The Importance of Practice Logs

I’m coming to Computer Programming from the background of having worked as a Professional Musician for 10-11 years.  I played the cello & have a pretty unique story.  I started when I was 16 – which is considered late for someone to start cello & play professionally.  A lot of people might say that I progressed due to Talent.  While it’s accurate to say that I do have some talent – particularly in the areas of Learning & Expression & Outside the Box Desires & Approaches, people who say I progressed as fast as I did because of talent would be wrong.  My progression was a combination of a couple of factors: I put a lot of time and effort into analyzing how to play & how music work, I practiced as much as possible & I spent about all of my free time learning about cello & cellists & music.  In some ways I have the Hyperfocus, obsessiveness & compulsiveness that can come with ADHD to thank for this, but underneath that, there was this extreme deep love and passion that fueled all this.  While there have certainly been other things I’ve fallen in love with (Learning Hebrew for example), I’ve never loved anything as totally as I love music & playing cello.  I come alive inside in a completely different way from anything else.

My one exception to this is Programming.  About a year or so before I discovered Cello, I was getting into Computer Programming (Specifically C++ and OpenGL) … it was a bit over my head at the time, but it was also something that I could really lose myself in.  Continuing the thought sequence about ADHD, programming is perfect for me, because I can hyperfocus, but also Task Switch in a way that’s not cognitively dissonant, and it gives me something to occupy the seemingly never-ending thoughts with.  It’s also something I deeply love & can fall down never-ending Rabbit Holes with – constantly flowing, constantly learning.

Which sounds like a fantastical, romantic notion of progression – and the reality is that it isn’t!!  In any skill/task/journey/relationship, there’s always going to be ups and downs, interest & loss of interest, times when it could be your entire world & times when you are completely devoid of any motivation for it. Burnout can be a very real possibility – Particularly when you do something to extreme amounts & try to make a living from it.  Everything I wrote before this sentence is really just an introduction to one of the most helpful tools I’ve made use of in my time as a musician (and programmer): Practice Logs.

Practice Logs are incredibly Game Changing.  I used to just keep them in a never-ending text file and break them down by date, time of practice segment, what I worked on during that segment & total hours.  I also often included goals/interesting thoughts/notes for where to go next.  This helped create structure & make accomplishments visible & give me a reason to continue – even on the days where it was Tough!!  It saved me from my forgetfulness & distractability and from all the never-ending paths & choices & options that life provides.

There’s a saying that’s common in Music: “Practice Makes Perfect”.  That statement is actually a lie (There’s no such thing as perfect, and Analytical Practice is what brings you to a high level/rate of progression.  “Practice Makes Permanent” is what that phrase should actually be.

In programming so far, I’ve largely relied on Intrinsic Motivation & hyperfocus to carry me through.  Also, upon friends & blogging & micro-blogging.  They’ve done a pretty good job so far – but I think I can do better.  When I first started at Recurse Center, I made it a point to keep a daily log of Everything I did/tried/learned at RC – I knew that I have a horrible memory for that sort of thing, and I wanted a way to be able to reinforce what I had done & learned, so when people asked me about it, or if it came up in Job Interviews, I could be concrete.  If you’re looking for a way to fight Imposter Syndrome, this is one of the Very Best things you can do.  Unfortunately, I fell off of that after about a month in (during two particularly challenging weeks).  I never quite got back to it, and while my time at RC has still been very productive, I’ve also had some meandering times & I can’t help that think that it would have helped me stay in the flow of things a bit more.

Now that my Batch at RC is ending, I’m thinking very intently about how to structure my time afterwards, and I think I’m going to make it a priority to keep a practice log & include the ever-evolving goals & paths that emerge.  At Recurse Center, I did that in Google Spreadsheet (I tried switching to Trello, and making that change was disruptive for me), so I think I’ll continue from there.  I’m glad that my time as a musician & the things I learned from doing that can still inform my time as a programmer & I can benefit from the techniques & strategies I learned there.

Now onward to all the exciting & wonderful learning I have to do!!

*Credit for this phrase goes to Emily Wright – who is a wonderful teacher & thinker

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