Finding the Time for Deliberate Practice

Along with the lovely delusion that reading about a skill is the equivalent of learning it, there is the idea that any practice is better than no practice. Need to work on writing? Carry around a notebook and write a paragraph while you’re waiting for the elevator! Want to learn to sing? Put on the music in the car on the way to work! Need to exercise more? Do squats while you’re in line at Starbucks! 

Aside from the fact that people may start looking at you funny, if your goal is deliberate practice, though, doing nothing can, in fact, be better than doing something. That’s because Deliberate Practice has to be mindful. You have to be entirely present – not thinking about work, not driving, not trying to figure out how to pronounce muffiacialatte. 

It’s why Deliberate practice works – because you are paying attention to what you are doing. Not that it means that you’re doing it right, of course – but rather, there’s nothing to distract you from all the things you are doing wrong (remember, deliberate practice is also Not Fun). 

When you’re “practicing” (quotes intentional) without paying attention to what you’re doing, you are letting all the bad habits and mistakes slip through, letting yourself zone out in the pleasure of the act. And hey, we’re all about pleasure here at Love Life Practice, but if you are trying to get better at a skill, letting yourself zone out is a pleasant kind of self-sabotage.

You’re better off finding other things to enjoy and do while you’re waiting. Try some mild creative exercises, like word puzzles or doodles or just letting your mind wander. Save the squats for when you can pay attention to the form, save the writing for when you can give the story the attention it deserves, and save the singing of the song you’re trying to get better at for when you can really hear and pay attention to the notes (On the other hand, go ahead and sing something else. The world needs more singing.

But Where Do I Find the Time, Gray?

Well, that’s the bad news.

You find it in the same place you find the time to do anything else you do: in the same pool of hours you and everyone else has.

And this is where I’m going to diverge from most personal development bloggers. I am not going to “just” you, or “simply” at you. You don’t just find more time. You don’t simply give something up easily so that you can do the practice time. You certainly can’t make more time.

You can only prioritize it.

The word prioritize literally means “make more important.” Which is pretty difficult when you’re a mother of three, or a single parent with a professional job, or struggling with illness or injury. There is a popular misconception that we all have lots of spare time that we are “wasting” on things like TV and social media – but for some, it is the brief respite that playing Two Dots gives us from the rest of the world that lets us get up and face our tasks later on. 

No, you don’t “just simply” do anything. You agonize, you deliberate, you weigh, you consider, you feel guilty, and maybe you are able to claw a few minutes – or, by the grace of All That’s Sacred, a blessed few hours – to actually do the work of Deliberate Practice on the thing you are working towards. 

Which, let’s remember, is Not Fun.

It is not easy for everyone to find the time to do Deliberate Practice. The stories you hear about people who have written books on gum wrappers and made fine art out of their children’s used popsicle sticks are the outliers, the rare exceptions, and while it’s fine to point out their dedication and tenacity it’s important to also acknowledge that they were the lucky ones.

So if you can’t find that time, please give yourself a break. Because this is where the good news comes in:

Promptum Est

If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. – Hamlet

Or, if you want a slightly more modern version, there’s the Beatles: Let it be. Or maybe even more contemporary Bart Simpson: Dude. Chill.

The fact is that if you absolutely cannot brutally carve out the time for Deliberate Practice at some skill right now…it’s because you have more important things to do. Seriously, whether it’s working on your own health, caring for your partners, or doing some kind of other work, it’s entirely possible that you simply don’t have time for it.


Time is what keeps everything from happening at once – Ray Cummings

You can’t have everything. Where would you put it? – Stephen Wright

Those are two very important concepts to remember. The thing you are doing now? You will not be doing it forever. Time never stops, and that means that If it be not now, yet it will come. Trust that the thing that you want to do will either be waiting for you by the time you get to the point where you can do it – or you will have something else you want to do more. 

Personally, it’s that last part of the quote from Shakespeare that I keep in mind: the readiness is all. What’s important is to be mindful of where you are now, and what you are doing. The rest of the quote explains why:

Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.

It’s another version of the “best laid plans” principle, or the simple fact that we are really bad at predicting what is going to happen, much less what’s going to make us happy.

That’s ok. The fun secret of mindfulness is that it is a pretty nifty experience, though I’m not sure I’d call it “happiness”. But that’s another post.

If you are tempted to try doing some deliberate practice, I wish you all the luck in the world. If you’re too busy, though, that’s ok too – as another philosopher-poet has pointed out.

It’s alright,

You can afford to lose a day or two.

Why don’t you realize?

Vienna waits for you? 

– Billy Joel

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