Setting goals is one of the most powerful things you can do to get better at music or anything else. Some people write them down, some just have a vague idea of what they are, but we all have goals for nearly everything we do. Goals are covered in more detail in The Practice of Practice, but here’s a quick run-down.
Goals are like the cool animated GIF of a Sierpinsky fractal above: there are goals within goals within goals. It’s goals all the way down. The usual advice is to break goals down into long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals, but you can and should dive deeper, and consider smaller goals. Writing down long-term goals is a good practice, one you should revisit at least once a year. Mid-term goals are also good to have. For me those are from one year to a couple months away; short-term goals are usually within a month or 6 weeks. All of these goals are great, but the further away they are, the more abstract they become. The shorter-term goals become more and more concrete, there is actually something to do.
Goals that require immediate action are the most powerful. I call them immediate-goals, micro-goals, and nano-goals. Immediate goals are your goals for one practice session. Micro goals are your goals for a passage or a small section you’re trying to learn. A nano goal is one repetition.
The power of goals is their ability to focus your efforts with laser precision. If you can only spare 20 minutes of practice a day or less, spending some time on goals at every level of the fractal is a powerful tool. Writing them out will help, especially at first if you’re not used to thinking this way, but it’s not necessary. In fact, once you’ve gotten used to thinking about goals like this, skip writing out your goals, and spend the extra time on playing.