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Finding More Time and Energy to Practice Guitar

Finding More Time and Energy for Guitar Practice

One of the most common complaints I hear is from people suffering from the dilemma of not being able to find the time and energy to put into their guitar practice.

They love music and spending time practicing, but with all the other commitments and distractions of modern life, it just doesn’t seem to be happening (either because of time constraints or procrastination).

In this article, find ways to generate more time to practice guitar, as well as many actionable tips on how to show up to your practice with more energy, focus and enthusiasm.  Enact just one or two of what you discover here, and you’ll feel better about your practice life and more empowered to make guitar part of your daily experience.

Finding Time for Yourself

Pardon the brutal honesty here, but there is no such thing as “finding time”.

Every minute of the normal day is already taken by something. We are already using all of our time for something or other.

Instead of trying to “find” time, it’s much more practical (and effective) to “make” time.

Something’s Got to Go

In order to fit something else into “the box” that is our day, we must first take something else out.

This means that for everything we want to fit in, something’s got to go.

Want to sleep more? That means you get fewer waking hours.

Want to spend more time with your people?  That may mean less work, TV, or time in the garage.

Want to practice more guitar?  Something’s got to go.

Want to practice more guitar?  Something’s got to go.

Don’t panic just yet! You can baby-step into releasing things from your day. With a gentle strategy that doesn’t make any major changes too quickly, you can tweak your day over the course of a few weeks or months and never even feel the loss.

The Beauty of Non-Negotiables and Reflexive Habits

Someone (I can’t remember who) said, “99% is hard. 100% is easy.”

This doesn’t seem like it would be so, but it is. When we have to decide whether or not to do something, it takes energy and willpower, and those resources are not always willing to be tapped.

Some things, like brushing our teeth or going to the bathroom, we don’t make decisions on. They are “non-negotiables”. They are 100%. No choice necessary. Whether we feel like it or not, they get done.

If you truly want something in your life, make it a non-negotiable.

What helps these non-negotiables to fit into the routine is often what’s called a “reflexive habit”.

A reflexive habit is an action that happens from the cue of something else.

For instance, if you want to go to bed, you first brush your teeth.

In my twenties, I had a hard time making myself floss my teeth. It wasn’t until I made it non-negotiable to floss along with my nightly toothbrushing that it stuck. Now I don’t even think about it. It’s 100%, so it’s easy.  There’s no decision to be made.

If you truly want something in your life, make it a non-negotiable.

If you decide to make guitar practice a non-negotiable reflexive habit, you’ll have better success with it.

Decide when it will happen (first thing in the morning? just after dinner? after the kids go down for the night?). Notice what activity or event is just before your practice time, and use that as your cue to practice.

Another way to describe this is as an ITTT (if that then this) statement. If I just finished dinner, then it’s time for practice.

Caution: Perfectionism is a killer.  The ideal is like the horizon: you can chase it forever and never catch it.  Your imperative could be simply that you pick up the guitar and play one note at your chosen time.  If you want to continue, wonderful.  If not, no big deal.  You’ve fulfilled your personal obligation for the day and can feel good about it.

Know Thyself (and Manage Your Expectations)

One of the biggest saboteurs of a rewarding and gratifying guitar practice life is faulty expectations.

If you think you really “should” be practicing an hour a day, but you can reasonably only get in half that (or less), then you will perpetually feel like you’re failing. And no one can sustain a practice with those guilty feelings lurking around.

The ideal is like the horizon: you can chase it forever and never catch it.

Instead, take a sober and honest view of what you can reasonably do on a particular day, and set that as your expectation. That way, when you do it, you’ll feel good that you’re spending time with something you love and meeting your expectations.

The Curse of Too Much Time

While it’s easy to find examples of having too much to do and being too busy, there’s also another common situation: too much time.

For many recently retired or nest-emptied guitarists, the problem isn’t that there isn’t enough time, but that there isn’t enough structure.

You may have noticed that it can take longer to get your food in an empty restaurant than a full one. This is because it’s often easier to get things done when there’s already momentum. Going from 1 to 2 is easier and takes less effort and initiative than going from 0 to 1.

If you have all afternoon to practice guitar, you very well may get less done and see less improvement than if you only had a half hour.

This is often due to lack of structure. If you want to be effective, be intentional and follow a plan.

Create structure for more effective practice.

Even if you do have loads of time, act like you don’t. Set an amount of time to practice (you can always go longer if you like), and be focused and “on point” for that time period.

Having a practice plan can help you feel more successful in your work, and can ensure that you’re getting everything done that you set out to do.

Also, setting a time limit can give a slight sense of urgency, which causes the brain to pay better attention and stay more alert. Your practice actually becomes more effective because you’re more involved and focused.

Finding Energy

Energy is similar to time, in that you will not just “find” it. (Unless it’s behind your magic sofa.)

Brendon Burchard likes to say that

“A power plant doesn’t HAVE energy, a power plant GENERATES energy.”

We are the same. Regardless of how tired you are, if you just found out you won the lottery or your house was on fire, you would suddenly generate more energy.

If you can switch your thinking to believe that you1re in control of your own energy levels and states, you’ll feel more empowered and less like you are at the mercy of your current feelings.

Common Knowledge vs. Common Practice

There are some common ways to create more energy in your life. These are things like:
– Drink more water
– Exercise
– Get plenty of sleep
– Eat healthy foods
– Focus on the positive
– Smile and laugh more frequently

These are “common knowledge”, but are they “common practice” in your day-to-day life?

Common knowledge, but common practice?

If you want more energy, make some small change to one or more of these and you’ll be on your way. (Tip: Make this small change reflexive and non-negotiable, as we talked about above.)

Energy Strategies

One of the best ways to manage your energy is to take note of when it gets low, and when it’s at it’s highest.

If you feel very tired after eating dinner, that may not be the best time to practice guitar.

If you are mentally sharp and energized first thing in the morning, try to practice guitar at that time (even for a short session).

The main thing is that you constantly become more aware of the energy you are feeling. That way, you can make more reasonable plans and increase your chances for practicing success. You can also…..

Generate More When You Need It

We are not completely at the mercy of our current energy level. We have ways to “pump up the volume”.

Besides artificial stimulants (caffeine, sugar, etc.), we can generate more energy by moving around, changing the tone of our self-talk, and using memories.

If you’re feeling lethargic at your  guitar practice time, jump around wildly! Do some squats or jumping jacks. Blast some loud music and dance for 2 minutes. Make yourself feel silly and start laughing at yourself.

We have ways to “pump up the volume”.

We we take on a posture of energy and enthusiasm (back straight, head up, eyes alert) we very soon start to feel that way as well.  Likewise, when we slump and hang our heads, we start feeling tired and mopey.

You can also talk to yourself in an energized tone. Say encouraging, positive things to yourself (“Oh Yeah! I am gonna blaze these scales! I Rock! Those arpeggios’ll never know what hit ’em!”) Thanks Coach!

You can also vividly remember a time when you were at your best and highly energized. If you fully put yourself back in that time and place, you will start feeling the feelings associated with the memory. The trick is fully sensing the memory: bright colors; vivid sounds; the feeling of wind, clothes, water, sun, whatever; the smells; any tastes involved. Make it real!  You’ll be amped in no time.

Beware the Energy Vampires

It’s also very valuable to know what activities or situations suck your energy.

  • Lethargic after dinner? You may be eating too much.
  • Feeling negative? Maybe you are around a complainer (or worse, maybe YOU are the complainer! Nooooooo!)
  • Low energy after work? Maybe you are sitting still for too long and would do better with frequent breaks, or a stand-up desk.

Decide and Visualize

The important thing is that you become more aware of your energy and states, and decide to take a small action to make the situation better in some way.

When you find an improvement to make, first fully visualize what it will be like instead of how it currently is.  This will make the change much more likely to stick.

Just like above, when we accessed an energized memory, put yourself fully into the ideal scene and live it “in advance”. Imagine every detail of the change.

(As an example to start drinking more water, “At the top of every hour of the morning, I’m standing up and walking to the sink and getting a tall glass of water. I walk past ______, grab a glass from ________, fill it from the ________, and feel it sliding down my throat as I drink the entire glass. Then I walk back over and continue what I was doing.” )

Leave a Comment!

What do you say? Are you going to just read this and then continue on as is? Or are you willing to make a small change to increase your energy and time to practice guitar?

Let us know in the comments!

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25 Responses to Finding More Time and Energy to Practice Guitar

  1. B.Singer August 24, 2018 at 7:57 pm #

    A lot of good points in this article.

    When it really comes down to it we all waste a lot of time that could be used productively. We get 24 hours a day and odds are (if your follow statistical averages )you are wasting about 4-6 hours daily…… not including sleep here. Not that I recommend trying to use it all on learning your guitar, no one should torture their fingers that much 🙂

    • Allen August 24, 2018 at 10:43 pm #

      Thanks, B!

  2. Mariano Domingo March 23, 2016 at 2:28 pm #

    Allen, your article on practice and schedules and time restraints reminds me of a story of a teacher teaching on schedules, time lines, deadlines,and overloads! It goes like this.
    The teacher produced a large glass flask and filled it to the top with large rocks. Is this full he asked the class? Yes they replied, then he poured smaller pebbles in until they filled every little crevice. Is this full now he asked? Yes the hesitant class responded. He then poured sand in which also found its way through every little nook and cranny, full now he asked? Class responded with a yes once more. He then poured water in to the top,the class by now was restless. Teacher said now it’s full then asked what’s lesson of the story? One pupil replied,”no matter how full your schedule is you can always fit more in!” No! Said the teacher,”if you don’t put the big rocks in first the rest won’t fit!” Practicing my guitar is like the big rocks! Thanks for letting me share!

    • Allen March 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

      Hi Mariano,
      I love that story!
      Thanks for sharing it!

  3. Tony T March 22, 2016 at 12:19 pm #

    Allen, Thank you for the excellent reminder of practice time. Thanks also to Susan C. Being almost 57 it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my age bracket learning guitar. What a beautiful instrument and what a joyful noise it makes when I hit the right notes…:-)

    • Allen March 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

      Thanks Tony! You’re certainly not alone! It’s a lifelong journey.

  4. Linda Shepherd March 22, 2016 at 12:06 am #

    I find having a set time to practice really helps. For me it is 5pm. I have my daily tasks done, thus it is ‘me time’. I had a friend who inevitably phoned me just as I sat down. Each time I told her this was my guutar time. She now checks the clock before she rings!!
    My second aid is having a performance to work towards. It might only by a local ‘open mic’ event, but wanting to present music that people enjoy is always a great incentive. Time to reflect afterwards is another ‘must’ if lessons are to be learned, and progress made.
    My third aid is having lessons. I don’t like wasting money, so practice time matters.
    Ultimately one needs to really want to improve, and then be disciplined and organised. Sure there are days when the unexpected gets in the way, but overall since I dedicated a time slot to my adored music, I am in the right frame of mind, and it works.

    • Allen March 22, 2016 at 8:08 am #

      Hi Linda,
      Great work “training” you friend on the phone! I completely agree with all three of these: regular time, and accountability, to yourself (performance), and you money (lessons).
      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jananq March 20, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

    You can decide to play one note, but what I like is to decide to tune my guitar every day, because it’s good for the guitar to stay in tune. That helps me think I’m doing something in addition to practicing, and tuning the guitar really gets me going.

    • Allen March 20, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

      Good one! The important part is the low threshold to success. Stacking up some easy wins.

  6. Susan C March 20, 2016 at 11:00 am #

    Practicing and playing are all about the motivation(s) behind them. Taking lessons makes it an automatic for practice. Very strong motivation. Playing in front of friends and family achieves the same. Having no pressures or “have to’s” in our lives eliminates motivation. Having said all that, for everything we “take up”, something has to “give”. I want to practice/play my guitar in my already full life means I have to “give something up” like maybe spending time on doing all my “have to;s” in my life or re-orient my life to do what I really want to do.
    But seriously, being able to play a classical guitar is a gift and to throw it away because life got busy is a reality for many. I’m happy at 59 to have returned to lessons and practice/play everyday.
    Thanks for your motivation Allen.

    • Allen March 20, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

      Great work, Susan! It’s wonderful that you’ve identified the situations in which you work best. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Claus Martin March 20, 2016 at 5:19 am #

    A lot of good advices.

    I think, that motivation is an important ingredient. Many people have learnt a musical instrument, when they were young and stopped going on, when they got older.

    One problem is, that it takes quite some time, to master the basic techniques of an instrument and that one is alone, when learning it.
    An other problem is, that many people do not find others, with whom they can play together, which would increase their motivation.

    And many think, that they must try to play perfect and even the most difficult music, like the professional musicians.

    But there exists a huge amount of excellent music, which is relatively easy to play, especially, if it is composed to play together with other instruments. And it a part is too difficulty, why not simplify it a bit, until one masters it ?

    The problem with playing in a group could get overcome nowadays, using the internet. It is possible, to form virtual groups in the Internet, using video conferencing and showing all participants on the same screen.

    If the motivation gets stronger and stronger, one will find the time for training.

    • Allen March 20, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

      Thanks Claus! Valid points.

  8. Javier H. Davila March 19, 2016 at 11:40 am #

    Thanks for your excelent ideas.

    • Allen March 19, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

      Thanks Javier!

  9. Nathan March 19, 2016 at 6:57 am #

    Hi Allen, I just got your challenge–for four days this week, play at least one note. I’ll take it! I always fall for “challenges” like this!

    • Allen March 19, 2016 at 7:31 am #

      Great, Nathan!
      Good luck!

  10. Peter Cahill June 7, 2015 at 7:01 pm #

    You have an uncanny art of knowing exactly what’s going on! I use a phrase often in my house,
    “I have goals, please” sometimes it works.

    • Allen June 7, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

      Thanks Peter, I’ll have to try that one!

  11. Allen June 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    I got a question by email that I wanted to share here. The question is:
    “What should I do about distractions at home? Sometimes I get really annoyed.”


    I wish I had the magic bullet for you, but it’s a process to make it all work.
    Here are my thoughts:

    1.) Following the ideas in the post, decide when (and where) you would most like to practice, and for how long (reasonably).
    ?2.) Take note of all the distractions, both internal and external that affect you practicing at that time.
    3.) Have a serious talk with anyone and everyone involved. Tell them that you would very much like to have that time as sacred as possible, and brainstorm ways (together) that the distractions could minimize, ideally in a way that benefits them as well. (ask what would make their lives better).

    – Person A watches TV at that time: Headphones, or schedule that time for something else (homework, phonecalls, walk, etc)
    – Person B is running around the house doing a number of things: ask if there is anything that they wish they had time for. If so, could they do it then?
    – Person C has to use that time for running around the house: determine why, and find a way to make it so that they can have the time for personal time as well (i.e. take over some of their workload, or help them get better organized.)
    – Person D is a crying baby: (full disclosure: I have no experience here) Adjust your expectations to getting multiple short practices in through the day. Be content with a few 5 or 10 minute practices, and set up your space so that this is easy and possible (like getting a wall hook for you guitar so that it’s readily available.).

    These are some thoughts off the top of my head. The main thing is that you approach it with the idea of “How can this be the best scenario not just for me, but for everyone involved?” There is certainly a way, it just may take some trial and error, and a bit of creativity, to find it.

    Good luck!

  12. Tracey Gee June 6, 2015 at 11:29 am #

    Non-negotiable is key for me. People tell me to play later. If I start shunting it to the side, I’ll never play. I find my pocket of time by sticking to my pocket of time.

    And eating peanut butter cups. 🙂 ok, kidding on THAT one.

    • Allen June 6, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

      Hi Tracey, Kudos to you. If you leave to the whim of other people, it just will never happen. Not regularly anyway.
      (by the way, I fully accept and support non-negotiable peanut butter cups!)

  13. Isaac June 6, 2015 at 5:32 am #

    What a wonderful analogy you used!!! “The ideal is like the horizon. You can chase it forever and it keeps moving. You never reach it.”

    I like it very much, Allen^^

    • Allen June 6, 2015 at 1:32 pm #

      Thanks Isaac! I connected with that analogy as well. I wish I came up with it myself!
      Cheers, Allen

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