Why do you practice? I used to confidently say I worked best with a goal in mind such as an upcoming performance, audition, or assessment. This worked great through my college years, as there was always something ahead and with the guidance of a great teacher, I was continually growing in ability and musicianship.
After graduation, I continued with this event/goal-oriented practice, but after some time, found myself no longer progressing, and even showing some loss in technique in a few areas. Why would this be?
I needed to retool my purpose for practice. We need to practice with a goal in mind, but event-goals don't always work. After graduation, I found myself doing a lot of collaborative work. There were many event-goals, but no specific personal-growth goals. I found myself needing to practice less. I was growing by leaps-and-bounds with sight-reading, but slowly losing technique and depth in my performance.
Now, I try to always set specific goals in practice that are not event-driven. I ask myself things like: What strengths am I using and drawing from to perform this piece? How might I grow and develop those strengths even more? What weaknesses are revealed in this piece? How might I begin to strengthen and improve in these areas? What pieces or exercises would complement this piece or help me grow in the areas of strength or weakness?
Specific goals are good and helpful, but specific goals in practicing are far more than simply accomplishing a good performance. Our goals in practicing should always be more than that. Our practice goals should focus on the question, "What steps am I taking today to grow as a musician?"