Why Learn a New Skill?
Ambitious students are often drawn to the challenge of learning a new skill, especially creative ones, like programming, drawing, design, playing instruments, writing (discussed in its own section) and so on. They do it not only because it’s fun, but because they can leverage those unique skills to improve their personal and academic projects.
In the beginning, there is a surge of progress. People buy all the equipment they need, including video courses, books and tools. They also tell everyone they know. After those first few weeks, however, most people quit and fail to move above the status of beginner.
There are essentially two types of key activities when learning a new skill:
- Studying the theory: It is necessary to learn from example before practicing the skill in question. This key activity includes speaking to mentors, watching videos, reading instructional books or blog posts and any other way of learning more.
- Practice: You will only learn a skill by using it as much as you can. Using it in any way constitutes practicing.
For the purpose of learning and developing a skill, Daily Quotas are both a productivity and continuous learning tool, since they force people to practice everyday, no matter what. Similarly to language learning, Daily Quotas stop you from pausing daily progress at the cost of spending time doing two days worth of work. Constant contact with your chosen skill is a catalyst for progress like no others. There are no 0% days, even if some of them are just 0.1% days (that’s still more than 0).
Productivity Kicks In
Daily Quotas are also responsible for stopping your from ever quitting. There is an influential radio host in the USA, called Ira Glass, who nailed it with this quote:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.
We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
And fighting your way through is never easy, but at least becomes automatic by using Daily Quotas. They are the deadlines Glass talked about, they compel you to use the skill you are learning to produce a little bit of work everyday.
The first key activity, studying the theory, is easily isolated and set as a Daily Quota. Watching 3 videos a day, reading 1 chapter of a book a day, listening to 1 podcast episode a day are all good examples. These activities should only occupy the first few days of your training though. You cannot improve if you are not actively practicing and applying the knowledge directly. It is best to combine these passive activities with active practice.
Active practice depends exclusively on the skill you are learning. For playing the piano, it could be play a sheet of music 10 times. For drawing, it could mean doing a pencil drawing per day (based on reference pictures, perhaps). Programming is harder to encapsulate in a quantitative daily quota, but perhaps something like implementing a small feature a day would work for some projects.
Tracking your progress becomes easy once you can look at the piles of work you produced. After just 1 or 2 months, you can look at the dozens of drawings, melodies, short stories, apps or pictures you created. You will see how much you improved and which areas or sub-skills need work. Whenever you are feeling down or unmotivated, just take a look at the work that piled up in a good way.
The bottom line is that the Daily Quota must be met no matter what. No matter how slowly you feel you are moving, no matter how uninspired you feel that day, no matter how much work you have to do, there is a Quota to be met. It is the only way to compel you to produce work, good or bad, despite the environment or the current conditions. And getting out of the “not that good” phase requires just that, hard and continuous work. I believe it, however, to be worth every drop of sweat.