There are some different frameworks for skill development. Pick the right one(s) and you will skip inefficient work and get right to the goodies. And by goodies, I mean rapid progress. Learning fast is fun! Here are some thoughts:
The Big 3
Maybe it’s the gym rat in me (or, as the ancient Greeks would have said, the palaestra addict) but I tend to think about things in exercise terms. So, let’s begin with frequency, duration, and intensity.
- Frequency is about how often we should be practicing a skill.
- Duration is about how long we should be practicing.
- Intensity is about how hard—or how much—we have to push.
These are pretty straightforward. The interesting stuff tends to happen when these qualities collide. Here are some examples:
Managing acute injuries
A short—but sweetly frequent—structure is important for staying mentally and physically fresh. So, you might choose a short session duration—let’s say three minutes. If things go well, you can add frequency—one short session at time—into your days. That way, you will have great clarity on how each 3-minute increment feels.
For example, you might progress from four to five sessions (a total of 15 minutes per day) and—only then—begin to notice some inflammation or other signs of overdoing it. If so, you’ve pinpointed exactly where your capacity is being challenged. The goal is to find where your limits are—but to gently touch them—not smash into them at 100 km/h.
Gaining muscle requires a different structure. Here, we’re looking for moderate frequency (typically 3-4 times per week), and longish duration (45-90 minutes). We find the minimum effective dose and then round up to more. About 20% of your total time is dedicated to intensity. Much and both duration and frequency will have to drop—probably below the window for adaptation.
High intensity intervals (HIIIT) are… You guessed it. They are also short duration and are best performed at a low to moderate frequency. Anything that you can do for long durations or at a high frequency isn’t intense. It simply cannot be.
Think of learning a new skill—from playing guitar to juggling. Your capacity for it (finger calluses, the rotator cuffs of an Vedic god, etc.) will be limited. So, small doses, taken frequently are recommended here.
You probably know that I’m a little obsessed with Indian clubs. Most of the work I’ve done has been short duration, high-frequency. My attention span has been the limiting factor, so I have found that spending 5-10 minutes a day has been enough to work within my own capacity and make progress.
For me, the most important thing here is to recognize that your work ethic may not be holding you back when you think it is. When we can find opportunities for progress through lower-intensity work—either via higher-frequency or longer-duration, we leave space in our lives to push hard in the places where effort matters most.