Practicing and the two-minute rule

David Allen’s well-known book Getting Things Done is always within arm’s reach at my desk. I find its concepts and techniques valuable for managing my time and productivity.

I don’t consciously use a lot of “GTD” ideas in my practicing, since practicing seems to me like a thing that is never “done.” (If any of you are applying GTD concepts to practicing, I’m interested in hearing about it.) But there’s one part of the GTD system that I do think of often when practicing or working with students: the “two-minute” rule.

photo, Matthew
photo, Matthew

The idea is this: when organizing your tasks, if something comes up that will take less than two minutes to complete, it’s better to go ahead and do it rather than taking the time to process it into your to-do list and revisit it again later.

I try especially to impress this on students who are stuck in “stage one” practicing, running long passages or entire pieces without stopping to isolate and fix problem spots. If you are practicing, here are some examples of things to spend two minutes or less solving now, rather than adding them to a do-later list:

  • Look up an unfamiliar foreign term
  • Mark in a missed key-signature note or ensemble cue
  • Practice an awkward three- or four-note passage (How many times can you practice it in two minutes? One or two hundred times?)
  • Check and adjust the tuning of a problem note
  • Revisit a favorite tone exercise to improve the sound of a certain note or passage
  • Figure out and mark in a trill fingering
  • Make and notate an interpretive decision (You can always change your mind later. For now, pick a plan and try it out rather than leaving it up in the air.)
  • Choose and mark a good place to breathe
  • Settle a question or conflict by consulting the full score or accompaniment part
  • Make a quick recording (your smartphone probably has a voice-recording app) and identify some areas to focus on (and possibly solve in two minutes)

This approach does sometimes mean breaking stride on larger practice-time projects, but in general I find the two-minute fixes to be worthwhile.

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