However, I have personally encountered several obstacles in achieving this myself so I'd like to share some thoughts on how you can do this. This is not meant as an exhaustive list or definitive approach, I hope that you may save some time and effort by considering this area earlier, rather than later in your own development.
Firstly, have a think about what you want to achieve from your Art. Is it a social hobby for you? Do you wish to be healthy into old age, be able to defend yourself in any and all circumstances, release some daily stress, maintain complete peace of mind?
Now, how important are these things to you? How much time do you actually have in your life to put towards this challenge? What time in your life is flexible, and what is not?
Does this balance? If you are set on attaining complete physical, energetic, mental and emotional balance, but you have 20 mins a day free, then think again. Find a short term goal that's more realistic, and as you improve and your priorities change, you may find that by making some adjustments you can set your sights higher.
Here are some of the 'tricks' I use to keep myself practising regularly and well.
1. Get a good night's sleep. If you are well rested, quality goes up and its easier to motivate yourself.
2. Keep a training diary. This has to do with being honest with yourself. How consistent are you? really! A quick flick through the last week or two may help you spot trends and find ways to improve on things.
3. Something is better than nothing. You might think 5 mins practice has no value, but even that much helps keep you in the habit.
4. Watch out for binge training. If you overdo it in a session, it may take a while to recover. This is especially important if you engage in Internal martial arts / meditation type training.
5. I aim for 2 sessions a day. I'll tell you now that it doesn't always happen. My reasoning is that if one of my young children is up at 3am the morning session just isn't going to happen that day, or if they won't go to sleep in the evening, same applies, but I allow myself room for adjustment .
6. Plan to be flexible. Everyone has commitments in their life (in my case, my family), work etc. Have a selection of things you could work on in any given session that are appropriate for the amount of time available. For example: If I only have 20 mins free before getting ready for work, I'll work on a single I Chuan standing posture, if I have a hour I'll go for some Tai Chi, followed by 15 - 20 mins SAN TI on each leg. 2-3 minutes tea break at work, Cloud Hands and some swings, or maybe Pi Chuan (hsing I). The point is I have several session plans for varying time slots that are not just random practice, but contribute to my goals.
7. Look out for opportunities. Waiting for a bus? Focus on some discreet breathing exercises. The kids are out? Time for some weapons training without worrying about giving them a short haircut. Consider what you can do in breaks at work too.
8. Become aware of distraction. Try to spot what distracts you from your exercise and how it happens. Keeping a diary can be useful for this. Do you start reading a book, surfing the net, talking to someone and before you know it the window of opportunity for training has gone?
In my case I noticed that I rarely get distracted if I am not tired, but when fatigued I 'avoid' a session without realising, getting engaged in other trivial distractions. Now I'm aware of this process, my strategy is to notice, then do a short 20 min practice and get a good night's sleep, the focus being on addressing the issue of tiredness and maintain quality of practice above quantity.
9. Set sensible goals for your training, over a range of time frames. For example, one of my general goals is releasing tension (physical, energetic, nervous, emotional) from my body, in a given session after a period of settling into my practice I may focus on a particular connection or blockage within my body as a short term goal.
10. Enjoy, and don't force it. As positive habits form, it does get easier!
Just some ideas, these are not intended as commandments or as the only approach. If something works for you, let me know. I'll say more about my personal practice in later posts.