Blue Devil Knight's excellent post Lessons from blitz (do read the whole thing) really struck a chord because I happen to be reading a book right now called The 80/20 Principle (I've only read the Introduction thus far, but I already had some knowledge of where the author is going).
The gist of the 80/20 Principle is that 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of your results, 20 percent of your customers produce 80 percent of your profits, etc. An Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, originally formulated the principle when he observed that across many countries it always seemed that 20 percent of the people had 80 percent of the wealth.
What has this to do with chess (you may be asking by now)?
From BDK's post:
Ninety percent of the games were decided by tactical blunders. The following plots the proportion of tactical errors, sorted by type, culled from looking over about 60 of the games:
(BDK is a scientist and we're lucky enough to get handy visual pointers like this).
Going through the errors also revealed a very interesting property of tactical opportunities. There were hardly any complex combinations available in any of the games. Perhaps in 3% of the games, I missed four-or-more move combinations. Most realistic combinations are two or three move, typically one move. This is an extremely useful fact, and should be impressed into the minds of all beginners. When I first started playing chess, I looked at the board as a structure with infinite tactical possibilities that were well out of my reach, I would sit and search for complicated N-move combinations, wrongly believing that they must be there, but that I was just too stupid to see them. My post-mortem showed me how naive my thinking was, and this is liberating.
The law of short combinations also makes sense from an analytical point of view (and could probably be proven mathematically): the longer the imagined combination, the more likely it is that the opponent will have defensive resources, will have in-between moves that are hard to see, the more likely it is that you are simply missing an obvious weakness in your attack or somehow miscalculating the combination.
There are a lot more interesting and useful conclusions he makes from the study of these blitz games, and I would say they apply to slow chess as well, particularly games that are not master v. master (I think that covers almost all the readers of this blog). Again, read his whole post.
Now let us relate all this to the 80/20 Principle, which has been found so applicable in so many different fields. Synthesizing the experiences and writings of Michael de la Maza, Dan Heisman, GM Ziatdinov and others (see Temposchlucker, dk/transformation), it looks to me like there is conclusive evidence that 80 percent of one's study time (until one has reached a rating of perhaps 2000) ought to be used on studying, absorbing and putting basic tactics into Long Term Memory, where these patterns are "at your fingertips" so to speak. The majority using your own games as examples, going over the decisive position numerous times until you see the position and BAM! the right move jumps out at you. The rest of the 80 percent, tactics books, CTS, CT-Art, etc. About 20 percent of study time to be used on openings, endings and master games.
Hey, I realize that some of you already were thinking and doing this, or close to it, but some of us take awhile to learn what's good for us. This will be my study breakdown from here forward.