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How to make time if you are too busy

| 39 comments | Category: learning languages, positive mentality

Making time

There are lots of excuses people make for not progressing in a language; I’m not smart enough, it’s too hard, I can’t remember any words, etc. But the one I’ll almost always hear is I don’t have any time.

Time is a funny thing. It can fly, run out, and be up. It can be spent, killed, and passed. It will tell and it is money. With all of these amazing things time does, people never seem to actually have any of it!! People seem to think that if you get more done in a day, you simply have more “free” time than they do. In my case for trying to learn a language in just 3 months, maybe I just won the lottery and have plenty of money (and thus time) to do nothing but study and practise it. That can be the only possible explanation…

Everybody’s busy

Believe it or not, I’ve also got enough excuses for why I wouldn’t have “enough time”. I work full time, I have an active social life, which here in Prague has actually mostly been in French and Portuguese, not Czech. I have a lot of side projects that take up so much time like improving these other languages and making videos. The video I just made about learning Italian needed to be edited, I had to write posts about it, and of course… I translated it to 5 languages after English. That took time!! I also maintain this site; writing about two posts a week, and spend several hours a day online.

Then there’s all the normal other things; eating, sleeping, travel time, grocery shopping, walking, shower etc. Other people have much better “excuses” than I do; they have a family to take care of, a more-than-full-time job and other responsibilities etc. Surely there’s no hope for any of us to do anything as crazy as learning another language??

Don’t be silly! Of course you have time!! Lack of time is just another excuse. No matter how busy you are, how much you work or socialise or devote your time to other important projects in your life… you always still have some time left over that you may be currently wasting!

Kill the time killers

The easiest way to get back huge chunks of time is to eliminate pointless activities from your life. I used to watch an incredible amount of TV or play way too many computer games (at least 3 hours a day). It never enriched my life or made me feel better. It was just a way to pass the time; it was “relaxing” after a hard day. Once I cut out watching TV entirely and deleted all games from my computer (when I moved to Spain), this gave me the time needed to actually do something useful and feel a sense of achievement every day, which makes me feel much better than relaxing ever did. There are so many things that people do that are actually just wasting time, but they are in a comfortable routine with them.

It’s important to look at everything you do on a regular basis and ask yourself if that really makes your life better? Do you really need to follow every match of your favourite football team? What if you went out with your buddies for a beer just once a week instead of 3 times? There are even some people who “outsource” as many tasks as possible (like doing the laundry, shopping and even most of their work), but I haven’t tried this yet. There are plenty of sites with information about getting things done (or “GTD” as it’s referred to) and being more efficient with your time, and lots of self-help books go into that too, so I can’t claim to be much of an expert! But this is an area of a lot of people’s lives that could be improved.

However, when it comes to learning languages, even when you claim to have cut out all of the time wasting activities in your life and are still too busy, there is still hope for you to get lots done!

How to squeeze time out of every free second: How I actually study a language

As I’ve said before, I don’t have the patience to sit down at a desk with a lamp and a big grammar book, highlighter pen and dictionary and actually study. This may work for some people (and can be very useful as long as you combine it with actually speaking a language), but it has never worked for me. And as I said above, I fill my day up quite quickly, so I technically wouldn’t “have time” to study like that. So let me tell you about a “typical” study day for me. For some good examples, I’ll tell you how I spent… my birthday!

Sadly, it wasn’t entirely a day off; I had to work in the morning, but took the afternoon off. The Internet slows down so much in this flat (I need the Internet to be able work) so when a page is slow to load, I could do what most people would; curse it and get angry and stressed out, or maybe simply do nothing and be patient (not my strongpoint :P ). But when a page doesn’t open immediately, I just glance at the sheet of irregular verbs on the table beside my computer and go through one new verb. The website loads and I go back to work. Next time that it is slow to load I glance over at the next word and try to apply it to memory. After an intensive morning work period I’ve actually learned over 20 of the most important irregular verb past-tenses and parts of their conjugations.

Work is done, so I join a friend for lunch. We sit down and have a nice chat (in French!) but when she goes to the toilet, I could twiddle my thumbs or glance around or play with my phone… but instead I grab the bilingual menu and study some food vocabulary. I get the tram back home and as soon as I sit down, I take a photocopied sheet of important adjective opposite pairs out of my pocket and study for the “entire” 5 minute journey.

Later in the day it’s time to go out dancing! My friends go into the club before me, so when I’m in the queue by myself, I take out my phrasebook to study the small dictionary at the back. A girl beside me keeps looking at me and my phrasebook (not something people usually read in queues to nightclubs… if people were to actually read anything in such a situation…), so I start up a conversation with her and get to practise! She found my Czech quite amusing, but listened attentively and helped me say what I wanted. I soon had 4 of her friends listening to me and giggling as I was talking. Likely laughing at my many mistakes and silly way of speaking, but all listening to me attentively and even correcting me. Once they saw me dance they laughed much more…

Afterwards, it’s a 10 minute walk back to the night tram so I turn to particularly tricky words in the phrasebook and have a quick glance and put it back in my pocket as I think of a good detailed image association for that word… while I’m walking.

At the end of the day I’ve actually learned quite a lot, even though I wasn’t actually really “studying”. I had an excellent birthday, it was so much fun – I barely even remember actually studying, but I must have done the equivalent of maybe 1-2 hours of sitting down at a desk and in that day I did indeed learn some very important parts of Czech. I even got to practise!

Everyone has loads of free time, but they don’t realize it!

Everyone has time to study. If you ever get in a queue (or line for any American readers) for even 30 seconds then you can learn something if you have any kind of pocketbook or a simple photocopy of a difficult page of grammar in your pocket. If you are driving your car to work then you can put on the CD course. If you are waiting for friends outside a building, or waiting to use a public toilet, or waiting for the next bus, or waiting in the bus, then what do you actually do?

People waste time when they are waiting. Looking around, sending an unimportant text message, reading advertisements, or more often just simply being frustrated that they have to wait. Instead of this waiting being a waste of your time, it can be your study time! All of these little pieces of 30 seconds and 5 minutes add up to several hours each week that you can utilise! Studying a single word, or even a couple, is ideal for compressed time periods like that. You can also study parts of grammar tables. You may need to be in a quite comfortable environment to get some “important” study done, but the bulk of memorising and revising can be done on the move!

I actually have some other ideas for “creating time”, that I’ll share with you another day! If you have more ideas on how to squeeze more time out of the day, or thoughts on my suggestions here, please do share them in the comments :)

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  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    Great suggestions Benny. As well as reading, of course, you can spend the time listening. Instead of watching the Czech news on TV, I download weekly highlights in MP3 format and listen to them in small 5-minute-or-less “snatches” of time throughout the day. Not only does this mean I fit the news into my schedule (rather than the broadcasters’), it also means I can replay the bits I don’t get the first time. And I download the (bilingual!) transcripts for all the MP3s which later on I read through (usually on the toilet to be honest) to check on any words I misheard while listening.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks for your great comment as always Anthony ;) Very important to point out that audio MP3s are also an excellent way to fill the time!
      Most people may prefer this to my phrasebook and photocopied papers. As long as they are using their normally wasted time, that’s what matters :)

    • Rene

      Nice post SplogSplog. Can you give us the link where we can find Czech weekly news highlights in MP3 format, as well as their bilingual transcripts?

      Thanks,
      Rene – a polyglot from Florida, USA

  • http://www.anthonylauder.com/ SplogSplog

    Great suggestions Benny. As well as reading, of course, you can spend the time listening. Instead of watching the Czech news on TV, I download weekly highlights in MP3 format and listen to them in small 5-minute-or-less “snatches” of time throughout the day. Not only does this mean I fit the news into my schedule (rather than the broadcasters’), it also means I can replay the bits I don’t get the first time. And I download the (bilingual!) transcripts for all the MP3s which later on I read through (usually on the toilet to be honest) to check on any words I misheard while listening.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks for your great comment as always Anthony ;) Very important to point out that audio MP3s are also an excellent way to fill the time!
      Most people may prefer this to my phrasebook and photocopied papers. As long as they are using their normally wasted time, that’s what matters :)

    • Rene

      Nice post SplogSplog. Can you give us the link where we can find Czech weekly news highlights in MP3 format, as well as their bilingual transcripts?

      Thanks,
      Rene – a polyglot from Florida, USA

  • Matthew Daly

    I started watching spanish soap operas about 30-60 minutes a day a couple of weeks ago. So far so good. I think it is a great addition to my previous spanish learning tools, reading the phrasebook and listening to podcasts.

  • Matthew Daly

    I started watching spanish soap operas about 30-60 minutes a day a couple of weeks ago. So far so good. I think it is a great addition to my previous spanish learning tools, reading the phrasebook and listening to podcasts.

  • http://italian.blogfa.com/ nastaran

    hi,you have a nice web site.
    I love languages & I am very keen about them.
    but being a polyglot seem to be a bit hard specially if the languages are not your mother tongue.right?

    good luck benny

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Thanks for the good look wishes! I’ll talk about how to be a polyglot later :)

  • http://italian.blogfa.com nastaran

    hi,you have a nice web site.
    I love languages & I am very keen about them.
    but being a polyglot seem to be a bit hard specially if the languages are not your mother tongue.right?

    good luck benny

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Thanks for the good look wishes! I’ll talk about how to be a polyglot later :)

  • http://italian.blogfa.com/ nastaran

    you can listen to your language course on the IPOD when you are doing the washing up or any other house chore.
    downloading the softwares you need in the language you are currently learning to improve your vocabulary.
    change the menu of your cell phone into the target language.
    .-= nastaran´s last blog ..Giro d’italia – Numero 1 =-.

  • http://italian.blogfa.com nastaran

    you can listen to your language course on the IPOD when you are doing the washing up or any other house chore.
    downloading the softwares you need in the language you are currently learning to improve your vocabulary.
    change the menu of your cell phone into the target language.
    .-= nastaran´s last blog ..Giro d’italia – Numero 1 =-.

  • http://www.favouritewords.wordpress.com/ linguaholic

    I tried the “studying in ‘useless free time’”-method a year ago with Dutch and even if I probably learned quite a bit it made me totally stressed out because I started feeling kind of obsessive-compulsive. “OMG half a second without studying, I should be DOING something!” I find it much better to use waiting times for taking a break and relaxing consciously. But to each his own. :) Good blog btw and have fun at the IJK (I suppose that’s what you’re doing in Liberec- ĉu ne?).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Yep, this time-squeezing does involve a little bit of obsessive-compulsiveness :P It depends on how motivated you are; for this 3 month period I prefer to be studying in free minutes than staring into space. After this my next 3-month project will allow me to relax somewhat :)
      Thanks for the good wishes; IJK in Liberec was fantastic, I’ll be posting a video about it soon!

  • http://www.favouritewords.wordpress.com linguaholic

    I tried the “studying in ‘useless free time’”-method a year ago with Dutch and even if I probably learned quite a bit it made me totally stressed out because I started feeling kind of obsessive-compulsive. “OMG half a second without studying, I should be DOING something!” I find it much better to use waiting times for taking a break and relaxing consciously. But to each his own. :) Good blog btw and have fun at the IJK (I suppose that’s what you’re doing in Liberec- ĉu ne?).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Yep, this time-squeezing does involve a little bit of obsessive-compulsiveness :P It depends on how motivated you are; for this 3 month period I prefer to be studying in free minutes than staring into space. After this my next 3-month project will allow me to relax somewhat :)
      Thanks for the good wishes; IJK in Liberec was fantastic, I’ll be posting a video about it soon!

  • cestina

    Just don’t change the menu of your mobile phone into Hungarian when you are bored in a meeting…..I then couldn’t find the way to change it back since Hungarian is one of the most unrecognisable of languages :-(

    A language I could deal with finally emerged after a very great deal of button pressing!

    (I notice that the last two phones I have had offer a far smaller menu of languages….irritating)

    By the way I thought I saw you (IP) on the 119 bus from Dejvicka to the airport last Friday at around lunchtime. But since the person in question had no language aide memoire in his hands but just sat staring into space for the whole journey I guess it can’t have been you :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      I haven’t taken a bus in Prague since I got here, so that definitely wasn’t me :) I’m only ever on trams and metros and if I don’t have a phrasebook and I look like I’m starting into space, I’m actually trying to translate the public transport’s advertisements ;) :P
      Keep looking! I warn you; distinguishing me from all the other foreigners in Prague with Lonely Planet phrasebooks in their hands will be quite hard :D

  • cestina

    Just don’t change the menu of your mobile phone into Hungarian when you are bored in a meeting…..I then couldn’t find the way to change it back since Hungarian is one of the most unrecognisable of languages :-(

    A language I could deal with finally emerged after a very great deal of button pressing!

    (I notice that the last two phones I have had offer a far smaller menu of languages….irritating)

    By the way I thought I saw you (IP) on the 119 bus from Dejvicka to the airport last Friday at around lunchtime. But since the person in question had no language aide memoire in his hands but just sat staring into space for the whole journey I guess it can’t have been you :-)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      I haven’t taken a bus in Prague since I got here, so that definitely wasn’t me :) I’m only ever on trams and metros and if I don’t have a phrasebook and I look like I’m starting into space, I’m actually trying to translate the public transport’s advertisements ;) :P
      Keep looking! I warn you; distinguishing me from all the other foreigners in Prague with Lonely Planet phrasebooks in their hands will be quite hard :D

  • Rene

    Can anyone post a link to some website where I can get a summary of the news in Czech in MP3 format?

    Thanks!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ benny

      Sorry no-one has responded yet Rene. If you install itunes you can subscribe to several stations that are in Czech (in downloading them you can listen to them even if you don’t have an iPod). Otherwise if you do a search for Czech news podcast, and you’ll see a few options!
      Best of luck!!

  • Rene

    Can anyone post a link to some website where I can get a summary of the news in Czech in MP3 format?

    Thanks!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com benny

      Sorry no-one has responded yet Rene. If you install itunes you can subscribe to several stations that are in Czech (in downloading them you can listen to them even if you don’t have an iPod). Otherwise if you do a search for Czech news podcast, and you’ll see a few options!
      Best of luck!!

  • Vessen

    Hello Benny. I came across your blog a few weeks a ago and I’ve really been enjoying it since becoming a polyglot has been one of my goals for a while now. This post is the one I’ve found most useful.
    Last summer when I went to an amusement park with some friends I brought along a list of the words I was studying in Arabic. I figured that if the line was an hour long for each roller coaster I could get more studying time in than I normally do in a day, although my friends thought it was a little strange.
    A way I have used to get more time are to see what tasks I can do in the language I’m learning. If I ever have to write anything that no one else will read I write it in French.

  • Vessen

    Hello Benny. I came across your blog a few weeks a ago and I’ve really been enjoying it since becoming a polyglot has been one of my goals for a while now. This post is the one I’ve found most useful.
    Last summer when I went to an amusement park with some friends I brought along a list of the words I was studying in Arabic. I figured that if the line was an hour long for each roller coaster I could get more studying time in than I normally do in a day, although my friends thought it was a little strange.
    A way I have used to get more time are to see what tasks I can do in the language I’m learning. If I ever have to write anything that no one else will read I write it in French.

  • http://arsgeorendi.blogspot.com/ Georgina

    Hola. He estado leyendo varios de tus posts y pienso que están llenos de cosas útiles para gente como yo que quiere aprender muchos idiomas. Yo ya me había dado cuenta de que perdemos mucho tiempo en las filas y ese tipo de cosas, pero lo que hago es leer libros. Lo malo es que como son periodos de tiempo muy cortos, se lee una línea que se entiende a la mitad y no funciona. Pero las ideas que escribiste son geniales. Las fotocopias no pesan, no estorban… son perfectas. Muchas gracias y muchas felicidades por tu blog. Tienes una lectora más. Saludos desde México.

  • http://arsgeorendi.blogspot.com Georgina

    Hola. He estado leyendo varios de tus posts y pienso que están llenos de cosas útiles para gente como yo que quiere aprender muchos idiomas. Yo ya me había dado cuenta de que perdemos mucho tiempo en las filas y ese tipo de cosas, pero lo que hago es leer libros. Lo malo es que como son periodos de tiempo muy cortos, se lee una línea que se entiende a la mitad y no funciona. Pero las ideas que escribiste son geniales. Las fotocopias no pesan, no estorban… son perfectas. Muchas gracias y muchas felicidades por tu blog. Tienes una lectora más. Saludos desde México.

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ GlobalButterfly

    I've uploaded language podcasts to my itouch and listen to them every chance I get, helps a lot! :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_KCTB5GPANPH5I2HIV6WKLUX3PE Ketutar

    “which here in Prague has actually mostly been in French and Portuguese”' Ajabaja, as they say in Sweden. Bad boy, bad, bad, bad!
    It's not only English you need to stop talking, it's EVERY LANGUAGE THAT IS NOT THE ONE YOU ARE TRYING TO LEARN! Sure, it was your birthday, and all that, but what's the darn difference in speaking in French with your French-speaking friends and speaking in English with your English-speaking friends, when you are actually trying to learn Czech and should be speaking Czech with your Czech-speaking friends?
    No wonder you found a new way of not learning to speak a new language fluently in three months. Or, let's say, you proved that the old way of not learning a new language is still strong and valid :-D

  • Lazarusomega2000

    Do you have any recommendations for learning a non-phonetic pictographic language such as Chinese? I had great difficulty with this language (and still do) because when you are conditioned to look at things phonetically it’s hard to break those kinds of thought-habits.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m afraid I can’t be of too much use on that, since I have not learned any Chinese yet. I’ve seen lots of interesting mnemonics online that I’ll definitely be using whenever I get to Chinese :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Very clever! :) Glad you found me via grammar girl! I met her in person, she’s really nice!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Very clever! :) Glad you found me via grammar girl! I met her in person, she’s really nice!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aristotelis-Koskinas/1282087287 Aristotelis Koskinas

    My wife (a former English teacher) always said to her students: get a native boyfriend/girlfriend. She swears this is the best and fastest way to learn a foreign language. 
    Despite that, she gets huffed up when I mention finding a spanish girlfriend to help me improve my spanish. The duplicity of women…

  • Kathryn

    “I suppose the more you have to do, the more you learn to organize and concentrate—or else get fragmented into bits. I have learned to use my ‘ten minutes’. I once thought it was not worth sitting down for a time as short as that; now I know differently and, if I have ten minutes, I use them, even if they bring only two lines, and it keeps the book alive.” ~ Rumer Godden, A House with Four Rooms

  • Julya

    Thank you for your suggestion and its totally true. I am international student in abroad. Everyday I’ve waste my time to read social media sites that are never give me anything. its just wasting my time. I wanna change my this bad habit right now and spend my time to do efficient things such as learning new language, improving my knowledge and doing workout. Good luck