Specific and generic training
If you research a subject or write a code, you do many different and seemingly unconnected tasks. It is possible to practice by doing more research or writing more code. Alternatively, it is possible to try decomposing complex activities and practice specifically each simple task involved in it. Both practices are legitimate and supplement each other quite well. Do practice specifically the tasks that form the bottleneck of your activities, but also practice the whole activities that integrate these tasks. We acquire our skills in some context, if we connect a specific skill to its context, we will get better faster.
How much should I train?
This is the first common and repeating question. The answer is quite simple: as much as you can within reason. Practically speaking this usually means:
- Train in sessions. It is probably wise to divide the time of each session 1/3 for specific computer training and 2/3 for hands-on practice like reading.
- For optimal results use sessions between 90 and 120 min, taking 5 min breaks every 30 min. If you can have sessions of 45 min only, do not take breaks. It is best to avoid shorter sessions.
- You can have up to 3 sessions per day: morning, noon and evening. Your brain needs to rest and adapt between sessions. If you can squeeze in only one session, it is also perfectly OK
- Practice between 2 and 5 days a week. Do not take long breaks between practices, but allow for some breaks so you can rest.
With these guidelines, a true enthusiast will practice 6 hours per day 5 days per week, and someone with a very demanding schedule will practice 45 min per day 2 days per week. Your progress will be proportional to your practice.
I did not factor into the schedule watching video content explaining how to do stuff or Skype guidance. I do recommend you to get all the guidance you can afford. It may help you practice better and save you from extremely costly mistakes. No masterclass can substitute hands-on training, so prepare to add these “education” sessions to your already busy schedule.
What computer training should I do?
We have a large selection of computer-assisted exercises and mobile apps you can use. You cannot get sufficient progress in all exercises, and prioritization may be an issue. These are simple guidelines you may love:
- Spend around 10 min per exercise. For quick exercises, this means ~10 rounds of 1 min each.
- Each exercise trains slightly different skills. Practical success can result from a combination of skills, so it is better to train several skills each time.
- Do try to have the same exercise ~4 times a week to make some progress.
- It is best to select from a range of exercises based on your mood. Think of it as a menu. If you focus on something, you should probably do it
- Track your progress in Excel sheet or a table. You learn more and are more aware if you record your progress manually using whatever methods you fancy. As you get better, so will your records improve.
- There is no hard “stopping rule”. If you see you are not making any progress in a specific exercise, do not practice it for a while. Then come back and see what happened. Quite often the progress we make practicing some other skills can make a huge different.
Train as you go
Test yourself in different situations: discuss facts talking with friends, try to speedread posters in metro stations, use different screen formats, browse from your mobile when waiting. You want to be versatile in your skillset, not locking on a specific use case scenario.
Some people have a very busy schedule that cannot incorporate regular training, or alternatively want to squeeze more training than we recommend. It is possible to train everywhere. Do whatever activity you need to do, but focus on the details and try to memorize them. Memorize grocery lists, addresses and CVs, locations of objects in your home or your friend’s home, numbers of cars passing by. If the skill you learn is important, you will get a lot of chances to practice it: creativity, memory, reading, writing can be practiced for different purposes any time of the day. Most people need to practice awareness just to detect these learning opportunities. It is easy to get sucked into the routine. Any change requires a significant mental effort. Whenever you are doing something ask yourself “how can I use this experience to become more productive?”. Once your routine becomes also our training routine, you will train automatically without giving it a second thought.
Healthy brain in healthy body
Your training will improve if you supplement it with healthy habits. The list is long: sport, meditation, good posture, proper diet, socialization with good people, good sleep, avoiding alcohol and smoking. I am not sure anyone can maintain all of the good habits for a significant period of time. These are the things to watch:
- Do get enough rest for your brain to adapt. Long-term memory processes happen when you sleep.
- When the brain does not get enough oxygen you get tired. Make sure you breathe well and get some physical activity.
- People, activities, and locations can be good for you and can be toxic. Try to avoid toxic situations.
Visualize before, during and after
Visualizing yourself training can help you train better. Do not just practice, but visualise how you will practice before you actually practice and analyze visually what just happened after you finished practicing. Effectively, this is equivalent to some extra practice, but much faster and with less energy.
When you visualize the activity you are going to do, your body and brain prepare for the activity and reduce the adaptation time. When you visualize the activity you performed, you can learn from it additional lessons. When you visualize while doing something you become more aware.
Do not mix the visualization of your training process with the visualization you use during training. You can use short breaks to visualize.
There are many forms of effective visualization. Some supplement visualization with doodling, breathing exercises, drinking (tea/coffee), daydreaming.
Not all training we do can have clear tests and answers. Sometimes the best way to test our understanding of something is elaborate regarding it. For example, after reading an article write a review about it from your memory. Try to remember as many details as you can. Elaboration will discover latent aspects of your understanding: you will add details that are not there, will forget very specific information which will point to your limitations, occasionally by elaborating you will recall much more than you thought you knew. You may be positively surprised. You may want to share your elaborated thoughts with other people on a blog or in social media.
Long-term practice is notoriously difficult. Try to see how much you remember the next day. Elaborate again and compare to your previous results. See what happened.
Practice smart. Integrate good habits with practice. Practice in different contexts. Visualize and elaborate.