Practice Distractions: Stop Looking at the Clock | Hub Guitar

Practice Distractions: Stop Looking at the Clock


One of the most important goals we set for our guitar playing is to practice a specific number of minutes each day. This is important because total hours practiced is one of the best indicators of playing ability.

But once the practice routine is established, there are other important things to pay attention to. Practice can easily be tanked by any of these obstacles:

  • Frustration, discouragement, and the urge to give up
  • Failure to focus and get “in the zone”
  • Distractions

Looking at the Clock

We look at the clock during our practice because we are measuring a goal. We’ve committed to practicing for x minutes (typically 30 or 60) and we don’t want to stop until we’ve achieved this end.

However, once we’ve built the habit of looking at the clock into our practice goal, we’ve set ourselves up for demotivation and discouragement. That’s because 90% of the time, when we’re looking at the clock it’s because we can’t wait for something to be over.

Think about it. When do you watch the clock? When you’re waiting, sitting through a meeting, or otherwise enduring a grueling experience.

Looking at the clock may also be adding distractions to your practice environment. This is bad for your practice success and should be avoided. For example, if you look at the clock on your phone, every time you do that you set yourself up to be distracted by texts, emails, and Plants Vs. Zombies.

Let’s consider some alternatives to looking at the clock.

Set Timers

If your goal is to practice for 30m, set a timer. Ideally it should be one that beeps once or twice and doesn’t keep ringing. After all, you may be in the middle of something that you want to finish when the alarm finally goes off.

Once you start relying on timers and stop relying on clocks, you’ll be able to get deeper into “the zone” and you might be shocked to find that when the time finally comes to stop, you'd rather just keep playing.

Using a timer will feel a bit strange at first. That urge to look at the clock will still rise up, and be replaced by a general feeling of uncertainty because you don’t know when the buzzer will ring. But over time you’ll get used to this and it may help you to keep your focus where it belongs—on the guitar.

Forget About Time

What if, instead of practicing for an arbitrary amount of time, you practice until you’ve achieved something? Practicing on a schedule is never really ideal. On the one hand, if your practice is really going well, why would you want to stop at an exact predetermined time? And if your practice is not going well, then you just end up noodling and waiting for the time to be up. Either way, you’re measuring your success by hours spent practicing rather than by results achieved.

Hours spent practicing is a very useful way to understand guitar playing ability from a bird’s-eye view. But from a worm’s-eye view, worrying about the minutes you’ve spent practicing today is a formula for wasting them and feeling good about it.

Where Practice Results Come From

Your practice success is driven in small part by your personal characteristics and traits:

  • Stamina
  • Mental energy
  • Persistence
  • Passion and dedication

But more than any of these, your results are driven by the environment you create for yourself to practice in. This includes:

  • Absence or presence of distractions
  • Practice habits, such as logging results or looking at the clock
  • Practice location
  • Practice tools
  • Designated time of practice
  • Total allotted amount of time

Don’t fall into the trap of blaming every shortcoming on yourself. Even small children can practice successfully if supported by the right environment.


Use “hours practiced” as a big-picture target to measure yourself and set goals. But on a day-to-day basis, try focusing more on the results that you get from practice. If you must practice a specific amount of time, try setting a timer to avoid looking at the clock.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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