It’s September 30 and the autumn is right around the corner. Already.
As illusional as it may feel (psychologically), the hands of the clock will never move backwards and our life is ticking away by the second.
Time is given to us equally from the moment we’re born just like human rights should be.
And yet, there’ll always be two kinds of people in this world:
those who get a great deal done in their lifetime and those who get very little done in their lifetime
William Shakespeare in some playwright once said:
“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
Fast forward to 2017, with more technologies and internet distractions flooding in our daily lives, the skills of “time-management” has become more increasingly pivotal for you and me than ever in order to get the most out of life.
How much time do you think have you wasted already?
How many ways are there to waste your time so you don’t accomplish nothing significant?
For a musician, it’s none other than productivity that is the decisive factor to the outcome (s)he is endevoring to acquire.
How do I know?
I know this from 20+ years of my career with every success and failure I’ve had along the way, and I am an expert at optimizing the productivity of musical practises.
If you want to improve your performance or studies faster but are somewhat frustrated with how much you’re capable of right now, then you’ve come to the right place.
The truth is, most people only think of trying to “do as much as possible in one day” or trying to “practice as long as they can”.
They’re active, not effective.
While the spirit wants to you to continue as far as possible, our energy and time are finite.
So what can you do instead to increase the productivity then?
That’s what I wanted to bring on to focus in today’s article.
You see, the college years are long gone for me and as I learned to practice on my own with occasional mentorship in the last few years, I discovered there was an invisible leak that cost me weeks or even months worth of development.
It was a gaping hole in my productivity that was flushing my energy down the drain. And if you’re a musician, I can almost gurantee you probably have at least one of these time holes in your productivity too.
Here’s the list of how you may be wasting/misconsuming your time:
1. Your state is NOT good enough to make anything productive
Ever have one of those days where you just feel like procrastinating or you don’t feel as motivated as your best day?
I rarely have those days now but I have to admit I used to have them often back in the day.
Perhaps you might be questioning yourself as to why you’re even playing music at certain times?
Or your brains might be getting overwhelmed by the amount of banal routines and losing hope?
And yet you still pushed yourself into practicing.
What most don’t realize is that, working your way into accomplishment in a crappy state can have severely adverse effect on everything you do.
In musical practices this absolutely matters even more than in any other professions, because it takes one to deal with a specific emotion that involves the music and to have requisite control over it at the same time.
It’s very easy to let hours pass by without nothing really productive was made.
Next time you have any of those feelings above, DON’T even think about practicing yet.
Instead, take a step back and remember the deepest reason WHY you’re doing it. Take your time to realign yourself with better state at the moment and do whatever it takes you to do so ― that might be meditating for 10 minutes, or repeating positive affirmations, or simply making ridiculous bodily motions or even yelling at the top of your lungs ― it doesn’t matter.
As you take back that biggest motivation of yours while you build your state, your mind and body start to create tensions within. Your brain gives your body a command for releasing dopamine so that your state becomes off the chart.
Because of it, your work will be significantly more productive.
2. Practising in a bad posture
More than a half the population of musicians today suffer from aches and pains in some parts of their bodies, and the number has only been staggering.
And 9 times out of 10, it’s due to how they stand and move their bodies when they play an instrument.
Their shoulders are too tight, their necks sore, their spines stiff, and their joints crippled to the point it no longer functions properly.
What will these things cost you?
Aside from hundreds of dollars you’ll be forced to spend on counseling or surgery, it will cost you months or possibly years of frequently-intrruppted practicing or even non-active musical life.
“I enjoy getting physical issues so I could waste my valuable time and money.” said no one ever.
Sure, massage from a professional once in a while will help a little. But that makes no difference with a bandaid on the shot-gun wound that comes right off in a matter of days.
Unless you modify your bodily form when you stand with an instrument, the problem will never go away on its own.
I often tell students of mine that they should focus all their force onto their bellies. Why? Because the belly is the centre of a body. When their force is concentrated around their bellies, there’s no way they could possibly tense up in any other part of their body and everything will work just the way it should.
And be sure to get your shoulders down and stand straight. All the time.
3. Intrrupting your practise by turning to your phone (to check texts or social media)
It goes without saying, however it is still very very common. When I was in college (Tokyo and London), I walked down the corridor to which practise rooms are lined up on either side and was often shocked at how nearly every one of them had a student whose eyes were glued down to their electric devices (iPhone, iPad etc.) at least every other minute.
If this wasn’t enough to prove to you how critical this is, there’s a data by the McKinsey Global Institute’s study that says: the average workers are intrrupted every 3 minutes and 5 seconds.
Which means that it takes you exactly 23 minutes after you resume where you got intrrupted and fully get back on track(!!!).
Do you think this is awful or do you think this is nothing?
Here’s the thing: About 56 percent of these intrruptions are made by other people ― people who takes you out of your state because they need “quick seconds” to help them with something. But where do the other intrruptions come from?
It comes from YOU.
Think about it, every time you go check Instagram instead of getting your practise done, you’re wasting 23 minutes of your life.
It’s just a self-distraction that eats away at your time.
Suppose you do this every 3 minutes in a space of 2 hours ― you’ll intrrupt yourself 40 times and probably the whole time will be a complete waste.
How can you possibly achieve what you want if you’re intrrupted every 3 minutes?
You must get this time-hole out of your productivity forever.
I switch my phone to “OFF” whenever I’m working on something.
You should do the same. If you want to advance.
Not the “air-plane mode”.
Speaking of “OFF”,
4. Not practising mindfully
What do I mean by that?
Well, you’re looking at the music and even playing your instrument. But still distracted on the inside.
Something else is on your mind. Maybe something that’s not related to music.
You’re not being present.
Your brain gets temporarily “switched off”, so to speak.
Which triggers No.1 and No.3, of course.
Now, don’t blame yourself on this. It could happen to anyone, and chances are it has already happened to all of us at least once without knowing it. Naturally the more often this happens, the more time you’ll end up wasting, because the truth is that any improvement you make is entirely based on memory that has to do with a certain neurotic cycle.
By principle, we learn a music by looking, hearing, sensing and judging. These four essential keys try to compensate for one another in order to generate memory － like when every piece of the puzzle is together. And as we learn it and improve our performance, we’re constantly accessing the part of the brain that deals with memory in order to make a conncection between what we’ve learned before and what we’re about to learn. The goal, of course, is to be able to execute the process without any conscious effort. However, when we’re distracted somehow and your brain isn’t doing its job, your brain leaves a blank and there’ll be no link created between the events. As a result, you’ll be tempted to actively find the memory that doesn’t exist in the first place and then realize that you just have to go through the whole process all over again.
The first step is to be quickly aware when your brain shuts off and stop what you’re doing for a few moments until you take back your focus. There’s no point continuing to abuse your time and energy for mindless practise.
Then start training your subconscious to be stronger. You do this by repeating the above habit long enough to make the change of focus faster. At the end, this change on focus will be so fast that there’ll be almost no moment where there’s lack of concentration. Your subconscious has been enforced because all the habits have been ingrained in it and everything is on auto-pilot.
5. Not listening, not using your ear
It’s similar to No.4, except in a more practical, fundamental sense.
In a book titled “Everything Is Connected (The Power of Music)”, Daniel Barenboim talks about how we’re inclined to perceive something by looking rather than listening and how that habit is affecting our musical training ― the neglect of our ears.
I want to take a step further on this.
We spend instrumental lessons with students mostly on intonation, rhythm and sound. In the perspective of string instruments, for example, there’s a lot to find out just by listening the sound itself, ― vibrato (wide or narrow, fast or slow), the distance from the bridge, bow speed, pressure and so many other details.
But a lot of the times, they cannot find out what they need to improve with their playing because they’re missing on those details. They do not use their ears.
Most lessons would be unnecessary if they listened to their own sound and got the implication of it.
For me this is probably the single worst problem of all, because not only does it waste my time as a teacher but it leaves students clueless and stagnates their learning process, which cost them a vast amount of time.
It just doesn’t make any sense.
6. Playing wrong notes while sight-reading
When everything is fresh at the begining, your brain has the most capacity to absorb information.
But after a while, it creates a neuron cycle in which a certain pattern that you’ve learned gets repeated over and over again.
In other words, what you see for the first time will stick forever and will be very difficult to remove from your memory.
How you start is how you finish.
You must take extra care to ensure you’re playing all the right notes when you read off the music at the begining of the process.
7. Not thinking of adequate proportions
There are certain passages that one needs to practise under the tempo due to some technical difficulty.
Naturally everything should slow down.
And yet, they use exactly the same bow speed, the same amount of bow, pressure etc. and it’s all meaningless.
Because when it’s back to the original tempo, it’ll be disproportionate and it won’t work right.
When you play slower, that means you reduce your bow speed. And if you reduce your bow speed, then you reduce the pressure onto the string.
A lot of students still don’t get this.
8. Starting your practise without a concrete plan
When I practised as long as 12 or 13 hours per day (which I rarely do nowadays), I remembered creating an agenda of what to practice and how to practice it as well as how much time I spent on each thing by writing it down on a piece of paper the day before I did it.
Because of it, there was no minute wasted for wondering what to do once the practise began. Everything went according to the plan and the result was incredible.
Most people have no clue what to practise or how to practise. By the time they stop practising, very little has really changed.
They take a couple of weeks for things that I could get done in about 5 hours.
If there are outstandingly complicated passages in a piece, you just pick those passages and spend a bulk of your time on them, and you can deal with the rest later.
Also set the end time so you won’t allow yourself to take long on what shouldn’t be taken long.
By the way, this is how the world’s top symphony orchestras rehearse music in preparation for concerts too.
Laser-focused efficiency like this is the #1 key to massive productivity.
9. Not evaluating the practise you’ve done for doing even better the next day
Practise is not only about repeating the same routines.
And music making is not only about practising.
At the end of your practise, you know whether or not your plan worked based on the amount of improvement you’ve made.
If it worked, that’s good. You’re one step closer to where you want to be.
If it didn’t work, then you need to change the strategy. “How should I approach this subject?”
Either way, give yourself a chance to step back from the thing, reflect on it, and use the thoughts to construct a game plan that maximizes the productivity of your work.