Ive had no formal training in cooking. I love to cook, but when I want to try something new, I generally have to go by a recipe. At least that's where I start.
My problem is that the recipes are written by different people, who each have a little different way of describing what to do, and when to do it. As a result, I usually have to experiment with a recipe once by myself before feeling comfortable about making it for anyone else.
What Ive learned, from trial and error (mostly error), is that I can significantly improve my chances of making the dish come out well if I cut all the ingredients in the proper measurements first, and put them in little bowls. Ive seen them do this on the cooking shows on TV. I always thought it was because someone other than the host actually did the cutting. Finally, though, it dawned on me that if I did this, it would eliminate my chopping onions while the oil burns in the pan; or chopping parsley while the food gets cold.
It works. I usually manage to ruin some other part of the recipe the first time through, but this little step really helps.