Your friend the alarm clock

I talk about metronomes constantly, waxing poetic about how they will keep time for you.  But beyond keeping track of your speed, you should be managing your time when practicing and the best way to do it is to keep a timer nearby.  

I posted a few weeks ago a routine for practicing that was something like 15 minutes technique, 15 minutes repertoire, 15 minutes method book, and 15 minutes noodling.  That’s a fine place to start.  but set your timer to keep you strict about that.  Use a wristwatch, your kitchen timer, the timer on your phone, or an old-school alarm clock.

If you’re someone like me, you might have a ton of students to keep up with, you might also be wanting to maintain your own chops, and also advance your skills and theory knowledge, plus the repertoire you’re working on might be very advanced and you need to be writing songs, blogging, recording, and doing all sorts of other things away from the guitar.  

When I think about the mountain of work I have to do, I often get overwhelmed and become stuck in what might be considered a procrastination routine of working on the most complex item and neglecting pretty much everything else. For example mastering Marty Friedman’s solos to be ready for lessons with advanced students is pretty much just as important as reviewing Blackbird for my beginning students.  And if you do one, but not the other, then you’re simply not doing all of your work.

The magic of setting a timer is that you set a limit on how long you allow yourself to work on things today or maybe for the next few hours.  It basically allows you to fit in everything that you need to get done, and at least devote SOME time to it.  In the previous scenario, if I at least spend 20 minutes on “Inferno” and “Blackbird,” well then I’ve put work into both, and then I can put 20 minutes into fretboard mapping, then 20 into speed picking, and 20 into shopping my demo, 20 into designing graphics, 20 into networking, etc. etc.

And if 20 minutes doesn’t get you to be at a performance level with something, come back to it today if you have time and give it another 20 minutes.  But always keep track of time.  I notice, especially when I’m noodling or doing technique exercises that obsession sets in and I lose track of time, and I begin insisting that I’ll probably break through the speed wall if I just give it another try and another and another and another, yet, at that point, I’m likely doing more harm than good.

Like my twin brother Mark always says “The more time you spend doing something, the more of your time you spend doing just that thing.”  So it’s smart to have all your objectives gain so much as 20 minutes of equal importance in the grand scheme of things.

Make a list of what you have to do, take out your guitar, your metronome, and your stopwatch, and get to work, go down the list one by one.  If you feel you’ve done enough work on one thing before your 15-20 minutes are up, move on to the next item.

Always keep in mind that you have a lot of work to do and you need to be satisfied with this amount of time that you can put in to each item, otherwise nothing will get done.  And soon, you’ll be amazed by how much you are getting done within these little 20 minute windows