I'm a beginner but I can play some basic chords well and I have even tried things like the Slash - Godfather solo and the Metallica - Nothing else Matters solo. However, while practicing I feel like every new song is like an entirely different exercise for me. I mean if I can play a solo well, I would think that that might help me in another more or less related solo. After all it is just a different arrangement of the notes on a guitar.
My question is: how do I reach the point where I'm not practicing the guitar in a 'dumb' way where I'm spending 100s of hours learning just one solo and then another 100 practicing the next? The more I play, the easier it should be to learn a new solo or arpeggio fast. For that, do I need to learn scales and notes? Because right now, I'm just figuring out stuff using tabs and that's it. Also, instead of practice exercises, I'm learning actual songs that I think are easy enough for me. Because those exercises can get boring and I'm afraid I'll just give up playing.
I know my question seems subjective but I want to practice 'smartly' -- if learning scales and names of notes and stuff is that way, so be it. The ultimate goal is exponential learning rather than linear learning so that I can pick up on new solos or arpeggios faster.
P.S. I can't afford guitar classes, so I'm on my own and you are all I've got.