I dedicate an hour a day? Hmm, maybe.

  33. Amy says:

    I learned how to solve the rubik’s cube during spring break of my freshman year of high school. I decided I wanted to learn it, so I spent some time figuring it out. It never takes me over a minute and a half to solve it, and I learned how to do it in less than a week with less than an hour a day of practice. It’s not very difficult.

  34. I’m learning Japanese :)

    It’s relatively easy to get in an hour a day once I combine the commute to and from work for learning the written language and some extra time at work taking it further.

    Add to that listening to the language whenever I don’t have to be listening to something else.

  35. Kate says:

    Learning a foreign language: how do you all recommed the best way to go about this? I have a 40 minute commute one way so could easily devote some time to learning another language.

  36. What a great idea! I teach my students–and believe myself–that we must be lifelong learners. One of my resolutions for 2009 is to take and post a photograph each day in 2009. The purpose is, of course, to become a better photographer. I can’t spend an hour each day on this, but hopefully the consistent practice and related learning should play a role in my improvement. Check out my first photo (January 1, 2009) on my blog (http://teaching21c.blogspot.com). Jo

  37. kristine says:

    I plan to learn Flash Action scripting. I did a lot of it for my first masters, but several years have passed- and it’s definitely a use it or lose it skill. I need to relearn it. I teach digital media arts, and not only will my students benefit, but I can make money on the side. FYI-it’s the most in-demand web skill!

  38. I think I’d rather spend an hour a day perfecting a skill like writing. Something long terms that I could eventually become an expert at. Playing the piano and solving a Rubix cube is fun and all, but I don’t see the long-term benefit of it.

  39. Tom says:

    I will put a few hours aside every day (since I have them).

    1) I will combine 30 mins of running with 30 mins of either basketball or weightlifting every day.

    2) I will put an hour aside to master the command of “Bisaya” language (Major language of the central Philippines) — I currently live where it’s spoken as the primary dialect.

    All this with my newly married life, the move of country (which was recent), and of course my business!

    Let’s see how this works out.

    Also, Trent, I would be interested to see how you would address Kevin in his comment number 14.

    Many thanks … or
    “Daghang Salamat Diha”

    T.

  40. Julie says:

    I have always wanted to learn to either knit or crochet or both. I am going to make Christmas stockings for my husband and two sons that are similar to the one my Mom made me as a child. I have all year to do it and that should be plenty of timed! With a 3 yr old and a 5 month old though, I will probably need a whole year! :)

  41. John says:

    If you are not going to figure it out from scratch, then http://lar5.com/cube/ is where I learned how to do it. I still have to work on my speed though. The main lightbulb moment is when you realize you can’t solve the cube by “sides” but rather in layers.

  42. Nate says:

    Trent,

    I think you’re overestimating the toughness of Rubik’s. I’ve learned it in the past, and if you have a guide, it won’t take you more than a month to memorize.

    A word of caution: Using Rubik’s tends to aggravate my Carpal Tunel. This is the primary reason why I stopped using it altogether.

    -Nate

  43. Kate says:

    I love the concept, but how to pick? There are so many things that I want to learn: some foreign languages, how to read Google Analytics reports from every direction, how to play the piano, how to garden, how to lose weight.

    One more thing to think about!

  44. Hendo says:

    That is a good idea. My welding is terrible, I think I will get rid of my bad habits and go back to basics and start over, especially using a Wire Welder. Thanks for the idea.
    Hendo

  45. kas says:

    I’m tying learning a new skill into my own “101 Goals in 1001 days”.
    I intend to spend an hour a day learning how to do a handstand and eventually walk on my hands.
    I also want to practice guitar. I kind of started learning in 2008, but I really want to discipline myself to take it more seriously.
    And finally, I want to spend an hour each day writing. I want to have a block of 3 hours on one day of the week where I specifically work on something, a weekend project so to speak.

  46. Chef says:

    Rubik’s cube is a fabulous idea – I highly recommend learning it without a guide. Note the positions, make a move and note the updated positions.

    My goal is to spend 500 hours reading the Bible. I love the idea of mastering a new concept each year though.

  47. Studenomics says:

    I personally love to spend time reading upon new subjects in general. The thing that is different for me is that I do not want to be an expert in the new information that I learn, I just want to be well informed.

  48. willamettejd says:

    Couple of recommendations. I’ve personally done this with (1) Guitar, (2) Drums, (3) Personal finance, (4) the Bible, and (5) Fixing Computers.

    (1) You NEED a friend, class, or confidant to help you stay consistent. Anyone can muster 2-4 weeks of willpower – after that only a small percentage of individuals can really do “it” on their own. Weekly social interaction to keep you going (again, a friend doing the same thing or a class really help) is a necessity.

    (2) Set manageable goals. Saying “I want to master X within a year” is virtually meaningless. What do you want to achieve your first week, your first month, your first six months, and by the end of the year?

    (3) Reassess after 3 weeks. If the subject seems boring after 3 weeks, it will probably still be boring in 3 months. If you’re not interested in it, WHY are you devoting an hour a day? Don’t be afraid to drop the subject and pick something that floats your boat.

    (4) Show off your progress. I did this a lot with guitar. After a month I played a song for a friend – it was pretty bad. After six months I played another song – it was better. After a year I played a third song – it was really good….my friend was literally JAW DROPPED by my progress. He couldn’t believe how far I’d come so fast. Talk about positive reinforcement.

    (5) Reduce your time commitment. An hour a day is ludicrous – It’s quite possible you’re neglecting your family or friends if you genuinely have this much time each day (if you’re a TV watcher – that’s a different story…then you’re DEFINITELY neglecting your family :). A half an hour is probably more reasonable for most people with 8-5 jobs, families, social and charitable commitments. 30 mins a day, 6 days a week still equals over 150 hours a year.

    (6) for God’s sake, pick something meaningful that can help people or contribute to the lives of others! Just my opinion.

  49. Jade says:

    I’m trying to decide between:

    -learning French and/or improving my Spanish
    -learning to play Blackjack really well and/or learning craps
    -learning to determine the level of difficulty of figure skating elements (at least in freestyle, not ice dance) so if I ever wanted to become a technical specialist I’d just have to go take the test. For those who really don’t understand the new figure skating judging system: studying to become a figure skating judge even if I don’t actually become one.

  50. Alison Scott says:

    As others have said, the Rubik’s cube will not take you a year unless you set to get to three minutes with no outside reference or help. Which would be a bit like trying to learn a musical instrument with no teacher or tuition books. My husband taught himself, back when it was just a Polish intellectual toy for mathematicians, before the rights were bought — but his solution’s not quick.

    In 2008 I spent getting on for 500 hours on my button accordion; I’ve been learning for three years now and I still don’t think I’m very good at it. I also learnt to knit — I’d been taught as a child but never learnt to do it properly or competently. I started in September and knitted a wobby pair of socks; by Christmas I was knitting gloves with a stranded (“fair isle”) pattern in three colours. I started banjo but am still a rank beginner; so I guess I may need to spend 500 hours on that this year.

    A handy skill that doesn’t take 500 hours but you might like is juggling; being able to do a three ball cascade is well worth doing. Similarly, it’s useful to have a couple of small ‘entertainments’ available to amuse small children and bored adults (I can, for example, make a talking banana).

    I suspect you already touch type, but if any of your readers don’t, that’s a perfect skill that can be learnt in an hour a day (twenty minutes a day is even better; these muscle memory skills are best practiced little and often). I learnt as a teenager; it’s saved me thousands of hours over the years and remains as useful as it was when I learnt.

  51. I’m going to dedicate at least 1 hour per day to learning how to program. I’m starting with Javascript and will move on to Python or PHP next. It will probably take me all of 2009 to get competent in these languages. In 2010, I’ll move on to C++ or Java.

  52. luvleftovers says:

    I love learning so I’m alway reading and researching so that I can learn something everyday. If I still have a job in February, I plan to take more continuing ed classes, concentrating on things that will help me open a business. I also plan on writing regularly to hone my skills and maybe make a buck or two!

  53. CathyG says:

    What a great idea! It’s something I have often thought about, but I am one of those people who tend to give up after a while if I get bored or I think it’s too hard. I like the idea of the specific Focus for each hour, rather than just a random hour working toward the big goal. Maybe that concept will help keep me going farther.

    I think it’s funny that many commenters took the time to criticize your choice. I see that a lot in your blog comments. You write an article and choose some specific thing with with to make your point, and lots of commenters miss the point because they are focused on the “wrongness” of your choice of example.

    I haven’t decided yet if I am going to spend an hour a day on improving my Spanish, or on learning additional Programming languages. I’ve been going back and forth on this decision for several years, doing a little bit in each area and not really becoming much better at either one. Maybe I should spend my hour on learning how to avoid making decisions!

    If you think it’s worthy, I’d love to see the long list of things that you didn’t choose. I love some of the suggestions that the other commenters have given – I might try that speed multiplication technique.

  54. Kelly says:

    This is a great idea, I love some of the others suggestions. Jade yours popped out at me, Go for the technical specialist, they are always needed, especially as the IJS is always changing! I coach figure skating and one of my goals for this year is to go through the process of becomming a rated coach, if everything goes right I will be rated to the second level by the end of the year.

  55. CPA Kevin says:

    This is a great idea, but I have no clue what to devote that time to. Maybe I’ll start the year doing a simple workout – pushups, situps, etc. until I figure out something else to do.

    Maybe learn the guitar? I started lessons in high school, but never stuck with it.

  56. Marsha says:

    This is a provocative idea, but I don’t think it works for me – partly because I’ve over-invested in new learning over the years and under-invested at improving some basic skills. I need to spend that hour to 1.5 hrs/day on being better at the things I do now. But that’s just me.

    For someone whose life is already in good shape, then yes, new learning is great for personal development and maintaining a healthy brain.

  57. Jules says:

    My skill: learn Dutch. Kind of a prerequisite for living in Holland (I already know enough to get by, but I want to actually have conversations), though, so I don’t know if that counts. I’ll be taking an evening course, twice a week.

    Other skill I want to master: drawing/Photoshop. I figure I can do one on the train (when I’m not doing my Dutch homework) and the other at home, and putz about with my photos. I’d like to get good enough to maybe try freelancing next year.

  58. steve says:

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with setting a goal and meeting it in less than a year–that’s great too!

    I think the most important part of this idea is a) making the conscious choice to learn something or work on something and b) to put aside daily time (in a disciplined way) to do it.

    Setting up a structure for myself is something I have struggled with for various reasons, so I think I will take my inspiration from you and apply this idea and routine to my life starting this month.

  59. Dear me…I don’t think I could interest myself in spending an hour a day learning how to solve a Rubik’s cube. I can think of much, much more productive ways to spend an hour.

    I think the concept itself is good, it’s just that I personally would feel like I’d wasted an hour doing something like that. I’d rather do something more productive.

  60. partgypsy says:

    The thing my husband and I discussed this year that we want to invest more time in making both of our children (1 who just turned 6, the other 2 year old) to be more independent and self-sufficient. This will be both good for our children, and eventually free up more time for us to do our hobbies. Part and parcel of this New Years resolutions is to dedicate more time to our oldest (6 year old) daughter. Since the youngest has been born she has been playing second fiddle to the demands of our now 2 year old. She has been great at being a big older sister but really deserves more one on one time; things like me with her reading, my husband with riding her bike. We also want to start her on either piano lessons, soccer practice or possibly both.

  61. DrFunZ says:

    Learning something new is a great idea! I took an Drawing I course and learned some basic art skills this past semester, for free, as part of Employee benefit! So, this year I am going to try to do the “Every Day Matters”, an on-line list of something to draw each week. Humdreds of people follow EMD (one common thing every week) and then share their work with others through blogs or websites. I figure spending about an hour a day would give me seven hours of art practice/wk, plus a way to learn more techniques from other people’s work. The art can be in any medium, so I can make it portable on weeks that I travel. When I am confident and have something to show, I’ll share my website with you all!

    Happy New Year, Trent and all readers, and thanks for the Simple Dollar!

  62. Michael says:

    I don’t get it, Trent. Do you want to become an Outlier or not?

  63. Misty says:

    This sounds awesome, but I am currently too busy to be able to spend an hour a day on it…I’m a working mom with both part time and full time jobs, a toddler and a husband on shift schedule (not to mention all the cooking and cleaning!!) Maybe my thing for this year is to get a housekeeper….

  64. Sweet Em says:

    I love the concept, as I do so many of the topics you cover here. However…you are telling me that mastering the rubik’s cube is worth NINE 40 hour work weeks of this year?! I’ll be honest, if my husband told me he was going to do this I’d put a pretty quick stop to it. I know that there are mental skills at work with the mastering of this puzzle…but 365 HOURS. I think it might be worthwhile to focus on something more…worthwhile.

  65. Tom says:

    I set out to master the cube with help from the book that comes with it and I can consistently hit 1:30. But then I was addicted, and I looked into solving the 4×4, 5×5 and I recently got a 7×7 cube. That takes about 30 minutes to solve. It wont take you a whole year, but you could always jsut expand on it like I did. the 7×7 makes you look like a certified genius. Have fun!

  66. KoryO says:

    Great idea! I think I’ll pick something that will be useful here in the frozen north….like maybe quilting or even food preservation.

    If 2009 is gonna be as bad as I fear it will be, it may as well be something that shows a return on investment, right?

  67. theB says:

    Accidentally stumbled across this and thought it was timely based on your post. Not sure it’s for sale still in this century though…

    http://incredimazing.com/static/media/2008/07/31/383af694ac5d78a/2691138794a0a0d123bao.jpg

    or http://is.gd/esjr

    -b.

  68. Carol says:

    I’m going to learn to crochet, but I will not be able to devote a full hour each day.

  69. patricia says:

    One of my goals for the year (as silly as it may seem) is to learn to write with my left hand. I just think it would be cool to be ambidextrous when it comes to writing.

    Other than that, I’d like to work in general on my writing skills.

    And pay off more debt of course!

  70. Dan says:

    I have decided to work on digital photography. I have the original Digital Rebel with a zoom lens. I love taking photos, but I only seem to do it when I go on vacation. I want to take pictures of my area all year and get good at it. Does anyone have some advice on websites or bookis that will help me?

  71. Sandra says:

    You know, if it really only ends up taking a couple of months to solve the cube, then you could just pick something else to do for the next 10 months. As far as wanting to lose weight while you’re at it…is it possible to walk while working on Rubik’s cube? This may or may not be dangerous or distract from deliberate practice, but maybe you could find something mindless to do with your feet while working on it.

    I love this article! Although, I find it difficult to choose between all the things I want to do. I must not be the only one who has dozens of ideas. Out of all the ideas, I’m leaning towards a career goal: spend an hour a day practicing my own piano music and doing technique exercises and re-learning how to really listen to my sound. Right now I’m self-employed as an accompanist (meaning I play piano with other musicians), so I spend several hours a day playing, and practicing their music, but I rarely play for myself, so that may end up being my choice. There are so many things I want to do though…

    Good luck on your skill building.

  72. Simone Quaglio says:

    I’ve picked up several skills I’m going to work at, probably too many. I always have a hard time selecting.
    Improving my knowledge of German is among the most important goals, but I also plan, in the second half on the year, to learn the basics of Ubuntu.
    I shall be able to get my first kyu (the first “belt”) at kendo in 2009.
    Hopefully I will be able to stay focused. Your post is a good inspiration.

  73. xepe71 says:

    I’ll second your challenge… I bought a Ribik’s cube last year with intention to be able to solve it and “understand it”. I played with it for a week, but it ended up in a shelf. Let’s see if this year we can solve it, hopefully in less than a year, and than a month – the experience shows it is not so hard to make it. Good luck!

  74. Carmen says:

    Great idea, but a bit shocked by your choice of the Rubik’s cube. However I’m intrigued as to why you want to spend an hour a day learning to master an 80′s child’s toy? Did it bother you loads at the time that you couldn’t do it?

    I also agree with Kevin about fitness/weight being of paramount importance. I started exercising daily last year and found it hard to fit it in to my day. Additionally, if it is combined with a diet change, that often takes more time too. Will something have to give for you to fit your work, exercise, family time, chores and hour of Rubik’s practice in?

  75. Marsha says:

    I think this is a great idea. And I understand your choice, even though it wouldn’t be mine. For your first foray, you need something closed-ended, so you will know when you have really accomplished it. You’ll know exactly when you have conquered this skill, and you should see almost immediate progress. Playing an instrument, learning a language, etc., are very subjective as to when mastery occurs. Great idea to start small, and learn how to learn.

  76. Ah, well, I’ve decided to take up the challenge and really dedicate that hour a day to learn the mechanics of setting up an effective blog…lord knows I have much to learn.

  77. Eponine says:

    I’m going to start learning Berber (the native language of North Africa) and I’d also like to learn how to make jewelry (beading, wiring, etc.). Obviously I won’t be able to dedicate an hour a day to both of these, but a couple of hours a week for each sounds doable.

  78. Amanduh says:

    I took up knitting! I did a similar thing, only instead of one hour a day I devote myself to a certain number of rows per week (varies with the project). Considering how long it takes to knit clothing, it really isn’t about saving money, but it’s great to have the ability to craft items people will have forever.

  79. Jack says:

    When I was in fifth grade in 1980, everyone had one of these. I worked on solving the cube daily for most of the summer after fifth grade and I actually solved it on my own. Since then, I have been tempted to read more about solving the cube more quickly, but so far I have been able to resist the temptation. Every year or so I pick up the cube and can still solve it in 5-10 minutes using the original method I used when I was 10 years old.

    Maybe you could spend 15-30 minutes daily when you have some down time. Multiple cubes may help you as well. Good luck on solving the cube. It was quite satisfying when I did it.

  80. Christine O'Meally says:

    My husband and I did Rosetta Stone in preparation for our trip to Paris over New Year’s (we got a deal on the trip through subscribing to a travel email, so it wasn’t THAT extravagant). We probably spent an hour a day for the last two months and we were able to function kind of but we wasn’t enough to allow us to be able to understand when spoken to rapidly or to form independent sentences. We should’ve started earlier. But I loved the city and I’ve always loved the language, so that’s my goal – to learn French well enough to get around. And there’s a conference there in July, so I have a tangible goal to get there.

  81. Carol says:

    Hello, I would love to practice drawing each day, but not sure if I have an hour a day to devote, whilst meeting all my other daily obligations.

  82. Ray says:

    1 hour every day, for a year. 365 hours. Boils down to about 45 working days. Like what people spend in the office for almost TWO MONTHS.

    Do you really want to spend that much of time, time that you’ll never get back, to master… the Rubik Cube?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a great post. Just that like others above, I’m surprised by your choice. The idea behind it is definitely good.

  83. Andre Kibbe says:

    If you can find it (I couldn’t on Amazon), get a copy of Minh Thai’s The Winning Solution for Rubik’s Cube. I was twelve during the initial RC craze (1982) and competed in national competitions using Thai’s method. Thai set the national record for solving the Cube in 22 seconds. My average was about 36 seconds, but at my last competition, I was eliminated before the final round, and all the finalists were able to break 30 seconds. Thai came in second place, and the winner beat him by a fraction of a second.

  84. Jim says:

    Trent,

    I agree that you have overestimated the difficulty of this task. Even if you plan to do this skill with no outside help (which I doubt) it won’t take anywhere near a year to get your time down to 3 minutes. My son got one for Christmas, and I was thinking of trying to get my time down below a minute so I could put down my obnoxious nephew who thinks he’s all that. Without any practice, I can still beat 2:30, and I’ve maybe spent 30 hours total on it, and pretty much zero in the last 20 years.

    So, sometime in January or February, when you have met your goal, what are you going to do? Pick a new skill, or pick a new goal? With internet help, some friendly competition from in-person friends or virtual friends, and 365 hours of practice, I think you could easily get below 30 seconds on average. Maybe even 20. But what a waste of good practice time.

    I vote for the juggling thing, or another language.

    Or here’s a novel one… think what you could do if you spent an hour a day PRACTICING being the best husband and father.

  85. Melissa. says:

    I’m going to learn how to play the ukulele. I’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument; if not now, when? So I’m doing it.

    It’s not hard to get a decent starter uke for not a whole lot of money, it’s the easiest stringed instrument to learn (or so I’ve been told), and since I have no experience in or knowledge of making music, those are perfectly good criteria for choosing a musical instrument. Plus, it’s portable.

    My goal for the end of the year is to not only gain proficiency in playing, but also to find other uke players to hang out with, and make some new friends I never would have met otherwise.

  86. Shevy says:

    This inspired me to post my learning goal for 2009. In my post I’ve linked back to this article but I think the value of it is in the idea.

    I’m with some of the other commenters in questioning your choice of goal. I used to be able to solve Rubik’s Cube in about 3 minutes (although I couldn’t do it now). I could pick it up again in a week or 2 but don’t really see the point. I mean, it’s fun but it’s not useful.

    I understand your reasoning for the choice of learning to solve the Cube within a specified timeframe but wasn’t there any other idea that fit all the criteria and that would have somehow moved you closer to other goals or dreams you have?

  87. Katie says:

    I’ve decided to learn about computers this year. I know how to use them – and how to break them! – but not how to fix them. My laptop broke while I was trying to back it up. I lost an important project (well…it’s still in “data recovery” but it’s due in two days and I just spent hours on it) and entirely too much money for a silly, expensive mistake. Instead of forking over even more money to have someone install some new components, I’ve decided to give it a crack and to learn more about the technology I rely on so heavily.

  88. Brian says:

    The Rubik’s Cube was exactly the thing I was thinking as I read your article! I sort of dismissed it because I thought learning to solve it would take less than a year (I used to be fairly adept, but it would take me a 1/2 hour or so). Then you threw in the time constraint of three minutes at that makes it a more lengthy goal.

    Good luck, I can’t wait to see the videos.

  89. Steve says:

    I want to learn how to solve a rubik’s cube as well, so I would be interested in a series of articles or a side-blog specifically about this topic.

  90. Ishtar says:

    This sounds familiar; Gladwell posits that 10 000 hours of practice is what one needs to excel in *anything*.

    500 hours a year is a good start.

  91. Xolt says:

    I was a kid when these rubik’s cubes arrived and they were the hottest things to own and play with in school. Then suddenly many people started to solve them within minutes within days.

    Why? The leading newsmag here in Germany had a 2-3 page article on the cube with included instructions how to solve it.

    Most kids were able to memorize those rules within a few hours – so as an alternative goal I suggest you spend 490 hours to learn enough German to be able to read these instructions:
    http://www.mathematische-basteleien.de/zauberwuerfel.htm

    (If languages aren’t you thing, Google translate does a decent job translating this into broken English)

    BTW, my goal last year was getting into shape – including preperation I spent closely to those 500 hours – running 1250 miles and losing over 50 pounds – over a quarter of my body weight. This year the goal is to keep up the good shape and complete at least one marathon under 4 hours…

  92. Anne says:

    I think some people (including myself) are confused about the Rubik’s Cube goal because of the setup in the post. If this is about setting aside 500 hours in 2009 to learn something, that “something” shouldn’t have an endpoint. Because what if you learn the skill in only 100 hours? Then what?

    Stuff like playing chess or piano, or learning a language, fits better with the 500-hour goal because you can always get a little better. Rubik’s Cube or learning to shuffle a deck of cards with one hand isn’t like that. Once you know how to do it, you’re done.

  93. Simon says:

    Trent, how’s the Rubik’s Cube practice coming along? I started learning earlier this week and think I’ve almost got it down now. Just need to get a little faster!

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