4 Tips For Maximizing Your Practice

Posted on March 28, 2012 by

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When I was researching deliberate practice I found a whole series of articles that took the 10,000 hour theory and concluded that if you want to learn a new skill you need to squeeze 10,000 hours of deliberate practice into your schedule over the next couple years.  If you couldn’t make that commitment you should probably reconsider your plan.

Basically, if you aren’t going to become a master, then why would you want to do it at all?

I completely reject this line of thinking.  I have learned a number of different skills by investing ~400 hours in each of them.  Those are skills that aren’t going away.  Like riding a bike, I have them for life.

400 hours is a lot easier to achieve then 10,000 hours.  30 minutes a day for 2 years is 400 hours.

Do you have a spare 30 minutes in your day?  Could you watch one less TV show?  One less football game a week?  Play video games a little less?

If you are anything like me then your schedule is full.  I have a wife, toddler, full-time job, commute and I have to squeeze in cooking all our meals, eating, sleeping and basic hygiene.  At the end of the day there isn’t much “free time” to learn a new skill.

While I don’t think there is any way to avoid “putting in the time,”  I do think there are ways that you can be more efficient with your practice time.

In order to set yourself up for success you should consider what habits you develop outside of your practice window.  Most of these take little or no time and are actually enjoyable.  I wouldn’t count them towards my real practice time but I certainly think they play a role in motivating you and keeping yourself engaged in the learning process.

Here are 4 tips for maximizing your practice time:

Always Be Ready To Practice

When I was learning how to kiteboard I payed close attention to the weather forecast.  Even so, good conditions would come on suddenly and often I would be away from my house when I found out.  If I was going to squeeze in a practice session I would need to head right to the beach to take advantage of the window of opportunity.

After missing a few sessions because I didn’t have my gear with me I realized that I never wanted that to happen again.  I started storing all the necessary gear in my car.  2 Kites, 2 Boards, Bar and Lines, Harness, Wetsuit, Booties, etc.

I even keep repair gear and spare parts so that if I have a gear failure I can fix it quickly at my car and get back on the water.

It isn’t always easy to keep all my gear organized and ready.   It is hard to motivate myself to setup my gear for some undefined next session.  But I do, and I am able to reap the rewards of that preparation.  I get in more sessions.  More hours of practice.

If you are learning a new skill you should collect all the equipment you need to practice and keep it all together and easily accessible so that you can practice whenever you have time or the conditions are right.

Share Your Experience With Friends

Since I started practicing guitar I discovered a lot of my friends also play guitar and are in various stages of development.  Last week I spoke to a coworker that has been playing guitar for over 30 years.  He still plays regularly and was just invited to record on an album with an old friend of his.

Sitting right next to him was a guy who has been practicing for one week.  He just picked up the guitar and has taught himself a couple riffs.

Both were so excited to talk about guitar and what type of music they like to play and listen to.  They got me excited and as I told them about my progress and practice plan I knew that I was reinforcing my goal to learn guitar.

Having people around you that know what you are trying to do and are also in various stages of development is inspiring.  It makes it more real.  It helps you see where you want to go and where you came from.

The other night one of my best friends came over for dinner with his wife and baby.  I half jokingly asked him to bring his guitar so we could “jam” and I was pleasantly surprised when he showed up with it.

When dinner was over we broke out our instruments and took turns showing each other our progress.  At one point he started strumming the A chord on rhythm and I improvised within the A minor pentatonic scale.  After a few minutes we both look up smiling.  We had just jammed together!

I can talk to the guy with 30 years of experience and learn new techniques.  I can teach the guy with a week of experience some lessons I have picked and solidify my own knowledge.  I can make music with a friend and have fun with this new skill.

If you are trying to learn a new skill you should share the experience with as many people as possible.  You will be surprised how many people around you have experience doing what you are doing or the new friends you will make sharing your experience.

Don’t Waste Time at the Beginning and End of a Session

The way I did this with kiteboarding is by making the setup and breakdown as routine as possible.  I tried to do the same steps the same way every time.  I tried to be efficient in my movements.

It always blew my mind when I saw people lolly-gagging at the beach.  Dragging way too much gear from their car.  Taking way too long setting up.  Didn’t they want to get out there and ride?

I would always race from the car to the beach and back.  The only time I would slow down was when I was on the water riding.  Then I would really enjoy myself and take my time.

From the moment I parked at the beach I was in Go mode.  Pop the trunk, Pull out my kite, board, harness, bar and pump.  Change into my wetsuit.  Make sure I have my keys. Lock door.  Go to beach.

Once I was at the beach I dropped my gear, ran my lines, pumped up my kite, attached my lines, put on my harness, launched my kite and headed towards the water.

When I was done, I landed my kite, wrapped my lines, deflated and folded the kite, bundled my gear inside my harness, headed to the car.

Each step was the same each time.  This reduced mistakes like forgetting gear or running lines incorrectly.  It reduced the amount of time spent setting up and breaking down.  It allowed me to get more time on the water.  More practice.

Setting up and breaking down don’t count towards your practice time.  If you want to squeeze in more practice in less time then you will need to reduce the amount of time you spend at the beginning and end of every session.

Take Notes and Review Them Regularly

After every guitar practice session I make a quick note about how long I practiced and what I worked on.  I might note which exercises I practiced and what speeds I used.  I might note what I am finding challenging or if I feel like I just made some major progress.

When you take notes you are forced to reflect on what you did during the last practice session.  You don’t want to have nothing to write down.  You don’t want to have multiple sessions in a row where you worked on the same thing.  You want to make progress.

Taking notes will also make you more aware of your problem spots.  If I hadn’t taken notes while practicing I never would have uncovered my recent failure to progress evenly through my lesson book.  That discovery forced me to take a couple steps back to focus on base-skills which led to a jump forward.

Taking notes also provides you with history of your progress.  When you are frustrated and feel like you are learning so slowly you can look back over your notes and see how far you have progressed.

If you are learning a new skill and aren’t taking notes after your practice session and reviewing them regularly you are missing out on a key tool for maximizing your practice.


If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:
How to Practice Deliberately on Guitar
My Daily Guitar Practice Routine
Pushing Through a Learning Plateau on Guitar
200 Hours of Deliberate Practice on Guitar