When I'm beginning my practice on a new work, I have identified the most difficult parts of the piece before sitting down with my cello. But what to do after that? I begin by consulting this nifty guide, the Seven Stages of Practicing. The guide came to me through a friend during my time in graduate school.
It's a bit of practice micromanagement that is useful when paring the piece down, helping to set the course, from unfamiliar piece to masterful performance. Though I don't follow the guide religiously - or even really at all anymore - I think the steps that it lays out can be helpful in designing your own plan. It has certainly taken me from a mindless "play-through" practicer to one who has become rather pedantic in my practicing. (To learn more about my own practice scheduling, check out my three-part post on organized, intelligent, and habitual practice.)
Additionally, the guide includes ten "Commandments" for practicing, including my favorite, "Always sound terrific (unless you don't)." These are ten things that I try to think about when I'm sitting in the room, staring blankly at the music. Sometimes one just forgets to play efficiently, naturally, or without tension. A quick check-in with these Ten Commandments of Practicing is enough to bring me back to earth when things are going poorly (or when things are going well)!
Go ahead and check out the Seven Stages and Ten Commandments of Practice by clicking this thing here to download the PDF!