The first indication I had that practice time was about to become a precious commodity was my first full-time non-music job. I worked as a public school teacher, and it exhausted me so much I hardly had the energy to break out my viola. It didn't help that I didn't have a good place to practice anymore, since it was hard to practice in my apartment (where my neighbors complained and my husband got very good at distracting me), but I didn't have access to the practice rooms at school anymore. But after I decided that public school teaching wasn't for me, I thought I could go back to practicing like I had before. And I did, for a while. Then I had a baby.
Babies are exhausting and demanding, and require constant attention. Of course, they do take naps, but then you spend your time tip-toeing around trying not to wake them up (or catching up on much-needed sleep yourself), not breaking out the Richard Strauss excerpts.
What saved my practice time was teaching private lessons. As a private lessons teacher who teaches public school kids during their orchestra class or after school, I have the use of a practice room, or at least a space of my own, on the days that I teach. Most of my practice takes place on my lunch period or during the orchestra director's planning period. If I have an empty lesson time or an absent student, I use that time to practice, too. Of course, I also give my students plenty of demonstrations, which at least allows me to brush up on my basic technique (teaching does help you learn!).
Now that my daughter is a bit older, I can also practice a little bit at home. She loves to see me play my violin or viola, though that does make her want to grab at it and try to play it herself (soon...).
While I may not be able to practice four hours at a stretch, as I did during my college days, I find that's made me learn to use my time more efficiently. I no longer have time to waste in mindless repetition, so I work to make my practice as focused and effective as possible. Even a five-minute break between students can be helpful.
How do you find the time to practice? Any tips would be appreciated!