Think about something you are learning. What’s the part you find hardest to improve? That’s the thing you work on.
Focusing on the parts you enjoy feels nicer, but it is not the best way to learn. To improve, to really improve, you need to focus on what you really struggle with and attack that problem ruthlessly.
Remove the Noise
Drills take away all the parts of what you want to learn, except the one aspect you want to improve.
If you’re playing guitar, you need rhythm, pick technique, finger placement etc. To drill, you would pick one of these and work at just that.
Last week, we looked at why Directness is the best way to learn a whole skill.
Drills are the opposite of Directness. They help you improve a small slice of a skill.
They remove all the real-world subtleties you can’t simulate, doing nothing but drills would mean you wouldn’t be able to Transfer your skills.
Drills are for improving weak spots, not replacing your whole project.
To overcome lack of Transfer, you work directly on the problem, then drill your weak point, then go back to directness and cycle through as needed. Keeping all that precious Transfer.
How Do You Drill?
Designing a good drill, requires that you know what to drill, how to do it and that you actually do it.
Take a small piece of the main skill and work on it. Once you’ve mastered it, use the small piece as part of the whole again, for example:
Go over the few tricky bars in a song, then practice the whole song.
Take the same type of shot in football, then play a match.
Go over key phrases in a new language, then talk to someone in that language.
Skills are actually multiple smaller skills put together. Removing all the other parts you need to focus on, allows you to hone in on the one bit you want to drill.
Going back to the guitar example, if you wanted to work on rhythm, you could strum the beat of the song and mute the strings with your hand, so you don’t have to worry about the melody or your left hand at all.
Copying other work reduces the amount of thinking required to create the drill, so you can focus all your mental effort on the drill itself. You don’t have to work so hard to design a drill if it’s already been designed.
If you wanted to practice being more succinct in your writing, you could take someone’s essay and try to summarise it in fewer words. You could even do it with your own writing.
Magnifying Glass Method
If you can’t find a way to extract the specific sub-skill you want to improve, spend more time and effort on it instead.
If you want to do better research for projects, spend 10 times longer than you normally would.
Start learning a skill without learning all the things you “should” learn first.
You can waste a lot of time and a lot of motivation learning all the basics you think you should learn first.
For example, when learning to draw, you can just start drawing, but you may realise that things at a distance don’t look right, so you learn perspective, you carry on drawing, suddenly things don’t look 3d enough, so you learn proper shading, rinse and repeat.
Whereas if you started off with perspective and shading, you might never have enjoyed drawing in the first place.
Let me know some ideas you’ve had for effective drills below.