Attack gigantic projects, beat procrastination, and stay productive with an inexpensive tool you probably already own.
Last week I shared with you the concept of sprints, and how I use them to tackle big projects and evolve myself towards the person I’m striving to be.
Those are macro examples, but I use sprints on a micro level too.
Right now, my trusty kitchen timer is counting down 25 minutes. In fact, every article on this blog was written with the timer counting down 25 minutes.
While the timer’s going, I don’t make corrections to spelling, punctuation, or grammar. I don’t stress about finding the perfect word. I don’t reread what I’ve written. I don’t try to edit my writing into something that makes sense.
Instead, I go all out, typing as fast as I can. I sprint. When the timer goes off, I get up, stretch a little, get a drink of water, then do it all again.
After a couple of sprints, I usually have enough raw material and I try to shape it into something readable.
I mentioned in an earlier article about songwriting that keeping out of editing mode is a great way to stay creative.
When I’m practicing, I use the mini sprints to break my work into chunks. This morning I was working on the Brazilian chorro tune Tico Tico No Fuba. At one tempo, I spent 5 minutes on the A section, 5 on the B section, and 5 on the C section. Then I turned the metronome up slightly and repeated it.
David Lee Roth’s Theory of Special Relativity
I think the clock is slow…”
So says DLR in the Van Halen tune Hot For Teacher, and it perfectly illustrates a point: time flies when we’re having fun, and drags terribly when we’re working on something tedious.
Trouble is, the things you need to be working on to see big improvements in your playing are the sorts of things that make the clock drag.
Using a timer to partition the work out into chunks makes doing the work much easier.
It’s easy to justify getting up to use the restroom or get a drink of water in the middle of your practice session. That is, unless you just made a deal with yourself that you were going to stay on task for the next 10 minutes (or whatever).
It’s like free willpower, on demand.
One of the best things about using this technique is that it forces you to define what it is you’re working on––and what you AREN’T working on.
Before you start the timer, you need to decide what it is you’re working on.
If you exclude everything other than the thing you’re working on, you can drastically increase your “output.”
This is your opportunity to pick something just outside of your comfort zone and commit to working on it for a set amount of time. Do this with any sort of consistency and I guarantee that you’ll keep getting better and better.
Works for me anyway.
Extra Added Bonus
The oldest part of your brain is called the amygdala. It looks like a couple of almonds on the top of your brain stem. While it’s only a small part of our brains, it’s the only brain that birds & reptiles have. Let’s call it the lizard brain.
It’s the part of the brain that’s tasked with keeping you alive. It only cares about danger, food, and sex. In other words: survival.
And because the lizard brain evolved on the ancestral savannah, it often effs things up for you here in the modern world.
It’s the reason that you sabotage yourself when you should be dancing, or talking to someone you’re attracted to, or working on a giant project like overhauling your entire understanding of the guitar.
These things scare the lizard brain. Long before your conscious mind can calmly & logically state the reason why you should do something, your amygdala is screaming “don’t do it––you’ll get eaten by a lion!”
Sorry for the excursion into evolutionary biology, but there is a point.
Committing to a few 10 minute bouts of metronome time is just below the threshold where the lizard brain starts freaking out. Twenty-five minutes of hard writing doesn’t awake the inner demon that derails us.
The fear that kept our species alive as cavemen keeps us modern folk from realizing our best selves.
Lull your reptilian brain into submission with sneaky timer tricks, and you get to reap the benefits.
I didn’t invent this technique. A guy name Francesco Cirillo made this up, and he gave it the name Pomodoro Technique (because his kitchen timer was shaped like a tomato, and the Italian word for tomato is pomodoro).
Picking a Good Timer
Don’t get one that ticks––that’s annoying. I really like this one. Once it goes off, it resets to the last time you set, so repeated 5, 10, or 25 minute mini sprints are a breeze.