a little bit goes a long way if you do it every day
January 27, 2011 11:15 AM   Subscribe

I am a big fan of consistency- the rewards that can be reaped by simply doing something often over a long period of time are like slow motion magic. Please tell me about some of the things that you do for a few minutes a day to reap mega rewards in the future.

(bonus points awarded for making this about me...) I am mainly interested in being a musician and the progress that can be made by consistent and conscious practice. For instance, 10 minutes a day of playing scales doesn't feel like much for a few weeks... but then there comes a day when you finally experience the fluidity that you've been creating in your playing. That shit is magic!

The days and weeks seem to contain ever decreasing amounts of time for me to practice, and I would like to use that time as best I can. I spend most of my 'free' time recording/writing music, but I'd also like to spend 15 minutes a day focused on maintaining/building my playing technique. What sort of exercises and practice techniques do you use to keep (or expand) your chops? Extra bonus points for percussion related ideas (drumset and vibes, mainly).

Although I've focused this on music this is ultimately a request for ideas related to anything that can be improved a little bit at a time. Speaking and comprehending spanish better, showing my partner/friends/family that I love them, getting more proactive in politics (specifically environmental issues), growing tomatoes year round in the desert... these are some of the things I would like to be better at. Perhaps not everything can be tackled in small increments, but I would love to hear what you've done!
posted by palacewalls to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 170 users marked this as a favorite
I've kept a dream diary for nearly a month and it's significantly improved my ability to recall dreams upon awakening.

(Not that this is a useful skill though...)
posted by fix at 11:20 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Meditation is something you can only ever get good at by practicing, but has tons of positive health effects.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:24 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I still do ballet stretches every single day (twenty years after the fact!) but I have no way of knowing what the difference would be if I hadn't.
posted by marimeko at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2011

Exercise - programs like One Hundred Pushups build incrementally and after 6 weeks you can see impressive results.
posted by ChrisHartley at 11:28 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks! I am looking to be as specific as possible with this, so if you can tell me a bit about how you meditate every day (which can be quite personal and a little vague, I know), that would be helpful. Logistical approaches to improving things in short bursts is sort of the focus of my question.
posted by palacewalls at 11:30 AM on January 27, 2011

Ten minutes of push-ups a day will make you pretty good at push-ups.

I try to write for 10-30 minutes a day now too and sometimes I do think that this has made me less inhibited as a writer. If I don't write consistently and routinely I am overcome with paralysis because I think that whatever I write in that one moment has to really mean something.
posted by ashotinthearm at 11:31 AM on January 27, 2011

Speaking and comprehending spanish better

Possible 15min exercises:

-- Read an article or a page or a paragraph. Read aloud, or mouth the pronunciation of the words. Look up words you don't know in the dictionary.
-- Listen to a song (or something else of 3-5min duration), a couple of times, with or without the lyrics as you prefer. Look up words you don't know in the dictionary.
-- Practice brief compositions. Focus on vocabulary and verbs and grammatical structures. Translate your everyday thoughts into Spanish. Get it right now and it'll be there when you need it. Look up the things you don't know.
-- Practice specific exercises (verb conjugations / prepositions / pronunciation / etc). There are sites which have exercises on them, or you could get a book and work through it.
-- If you could, a focussed chat with someone in a teaching role might be helpful.

To make the best use of 15 minutes you want to do something repetitive or something precise (which is why I stress looking things up). If you had more time, you could be more relaxed and hang out watching telenovelas or drinking beer with spanish speakers.
posted by squishles at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use 750 words to do what's called "morning pages" - essentially three pages of handwritten mental purging before I start each day. Sometimes it's more like journaling, sometimes it's fiction writing, sometimes it's listmaking. But whatever it turns out to be, it really helps me get focused for the day, get stuff off my mind so that I don't have to carry it around, and get myself in gear. It's also useful for reviewing patterns and getting to the bottom of ideas or problems, over time.
posted by lhall at 11:36 AM on January 27, 2011 [22 favorites]

Oh, and it takes about 15 minutes, 30 if I get distracted.
posted by lhall at 11:37 AM on January 27, 2011

As far as meditation, I recently read this discussion on reddit, and several people recommended this free (through January) (or not) book. I can't personally vouch for it but I plan to read it in the coming weeks.
posted by p3on at 11:38 AM on January 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

posted by Joe Beese at 11:43 AM on January 27, 2011 [11 favorites]

Sunscreen. Just a little, on your face. Every single morning.
posted by SpringAquifer at 11:45 AM on January 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

How about choosing a new song to learn to play each week, then practicing it for 10 minutes a day? By the end of the year, you'll be able to play dozens of songs at the drop of a hat. You can find tabs online, or you can work on your ability to figure out songs by ear.
posted by oceanview at 11:46 AM on January 27, 2011

posted by Metroid Baby at 11:48 AM on January 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

In terms of music, my SO is working toward playing live shows with his new band, and he takes the extra time when I'm getting ready (he's dressed, I'm putting on last minute eyeliner or something) to pick up his acoustic guitar and play one of his songs through. Over the past couple of months, he's gotten MUCH more familiar with them, and more comfortable playing them for other people smoothly.

I am doing the couch-to-5k plan, which is about a 30 minute commitment three times a week.

Also, hey, you can spend 15 minutes every evening/morning preparing your lunch, which will hopefully healthy and appropriately-portioned, compared to eating out on your lunch break. Over time you will see the benefits.

The other thing I thought of was teeth whitening strips. 30 minutes a day for two weeks. What a difference!
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 11:53 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I moisturize every day. I'm only 21 so I have no idea if it is working, but it fits nicely into the time after showering, or after tooth-brushing. And my skin feels nice and soft.
posted by hepta at 11:58 AM on January 27, 2011

Cleaning up the house a little bit every day, as the mess happens, so we're not left with a HUGE, 4-hour cleaning marathon at the end of the week. Pick stuff up as you go, clean up each night's dishes, etc. I only spend about 1-1/2 hours each weekend cleaning, and that involves dusting and vacuuming and scrubbing the toilets.
posted by elisebeth at 12:07 PM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Face exercises. I don't know if there's anything to it, but 10 minutes per day, often doubled-up with other activities (showering, driving, watching tv, etc.) would definitely be worth it if they actually work!
posted by angab at 12:21 PM on January 27, 2011

1. Jot down new things you learn in your favorite smartphone flashcard app. Try to find an app that supports spaced repetition.
2. Review flashcards every day or so.
3. Enjoy huge boost in memory retention and learning speeds.
posted by Terheyden at 12:44 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Use your non-preferred hand to write or brush your teeth, or do any other simple daily tasks. You'll quickly discover how un-simple they actually are.
posted by MT at 12:51 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Recording biometric data - not just weight, but things like bodyfat %, overall mood, mental aptitude, blood pressure, nutrition, and so on. You might find out some surprising things about yourself.

For example, I've found that together, avoiding cheese and grains and eating lots of fatty meat helps lower my often too-high blood pressure. Now I'm trying to isolate the variables and figure out which one is doing it. That's better than my doctor could do!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 12:58 PM on January 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh, and if you're going to exercise in that 15 minutes a day, you might do better with an hour twice a week on a real program - or even spreading out a real bodyweight program like Naked Warrior over the week. Only developing your horizontal push (push-ups) is not a real program - it can create imbalances that cause injury, and it just plain won't do as much for your health or appearance.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 1:01 PM on January 27, 2011

If you want to get more knowledgeable and proactive about environmental issues, here's a technique I use, (works with pretty much any topic). It's a crude way of getting your own daily news abstract, basically.

Start a bookmarks folder in your web browser, maybe called "environmental news." Find five or so websites, blogs, forums, event pages, or what have you--your favorite, most useful sites, and preferably ones that'll have regular updates. (I picked five b/c that's a pretty good number for fifteen minutes/day. Obviously you can use more or fewer sites if you want).

Whenever the time of day you've set aside to do this rolls around, open up your browser, open all your bookmarked pages in their own tabs, and start reading. Close out each tab when you're done. Enough days in a row, and voila. (I personally take notes when there's something I really want to retain, but YMMV).

Having all my sites readily available whenever I want makes the task way less daunting...especially when my list of daily sites got longer.
posted by world b free at 1:03 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Talk to strangers.
posted by jasondigitized at 2:39 PM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

I write down my accomplishments. Admittedly, I do this every week (not every day but I have refer to my calendar to see what I did on a specific day anyway) and I do it for work, but I would argue that you could easily do it every day and adapt it to whatever accomplishments you feel like recording.

Reasons it's nifty to record your accomplishments quickly: when you look back at them, you're amazed at how you've completely forgotten some things; if you're working towards a goal, you can chart your progress more easily; on a bad day, it can be nice to see that yes something did get accomplished despite it all; if you're looking to show others your progress (whether at work, in a band, to show to a music teacher, whatever) it's much easier and faster to refer to it when it's already written down; it can be soothing to do something slightly mindless and easy at the end of the day (or beginning of the next one, for that matter).

Note that for music specifically, you could take 15 minutes or 5 or whatever to record your accomplishments in playing technique. In essence, critique yourself and set goals and get written down what exactly is so fundamental that you keep playing despite decreasing amounts of time for it.
posted by librarylis at 4:42 PM on January 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Ten minutes of zazen a day (sit in lotus, half-lotus, or Burmese position facing a plain wall and count breaths from 1 to 10 then start again at 1; when you notice your attention has drifted, bring it back to the breath and start counting again; repeat until the time is up). Others have mentioned that research shows all kinds of nifty things about the effects of meditation; I do it more for the reason that Zen teacher Brad Warner does it (misquoted from memory): "When I don't do zazen, I feel like crap. I don't like feeling like crap, and I feel less like crap when I do zazen."

Half an hour of Egoscue postural alignment therapy exercises, primarily for pain prevention. I had 15 years of chronic recurring back pain until I discovered Egoscue, and although I don't particularly like spending that half hour every morning doing the exercises, compared to the time I wasted doing things like spending a week and a half on my back unable to move... time well spent.

Twenty minutes of Convict Conditioning. Been doing it for a couple of months and I'm really pleased with how my muscles are developing. I don't know how long it'll take, but I fully intend to work up to the ultimate goals (1-legged squat, 1-armed push-up, 1-armed pull-up, etc.).
posted by Lexica at 6:09 PM on January 27, 2011 [8 favorites]

read to a kid. it will make both of you better readers, and the 15-minute increment is the right amount of time to keep a kid interested and ready for more tomorrow.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:20 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've worked near daily on woodworking as a hobby for about three years now.

It's made me aware that pretty much everything we do can be practiced, and you can become decent at *anything*, given enough small, incremental practice times. Chatting with strangers on the bus. Math. Vocational skill. And so on.

The sad part of that realization is that most of my friends play video games that don't seem to impart nearly as much skill for each amount of time. Some of them state their amazement at what I can build in a workshop... and continue to grind for levels on WoW. Argh.
posted by talldean at 7:59 AM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


The thing I find most beautiful about drawing is that it is a way to get to know your subjects in ways that can't really be simulated in any other way; as you draw whatever it is you draw, especially from life (stuff in your environment), you start to notice little things about it that maybe you didn't notice at all before. A certain way that something fits between another something. The actual number of holes or stripes or bumps that something has (which may be surprisingly larger or smaller than you thought previously).
The more you do it, the more you begin to foster a certain peculiar relationship with things around you and the more you are able to imagine and envision in 3D space and put it in the 2D surface you're drawing on. Its almost magical at a certain point, for me.

My favorite subject to draw is people but it's hard sometimes to get in that mode because I find that a lot of people don't like to be looked at - let alone drawn.

It's so much fun to make stuff with marks on paper and for me it's relaxing and sort of therapeutic.

I highly recommend you give it a try :)
posted by fantodstic at 5:00 PM on January 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

My three biggest hobbies: drawing, woodwork and making airplanes. Unfortunately, as long goes on and I get busier with work, the excuses keep piling up to not doing things close to my heart. This thread just reminded me of things I love to do - so definitely need to put back some time for those activities this week.
posted by MikeBrendon at 8:44 PM on January 31, 2011

The Mobility Workout of the Day, an offshoot of crossfit, for becoming flexible and maintaining joint and tissue health. It's ten minutes a day. Start from the beginning.
posted by aesacus at 1:34 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

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