I recently got to participate in a workshop for job-seekers. I was there to share my experience with the Unleash process and relevant details from my own background.

Little did I know that this would turn out to be such a complex topic for so many. Both 19- and 59-year-olds in the group simply could not seem to grasp, or perhaps believe, how simple the process of acquiring a whole new skill-set can actually be. So this is what I told them:

It does not matter, if you are already a beginner programmer and want to become better at it, or if you want to switch careers and know nothing yet — if you follow the next steps, the likelihood of you reaching your goals is very high.

Step 1

Set a S.M.A.R.T. goal for yourself. As you can tell by all the dots, SMART is an acronym which stands for

  • Specific
    Setting a goal like "get better at programming" just will not do. It is by far too vague to focus your effort. Try something like e.g. "understand and be able to implement the concept of monads" instead.

  • Measurable
    If your goal is simply "get better at programming", how will you measure your improvement? What constitutes "better"? Writing ten more lines of code per hour? Twenty? Committing fewer bugs? But how many is "fewer"?
    Instead, if your goal is to "understand and be able to implement the concept of monads", you have a very simple checkbox — can you implement monads in a situation that calls for them? True or false?

  • Achievable
    Setting goals that are objectively unachievable is obviously very useless. You can set a very specific goal "learn how to fly by flapping your arms", and measurable "fly ten meters by flapping your arms", but that does not make the goal realistically achievable. Make your goal something that you can realistically, objectively achieve. Otherwise, it will just serve to either eat away at your morale or as an excuse for inaction.

  • Relevant
    If you are doing it "just because", it may still be a valid goal, but it is likely just a timesink. Your goal would ideally be something that is relevant to your life, your career, or just your happiness. I am certainly not advocating against setting aside time just for the sole purpose of "wasting it" on series, Youtube, reading literature, etc. However, when you want to unleash your inner hero, your goals should be goals you would imagine that hero to have.

  • Time-bound
    You can get SMAR down to the T, but if you do not actually include that T, it just will not do. Why? Because the vast majority of humans are lazy and live by the saying "What can be put off until tomorrow, shall be — we might not have to do it in the end." Therefore, set a deadline for reaching this goal. Moreover, if relevant, set mini-deadlines for elements of that goal between now and the final deadline.

You may have heard of this method before. Some of you may be like me — I used to have tons of post-it notes and notebooks full of my SMART goals. Still, I did not do almost any of them, until I figured out...

Step 2

Set aside one hour per week to do it.

OK, it does not have to be one hour. It can be half an hour. Or two hours. It should be a laughably short amount of time, in any case.

"I cannot do anything in an hour!", you might protest.

The only answer I can give you is that, for most people I spoke to, that one hour was approximately 60 minutes more per week than what they spent before they decided to only work on their goals one hour per week. Most of them also found that, after a while, they extended that one hour into two, three, even four hours in a single session.

The explanation is easy. When you face a massive undertaking, you are likely going to feel apprehension about going near it. However, one hour? 30 minutes, even? That is nothing! Just jump in and get it out of the way. However, chances are, once you are working on it, time will fly by, and you will do much more than you intended.

What next?

Not much, it is really not that complicated. Just set a SMART goal and spend one hour per week on it for the next three months. Then look back and see how far you have come. And then continue.

There are, of course, further ways you can optimize your time to get even more out of it. And while there are more effective, higher-intensity, and more all-encompassing methods like X-Team's Unleash, these simple two steps will let you achieve more than the vast majority of people ever do.

So, as telemarketers would say:

For the low price of 52 hours per year, you can become good at something almost without even trying!