Perhaps you remember being a child, and the excitement and anticipation of Christmas morning? For most kids, it’s hard enough to wait until your parents are awake to dive into the presents under the tree. And for many budding musicians, the wait is even more unbearable because not only do they have to wait until their parents are awake, but they also have to get in a good practice session before they can open presents. Or was it just me?

Anyhow, the holidays can be a tricky time for musicians, student and professional alike. There are all sorts of demands on our time – travel, shopping, family obligations, parties and other seasonal festivities, not to mention the general excitement and desire to enjoy some well-deserved time off from the daily grind.

Yet the holidays are over in a flash, and the new year starts off pretty quickly with important auditions and performances right around the corner.

So as much as we’d like to leave our instrument in the case for two weeks, most of us can’t really afford to take such an extended break. But allowing the “I have to practice” cloud to constantly hang over our heads, and guilting ourselves into practicing is no fun either.

So how can we say productive during the holidays, get high-quality practice time in, and avoid feeling guilty about taking some time away from our instruments to relax and enjoy ourselves?

The “Unschedule”

Neil Fiore, Ph.D. is a psychologist, self-admitted procrastinator, and author of the book The Now Habit (known perhaps as much for its hideously unattractive cover as the usefulness of the ideas and strategies contained within). He developed a strategy he calls unscheduling, based on the idea that we have been conditioned to believe that work is good, and play is bad.

Consider how we normally schedule our days. We tend to fill our calendar or to-do list with all the things we have to do, rather than all the things we want to do. Ever consider doing the opposite? You might be surprised by the results.

Here are a few guidelines based on Dr. Fiore’s unscheduling method.

(1) Schedule the fun stuff

This means blocking off chunks of time on your calendar for unstructured free time and all the fun things you want to do like social gatherings, going to the movies, shopping, etc.

(2) Do NOT schedule practice time

Rather than formally scheduling practice time, figure out how to get in some high-quality practice time by planning around all of your fun committments.

Make the fun stuff non-negotiable, and enjoy them as rewards for having put in a good 30-60 minutes of concentrated, focused, practice.

You’ll find that there’s more intensity and focus in your practicing when you’ve got a lot to get done, but your time is limited, and you’ve got a movie to get to. Ever notice how productive you can be at the last minute when a deadline is approaching? It’s a bit like that.

(3) Take a weekly mini-break

Block off a 24-hour chunk every week where you are not allowed to touch your instrument.

You’ll find that your productivity increases as you work really hard to get things done so you don’t have to cut into your 24-hour mini-vacation. And when that break arrives, enjoy that well-deserved time off guilt-free.

The one-sentence summary

“Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold.  But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.”  ~Douglas Pagels