Hard to Make Time for Practice? Try Habit Stacking   Recently updated !


Although last year was a dumpster fire in many ways, I found that several of my students had schedules that were a lot more flexible than they are this year, and they thrived! One of the common situations many of my students seem to be dealing with this year is getting “back in the groove” regarding practice.

While there are lots of different approaches to getting back in a practice routine, here’s one that has been effective for a few of my students.

Don’t Start from a Blank Page

Trying to add a new habit can feel like a daunting task.

For many of my high school students, their schedules are much busier this year than last year. With some teachers and extracurricular activities trying to “make up” for a lost year, it can feel like things are even busier than two years ago.

The first thing that I tell all my students to do is to add all of their commitments to a calendar. This includes school, homework, after-school activities, and rehearsals. Often they are not as busy as they thought, or they are not using their time effectively.

However, this isn’t always the case.

Some students do have a lot (too much?) going on. And trying to add a 30-minute practice session by just dropping it onto their already-full calendars won’t work. These students may have homework, AP classes, marching band rehearsals, sports, and other after-school clubs and activities.

Habit Stacking

While I think this kind of over-scheduling and over-commitment is counterproductive, it does occur. In that case, I will generally ask them to add on a few minutes of practice time to something that they already do regularly.

This is a technique created by BJ Fogg and mentioned in James Clear’s (excellent) book Atomic Habits called habit stacking.

The general idea of habit stacking is to an already-established habit (brushing your teeth, doing homework, watching Netflix, checking social media) as either a cue to start a new habit or a reward from an already completed habit. Using practice as the new habit, some habit-stacking options include:

  • Before I check social media, I’ll practice my horn for 5 minutes.
  • After brushing my teeth, I’ll play two major scales.
  • Before I start on my English homework, I’ll practice 2 measures of the All-State music.
  • Etc.

This kind of habit stacking – where you tie practicing to something you already do – is especially effective when you take the time to plan out upcoming practice goals or have a practice menu ready to go.

Now, all you have to do is just execute – you’ve already decided what you’re doing and when you’re doing it!


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!