Daf Yomi has become a very popular limmud in our world. The reasons for this are many. Daf Yomi demands and connotes discipline. It is something of which a learner can be proud in his own mind and in front of his family and community. There is an mistique to learning and completing Shas; it defines a person.
At the same time, it is widely acknowledged that it is difficult to gain much from Daf Yomi as if is usually learned. How many times does one see the Magid Shiur droning in front of a table of seriously distracted and tired students, who barely manage to stay engaged. This one just looked in Rashi hoping to understand what is being said and he lost his place. He frantically attempts to locate where he was as the lines run away from him. Another one had a hard day at work and his mind keeps drifting away. Yet another learner has already given up and is learning on his own without following the maggid shiur. Still another one is looking at the clock wondering when the torture, at least for this unsuccessful evening, will end.
Mark Twain once said: " It is easy to stop smoking; I did it many times". Well, I started Daf Yomi many times! The unfortunate truth is that most of those who begin Daf Yomi with high expectations, soon drop out. R. Meir Shapiro used to explain that the famous saying, "Bo Shabbos Bo Menucha", refers to those who start Daf Yomi with Brochos and are gone by Shabbos. Why does this happen? Because it is very difficult to succeed with Daf Yomi as it is usually learned these days. Why? Because the learning is unfocused and has no goals.
I think we can all agree that the amount of material in every daf is too great to retain for an investment of one hour a day. When people can't remember, where each page becomes like another page, when a page from three weeks ago looks as if one had never seen it, frustration sets in. If this too much to expect people to keep on giving time and effort, to tear away time from family and other interests, daily, nightly, without experiencing success.
To succeed, to retain, to carry something out of every daf, one must set a goal and employ methodology. That great Talmudist, Yogi Berra once said: " if you don't know where you going, you sure to get there". Therefore, I would suggest that one of the following goals be maintained:
1. Focus on the structure of the sugya. What is the question, what are the three or four Aromaic opinions, what is the conclusion? Understand these, focus on them, and review them. Whatever you retain from the rest is icing on the cake.
2. Focus on the background material and on what the sugya brings to expand it. Pay special attention to Rashis that explain the background and supplement it with a brief review of other related sygyas. Know where these sugyas are, which means- pay attention to Mesores Hashas. Aim to understand definitions and terms so well that you can explain them to others and learn where parallel sugyos and concepts are located in Shas. The focus is broadening your understanding and gaining clarity and bekiyos in Torah in general.
3.Focus on the major views of the Rishonim - what Rashi, Tosafos and Rambam sugya and how the Poskim decide. Your goal is to have a broad and general overview of the halachic discourse without getting bogged down in the specifics of it. This makes a virtue out of the difficulty of encompassing the subject and enables you to carry something that is useful out of it.
There are, of course, many other possible ways to focus, to put aside the extraneous, and to ensure that you end up with a finite but the real body of knowledge. In the setting of a lecture, this can only happen if the teacher is also focused on the specific approach to so get an specific goals to accomplish. If the teacehr is unfocused, the student has no hope. The way we hope to learn Daf Yomi is to project the ArtScroll application (see the top of the page) and utilize its ability to highlight and separate to improve retention. However you study, a focused approache to the sygya and a set of well defined goals around which the teaching is organized is the key and will remain central to success.