I used to love watching this show on Food Network called “Dinner Impossible.”
Each episode, the show’s central figure, Chef Irvine, would be given some ridiculous task, such as serving 1,000 people in the amount of time it takes most people to go grocery shopping.
I learned a lot of things from watching the show, but one thing that always stuck out to me was how he assess the situation mid-challenge.
He’d receive status updates by calling out various tasks, and then team members would shout out where they were in the process of prepping, chopping, searing, etc. This was always 20 minutes into the task, so of course things were “in progress.”
As a result, he’d inevitably summarize by repeating everyone’s answer, and incredulously conclude with, “So nothing’s done. NOTHING IS DONE.”
This part of the show would always make me laugh. Chef Irvine’s approach was so clear cut, a yes or no question. His definition of success or failure was predicated on the completion of the task, finishing the desired product to perfection.
It was so binary, either “done” or “not done.” He didn’t care how much time you’d spent working on the task. When he called your job out, he simply wanted to know, could he check the dish off the whiteboard menu list?
So why is it when we talk about practice, we often measure the amount of work we’ve accomplished based on the amount of time spent? A student says to me, “I practiced for an hour yesterday.” Great. So play the part.
The student proceeds to fold.
“I don’t know what’s happening, I could do it yesterday when I was practicing by myself.”
There’s a lot to unpack in this common exchange I have with my beginning students. In short, the result from 1 hour of my students’ practice is very different from 1 hour of my practice.
Without taking us too far off on this tangent, what I’m suggesting is to not gauge the success of your practice session by thinking of it in terms of time spent. We often do so because minutes are easy and convenient to measure.
Instead, think like Chef Irvine and consider the success or failure of your practice to be measured by what gets done.
Did you finish learning the part or not? Did you improve? Better yet, can you consistently execute with accuracy?
Each night before going to sleep, I make my list of actions for the next day. I do this while the day’s events are still fresh in my mind and I can think straight. Let’s be honest – I’m operating at about 50% when I first wake up.
Items are designated to certain work blocks of the day. If they aren’t completed, they don’t bleed into the next block. Each block is its own round, so instead of feeling perpetually behind, I get 3 “at-bat’s” to win throughout the day.
I’ve found by doing this, I also get better at being realistic about how much I can accomplish in a chunk of time.
This takes all the, “What should I be doing now?” out of my day, and I just work my way down the list. As each item is completed, it gets moved into the DONE column.
Set your goals, take action, and measure your progress in terms of what you actually accomplish. After you’ve broken your larger goals into smaller baby steps, you need to actually start checking these items off and moving them into the “Done” category.
Be intentional with what actions you prioritize, and assess your progress with what you move into the “Done” column. It’s a sign of actual progress, proof that forward movement and actions were completed.
Stop being “busy.”
Make progress, get things done.
Make a list of things you want to get done – by the end of the month, by the end of the week, and by the end of tomorrow.
Shift things around and put the two most important tasks at the top of your list. These are the “absolutely need to get done” and often the most difficult tasks.
Periodically imagine a loud, muscular Chef shouting at you – “What’s done?” Elevate your sense of urgency to start checking things off.
Celebrate the small wins, take note of what you accomplished, and get ready to do it again tomorrow.
I’ll be continuing this post as a five part mini-series. Wrapping up, I share some personal epiphanies I’ve had the past couple years with my own work flow and projects. You can also hit the “follow” button below to receive these posts by email.
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Thanks for reading and I appreciate the sharing!
If you’re just coming across the series, you can start at the beginning here: “Setting Goals and Taking Action.”
If you need more inspiration to take action, watch this video for another strategy:
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Huei-Yuan Pan is a Los Angeles based professional musician and content creator.
He is currently the Director of the Jumpstart Young Musicians Program at The Colburn School, a performing arts institution in the heart of downtown LA. He spends his time as a digital content creator providing live streaming video lessons, vlogs, and more.