How to Find Practice Time in a Busy Week

Practice record dudI think I have this conversation with one or another of my students at least once a week.

ME: “So how did your week go?”
Student: “Okay, but I was really, REALLY busy!”
ME: “Did you get some practice time in?”
Student: “…REALLY busy!”
ME: “You know you’ll only get better on your guitar if you practice, right?”
Student: “But I don’t have any time! I have so much [insert activity here, i.e. homework, family responsibilities, job pressure…]
ME: *sigh* “Okay, let’s take a look at your calendar…”

Paraphrase this in a hundred ways, and you’ll get a glimpse of an often repeated moment in a music teacher’s life.

It certainly can be hard to find time to do the things we consider important. So often, we simply don’t know where our time goes! Yet we really need to figure this out if we’re going to be productive and happy.

I enjoy listening to Dave Ramsey on his radio show. I’ve learned a lot about financial matters from him, and I highly recommend his books and teaching. You can find him at One of the budgeting principles he emphasizes is that every dollar in your budget needs to have a purpose. Give every dollar a name, and it will go where you want it to. If you don’t, it will simply be spent in any number of ways, and you will have lost control over your money.

Our time is a key resource that requires purposeful application as well. And just like our money, if our time is not spoken for, it will get spent. And we’ll only realize it when we look in the rear view mirror.

If you are having trouble gaining mastery over your time, I’d like to share some principles of time management with you that work for me and for my music students.

Write It Down

When we put our schedules in writing, whether physical or electronic, it’s like pounding a stake in the ground that marks our intention. The blank calendar page is the enemy of our purposeful use of time. Write down the events and activities that you need to follow through with, and review your calendar daily.


There will be some listings on your calendar that you can’t change, like holidays and special family events. And there are always last-minute things that happen that will interfere with the best planning. Expect them! But as you plan, make sure you strive for a balance between those things that you have to do and the things that you simply want to do because they are important. And don’t forget to schedule some down-time! When you prioritize your schedule, it can give you the permission you need to do the fun things as well as the important things. For me, fun is a big deal – fun with my family and fun in my work both help me keep an optimistic outlook on life. I’m not pleasant to be around when I’m grumpy!

Post It In Plain Sight

Where is it that you spend most of your time at home? When you walk in the door after work or after school, you drop what you’re carrying, and head to the fridge. Then after a minute or two, you go somewhere and probably sit down. Where is that? Your calendar needs to be there, in full view and within reach. If it’s on your computer, like mine is (I use Google Calendar, seems to be adequate for my needs), make sure your computer is turned on with a shortcut on your desktop. If you can, leave your calendar open by default, so that it is easily accessible anytime.

Take just a minute to review your calendar. You’ll find through trial and error the types of events you need to include on it. At first, I’d recommend creating a time block for everything. ‘Give every minute a name…’

If you’ve never done purposeful time management before, here is a quick method for creating your schedule. I find that I need to go through this process at least once or twice a year now, though it used to be a monthly exercise. It may well start out as a daily discipline for you as you discover where your time is going. We’ll start with time that is already spoken for and move toward more discretionary uses as we go.

How to Craft Your schedule:calendar pic

1. Create a table with eight columns. Label times down the left-most column in increments of 1/2 hour, starting with the time you usually get out of bed and ending with your usual going-to-bed time. Then label each column header with the days of the week, starting with the 2nd column.
2. Thinking through your week one day at a time, box in and label all the regularly occurring events in your life. For example, if you eat dinner at 6pm on Monday, box in that 1/2 hour time slot, labeling it “dinner”. If you get home from work or school at a certain usual time on Tuesdays, draw a line at that time that indicates you just got home.
3. As well, block off time for those regular activities in your week that you know you will do, even though they don’t seem as important. For example, if you know you really love to watch a certain TV show on Sunday nights from 8 to 9, go ahead and block it off. If you know that Fred will be coming over after work on Friday like he always does, put it on the calendar. If you know that getting out of bed before 10am on Saturday is impossible for you, then block the schedule off accordingly. It is important that this schedule reflects reality.
4. Check to make sure you include your personal appointments, social engagements, family responsibilities and household routines; these things are expected of you and are non-negotiable!
5. Next, write in those activities that are discretionary but require daily or weekly discipline to accomplish, like practicing your instrument or going to the gym. Often I find it helpful to insert these next to other activities that always happen, no matter what. For example, if you eat dinner at the same time every evening (getting more uncommon these days), you may find you can practice right after dinner pretty easily. If you are a morning person, make a 10-15 minute practice session part of your routine before you leave the house.
6. Now it’s time to list things you would like to do because they are important to you. Working around the matrix of events you’ve created, you will probably find entire 1/2 hour blocks of time that are not spoken for. It’s up to you how you prioritize your activities; just remember that you need time to breathe! Each of us will have a different tolerance for expending energy in a straight line toward our goals. Taking time for recreation and time just to be quiet are essential.

Your process may accomplish these steps in any order. The important thing is to be purposeful, be deliberate in how you look at your daily and weekly routines in order to accomplish those things that are the most important to you. As a musician, it’s really easy to say “I can’t find the time to practice”, but for the musician who wants to make progress, this is how to find the time. It really works!

How do you find time to practice? What has your experience been with creating or keeping to a schedule for your music and all of the other things you do?

I’d love to hear about your experiences in mastering your use of time! If you have any questions about this technique or any aspect of music and music theory, please leave a comment below or email me at [email protected]. Thanks for reading, and let all your friends know about!

© 2013 Steve Case