21 ways to work, socialise & sleep well, maintain inbox 0 with 400+ emails, AND intensively learn a language all in a day! Time hacking 2.0

This video is part two of how my typical day folds out. I try to explain (in Arabic, with subtitles in English, Arabic and Portuguese) how things go after my 8-9AM spoken lesson. It’s a short video, so this very detailed blog post describes the components of my busy day in much greater detail!

This is also the last video which will be entirely scripted. The next one will be my one month point and be made up entirely of a spontaneous conversation with a native.

There has been a lot of confusion from some people for what I do for a living. I like to joke at times when asked and say “I’m an ostrich farmer” or “I’m a professional assassin, so don’t ask too many questions!” but the truth is that I’m a professional language hacker. I explained how I got into that in this post.

While I’d love to say that this means that I’m one of those bloggers with an automatic stream of income that lets me do whatever I want all the time and literally spend every single second focused on my language projects, this simply isn’t the case.

Blog posts like this 8,000 word one can sometimes take me days to write, aspects of redesigning and maintaining the site behind the scenes can be an epic amount of work, and I find it hilarious when people comment on my Youtube channel suggesting that I “don’t work” so I have it easier than they do to spend all my time focused entirely on learning a language.

You can’t imagine the amount of work required to prepare a typical video, pick the right locations, post-recording edit it, add in graphical introductions and previews to other videos, synch the sound, upload subtitles in various languages, and actually record the video itself with my equipment set up the right way.

This is very different to sitting in front of my webcam, recording a monologue and then instantly uploading it, which you see a lot of from other Youtubers. That’s fine for them, I just prefer to upload more professional looking videos.

So much work/emails/blogging to handle

And the emails and comments!! Yikes!

I get over four hundred emails a day, and another hundred or so comments on my blog posts, Youtube channel, Facebook page, twitter @s. Some of the emails may be for interview requests (here’s a recent one I did entirely in Irish on beo.ie for instance), which in themselves will take up a lot of time, and others are sometimes really long emails in various languages that take time just to read.

I could ignore all this to focus just on my language learning project, but I love making cool and sharable videos, writing blog posts, engaging with readers, hearing their stories, and hopefully inspiring a few people to learn a new language. As well as this, on a more practical level, I have to make sure that my site and audience continues to grow so that I can keep the site completely 100% advertisement and sponsorship free, which is quite rare for any site.

The sheer number of visitors the site gets means that I don’t have to make a big fuss about my Speak from day 1 package and people find it eventually if they need to, and at least one person does each day, which covers my expenses, which I don’t have a lot of considering I don’t own or buy much stuff.

Even though sales of that product are handled automatically, I hope you can see that simply being an active blogger in itself is a huge amount of work! This can require up to eight hours of my time per day, including weekends. Yes, I have to work and learn a language at the same time too! This is time that I’m not speaking or learning Arabic, so it would seem that all hope is lost for investing serious time into learning my language intensively, right?

Not quite ;) I can now share 21 hacks I apply every single day, to make sure that I can stay on top of all of this and still have plenty of time to invest entirely into learning the language, as well as have an actual social life!

Squeezing more hours out of the day:

1. Get up early

If you watch part one of the video of my typical day, you’ll see that my day begins at 5:30AM. I have found that the later I get up, the less time I “feel” I have, so I skip important things like eating well, doing exercise, clearing “less essential” tasks and I ultimately end up less focused and work less efficiently.

When you get a bunch of things done well before 8AM you have the momentum to keep at it all day long. This is especially important if you have to work based on someone else’s schedule.

2. Attempt poly- or biphasic sleep

The idea that we “need” eight hours of sleep per night is simply wrong.

The reason that we sleep in one large block at night is mostly because of the industrial revolution creating something akin to the 9-5 lifestyle, where you need to be in work mode for the majority of the day and simply can’t sleep at any time during this period. What we did before this, was what most animals do, and that’s to sleep more than one times a day.

When taken to the extreme, the “Überman” sleep pattern can give you a total of twenty two conscious hours per day! Leonardo Da Vinci himself applied something similar, to give him more time to work on his art and experiments. I tried this myself once, but found that it was far too out of synch with society to be useful.

Instead, I go for biphasic sleep, better known as siestas, which I wrote about in great detail here. So, in the afternoon I have a 20 minute power-nap, and this doesn’t inconvenience my day at all. I even did this while working in full-time jobs, during my one hour lunch break.

Those 20 minutes ultimately mean that I can comfortably sleep for about 5 hours every night and feel totally well rested the entire day! So that’s immediately about 18.5 hours of conscious time per day to play around with – those extra 2.5 hours a day add up fast! As you can see in today’s video, it also means that I get to stay up late, which helps a lot for a good social life!

3. Skip coffee and other drugs and get high on adrenaline instead

I don’t drink alcohol and this changes everything. It means I can go out on the town and not have my morning consumed by a hang-over the next day. It’s also safer, and lets me lucidly recall how much fun I had, and only make a fool out of myself in ways that I won’t regret the next day.

And I don’t need to come up with nonsense logic that I can’t have fun or speak a language without beer’s permission.

And the same goes for coffee. So many Americans drink several cups a day! I’ve got some friends who actually get jittery if they don’t have their morning cup. This dependence means that whenever you don’t have access to it your focus is completely shot and you can’t work or think straight.

Getting more hours in the day isn’t just about squeezing them out by doing things more efficiently, but also by taking the hours you are working or studying and making those count more. The highs you get on coffee alcohol, tobacco and other things tend to give you a significant low afterwards too. And this is as well as costing you a LOT of money.

I prefer to get my highs from life. When out on the town, I go “social skydiving” and talk to complete strangers as much as I can, in as many ways as I can, with no BS shy excuses. I like to dance, sing and appreciate all the wonderful free things in life without messing with my body’s chemistry too much. This means I can stay focused even if the shops are closed and I can’t get my fix.

4. Exercise and eat well

People are starting to accept that exercise does indeed improve brain activity. As you can see in the video, I have a jog and try to do other exercise every day in the morning if I can.

Another benefit is that I find that I’m a lot less distracted and can sit still after dispelling a little energy on the jog. Most of my work on the blog and studying requires sitting down, so using my muscles before that means that I do need to recover and won’t be getting up every few minutes to distract myself with something pointless.

For some great tips on exercising well, check out Nerd Fitness.

The same goes for eating well of course. I didn’t eat so well while travelling in China and the states this year, especially since it’s hard to rent an affordable place in some countries that even has a kitchen, but luckily in Brazil it’s very easy to get access to lots of wholesome affordable vegetarian food and cook at home too.

By fueling your body well, you can work and focus better.

How I get to Inbox zero twice per day

5. Switch to Gmail and activate filters

If you are on any email other than Gmail, then it’s no wonder you are dealing with email overload! There are several reasons to switch over and you don’t have to tell your friends you’ve changed your email, since you can have gmail download it from the old address for you.

One that I especially like is that Gmail has an option to create complex filters. So out of the 400 emails I get, I can immediately reduce this to just 80 that require my attention, thanks to some filters I’ve set up, such as the following ones:

  • Any email that is sent in bulk to many people goes to a special folder that I clear about three times a week when I’ve time. It never makes it to the inbox, which is seen as a bigger priority since people have written to me directly. Exceptions are made for flight details and other essentials or more urgent email lists
  • Obvious spam that is sent just to you not picked up by the system. As a blogger, I get at least five or six a day trying to sell me on some sleazy SEO (Sales Engine Optimization) tactics to get me on “page one of Google”. I have a list of words that I see often that tell me that this is likely going to be spam, and send it to a special filter that I’ll check once or twice a week to clear. This very simply includes the term “SEO”, so I don’t recommend you have it in your signature if you write an email to me ;) Note that “seo” is also the Irish word for this, so I’ve added in exceptions for certain common Irish words too.
  • Sometimes people like arguing with me via email. If I’ve tried to talk to them a couple of times and I can see they are only interested in wasting my time or sending aggro my way, their email or IP address gets its own filter to be automatically set as read and archived, so I don’t get annoyed by it any more.
  • Any email with Fwd or similar in the title tends to be stupid jokes that I don’t want to read. These go to another folder to be looked at with low priority.
  • Social media notifications, like messages on Facebook, someone commenting on a Youtube video, each get their own filter, and never go to the inbox. Opening these tends to take me away from the Gmail window which is a huge distraction already, so I have a work session specifically for social media follow-ups.

This means that even though I get over 400 emails a day, I’ll only actually see about 80-150 each day that make it to the inbox. There are lots of great ways to make sure I can handle these too!

6. Send AND archive button

Another cool thing about Gmail is the amount of plugins and extra features that you can add to it to make your job easier. One such option if you go into labs is the “Send and archive” button.

After I’ve replied to an email, then effectively, it should be removed from my inbox, as I’ve “dealt” with it. This button makes that process automatic. I never use the “send” button, only the “send and archive”, so nothing hangs around the inbox for long.

7. ONE inbox and one inbox only

I have done everything I can to make sure that all the messages that I can handle that come from the entire world, end up in that one inbox (or at least a filter) in Gmail.

So rather than invite people to message me in a host of ways by following a trillion people on twitter and getting DMs, I only follow five people on twitter, and check @s at a specific time each day.

I nuked my far too large amount of “friends” on Facebook, and got rid of people I bumped into once or twice or who I no longer talk to. The only people who can email me such that it gets into my Facebook inbox are my close friends and family – and I only have 70 of them, not 500, not 1000. I don’t accept friend requests from anyone I haven’t met several times in person because of this, and if a stranger messages me through my personal Facebook, then I will leave it in the “other mail” and simply not reply (I do specifically say on the public description on my Facebook page not to message me via that page).

You also can’t message me privately on my Facebook brand page, so I can handle wall posts as social media time and not email time. Same with Youtube – private messages have been turned off. And when I set up a new profile anywhere, such as italki this year, the first thing I do is disable private messaging and chat feautres. I don’t want to check a dozen inboxes every day, just one.

8. Give people other options on the contact-me form

This means that when people want to get in touch with me, they can only 1. Reply to the emails sent after signing up to the Language Hacking League email list or 2. Use this form.

Out of all the emails I get, about 15-20 of them are asking me the same questions day in and day out. So when this happens enough, I go back to the form and add in a notice to warn people before they see the form so they don’t send that same message. No advertisement requests on the blog, links to posts that have Frequently Asked Questions they are likely to be asking and so on.

This precursor immediately reduced the amount of the messages I’d get that I’d be sending the same answer to over and over.

I also suggest that they use the forum if it’s a “How do I learn a language” style question, since I simply cannot sit down and answer a single email for hours explaining my language learning approach – people are welcome to ask the community or search my site, or watch the TEDx talk to get all my secrets.

9. Canned replies for repeated questions

Sometimes it’s a question that I can’t really warn them in advance with a quick link on the contact-me form, but it’s still something that I get day in and day out. The biggest one by far is a specific question that I answer in a specific post, that they may not have found by using the search tool on my site.

In this case, I have a template set up to thank them for the question and a space to paste in a link to the relevant post. I was even getting enough of these to merit creating a template one for Spanish and French! This way I only have to activate the canned reply, paste the appropriate link in, and the email is dealt with within seconds.

10. See who’s writing to you or if they wrote to you before, with Rapportive

Now, the one major catch about using email compared to social media platforms like twitter, Facebook, Youtube and so on, is you don’t know anything about that person apart from their name – not even what they look like!

When dealing with languages where even saying “you” requires that you know if you are writing to a boy or a girl and I can’t really tell that from their name, and just in general to make my email experience much more personal so I feel like I’m writing to real human beings, it’s nice to see a nice photo and any other info about that person.

With this in mind, I have the plugin Rapportive installed. This searches social media platforms for their email address and returns what it can – usually a Facebook photo, and sometimes even a few status updates. I find this helps me get some context for who I’m writing to.

Before this, if I was really confused, I’d take the time to copy and paste their email and enter it into a search in Facebook, but now it’s just sitting there for me, saving me some time.

It also gives me the context of if this person has emailed me before. I get so many emails, that it’s impossible to keep track and if I write to someone like it’s the first time they ever emailed me, but they have done so already, then I can be much more helpful in not repeating myself. All their previous emails are linked to in the side.

11. Add the time dimension to your emails with Boomerang and guarantee inbox zero every day

My favourite plugin by far for Gmail is boomerang. This allows me to 1. Send an email later 2. Have emails returned to me later and 3. Bring an email back to me if the recipient doesn’t reply by a certain time.

This has been such a huge help to me! For sending emails later, consider this:

Since a lot of emails that I get might be short and require a short answer, if I reply immediately simply to get it out of the inbox, then that person sees me as a little too available. I’ve found that more often than not they’ll reply back again immediately, with yet another question and it turns into a chat, which I really don’t have time for, and that person stays fixed in my inbox way too long.

Instead, I’ll reply immediately, but set the email to be sent in two days time. This shows the person that I’m a bit busy and can’t reply to such questions so quickly, but they still get their answer and most importantly, I get their message out of my inbox!

Only urgent messages get an instant reply – such as if someone is having trouble downloading the Language Hacking Guide. Generally, you won’t hear from me a for a few days. One way this happens is because of the above of me replying instantly, but not sending it until later.

Another way is that I see the email is not something that I can handle right now, but don’t want it sitting in my inbox nagging me. So I set it to “boomerang” back to my inbox at a time when I can handle it. For example, if someone sends me a monstrously long email, I’m definitely not going to read it as soon as I see it. I’ll boomerang it back to Tuesday, when I set aside time specifically to read long emails.

Or if someone send me a link (which I prefer they don’t – generally I prefer that people tweet me links; it’s the best way for me to see it quicker), I’ll boomerang it to Wednesday, when I set aside time to look at interesting links sent my way. This is sort of like pressing the Snooze button on your email. The important thing is that it’s OUT of my inbox, and will come back to me specifically when I know I can deal with it.

Finally, I don’t really want to remember to message people back if it’s something important, as I’ll probably forget it quickly. So in cases where I need a reply for whatever reason, I set the message to boomerang back to me later if they don’t reply, so I can follow up. If they do reply before this, that boomerang is cancelled.

This means that I can effectively go through each email and either send and archive, reply to be boomeranged later (and archive), archive if it doesn’t require my reply, or create a new filter if that email never should have reached my inbox.

In this way, no matter what, I’ll reach inbox zero in each session, despite the huge amount of emails I get. And I do this twice a day too! Morning and evening :)

Working more efficiently

12. Task based day

OK, so I’ve handled my inbox overload and can get to the main tasks of the day.

The problem is that I have quite a lot to do! As I said, I might have a long blog post to write (like this one), videos to edit, website maintenance to carry out, an interview to write or Skype, or hundreds of messages on social media to catch up on. Without an effective time management system, these would consume my day and I’ve no time left to learn the language!

I tried a few things to get on top of these, such as timetabling out my day with what I should be doing at each hour, but I found that when I ran into problems at any point, the whole day was thrown off balance.

What has worked better for me, has been setting up a to-do list of precisely everything that I need to do that day and deciding approximately how much time it will require.

For this, I use Astrid, which is a web-based app and Android/Apple one. I create the timetable on my computer and check it off on my Android phone or iPad as the task is completed, which all synch between one another.

It’s important to create a plan of action at the start of the day, rather than wing it. This way you don’t have anything important getting ignored – the big essential things tend to get prioritised to be done earlier in the day, so it’s OK if less essential tasks get pushed to the next day.

13. Timeboxing, pomodoro style!

Now, when it’s time to do the actual tasks, I will not just sit down and do it until I’m done. If it takes a long time then I’d get bored and distracted after a while and it will ultimately take even longer.

One technique that has worked wonders for me is the pomodoro technique.

It very simply involves working in 25 minute blocks, followed by a 5 minute break. Simple as that.

This simplicity has meant that I don’t get distracted and try to do other things at the same time. 25 minutes is a short enough period that something can get 100% of my undivided attention, but still make a serious influence to the task at hand, but not long enough to make you get too bored with it.

Once my kitchen timer or digital timer rings/beeps, then even if I’m mid-sentence, I’ll stand up from my laptop or put down the book and do something relaxing. Maybe stare out the window at some birds, or turn on some music to listen to a song I like, or do some busy work like tidy up or do the dishes, which can actually be relaxing when you are otherwise focused on something so taxing.

And then my five minutes are up and I’m back into it again.

That 10 minutes off per hour has meant that the remaining 50 minutes are a magnitude of times more efficient, and I can keep up this efficient work for the majority of the day.

I’m absolutely 100% focused because I know the entire time that I’m never far away from a break. Whenever I’m working on something my by own – whether it’s writing a blog post like this, studying, doing flashcards or anything else. It always gets timeboxed into a 25 minute segment.

Any basic timer can do this for you – you have it on your watches or phones or alarm clocks. I personally like to have a large digital display within my view counting down to remind me of the time pressure. There are also plenty of apps and programs that cater specifically to this particular time segmentation if you search for “pomodoro” for your computer or smartphone system.

14. Non-distracting work environment

When there are a million things going on around you, it’s really hard to keep that focus. Turn OFF all notifications for text messages, chat messages, new email notifications, tweets and anything else that beeps or vibrates away your attention.

As I mentioned above, when I’m in email-mode, I absolutely will not leave the Gmail window and get distracted by random links. I have a separate working session for investigating links. And I never check Facebook unless I am in a dedicated Facebook session, so it gets its own filter in Gmail too, as Facebook has some of the greatest potential for distractions.

And in the real world, try to make the physical space you work in way less distracting. When I was in Rio, I did not have a very efficient working week. The apartment I was in had such a nice view that I was constantly distracted by it. Here in Belo Horizonte I’m surrounded by dull buildings and my working space is in a corner in my apartment where I’m only looking at the wall. Boring, but much more ideal to work in.

15. Block the leeches

When you work on a computer connected to the Internet, there are so many things happening that your attention can get grabbed in any direction away from your work – especially to sites like Facebook, Reddit or some of your other favourite pages.

That’s why I highly recommend you install a plugin on your browser that lets you set these websites as inaccessible during work periods. I like Leechblock for Firefox and StayFocusd for Chrome. Of course, having excellent self control is the ideal, but these plugins let you learn that easier. I don’t even use them any more because they helped “train” me so well in the past.

And sometimes the leeches for your time can be actual people. In my case, one side-effect of getting so much traffic is that I get a decent amount of trolling from 40 year old virgins who live in their parents’ basements. I’ll almost always engage with people at first and give them the benefit of the doubt, and welcome mature discourse when someone is clearly doing it with an open mind, but some people really do have nothing but a bone to pick.

If their first message is filled with insults then they’ll immediately get added to my block list, and if they are simply being a little too blunt and disrespectful over time then after three or four attempts, I really can’t be giving them my undivided attention so I turn them off. I wasted so much time unnecessarily early this year with people wanting to drag me down when I was learning Chinese.

To this day, I still don’t get this obsession with trolling. I’d rather focus on making my life go as well as it can, than spend my day trying to tear everyone else down and lecture them from my anonymous Internet cave.

This time, most of my hate is coming from backward uneducated middle America with comments about me supporting no-women’s-rights and terrorism… because I’m learning Egyptian Arabic. You can guess how much I’m interested in entertaining that dialogue! [Block and forget] Problem solved, and no stress.

Think about it seriously – if anything or anyone is dragging you down in life then if there is a possibility of pressing an off switch, or telling the person face to face to go take a long walk off a short pier, or at least peacefully agree to disagree, then do it and move on.

16. Squeeze every spare second out of your day

When people tell me they have no time, I have to laugh, because they clearly have the time to complain about it :)

There are a host of ways you can kill the time-suckers and use the empty-hours in your day more efficiently. I wrote more about it here.

17. Outsource and get help for things someone else can do

Now, out of everything that I might do on a given day, there are actually quite a few things that I don’t need to personally be doing myself. Answering emails, actually studying and speaking the language, and writing these blog posts are things I must do myself.

But looking at my day and the amount of hours poured into each thing, I found that there were some tasks that didn’t require me personally to do them, and that someone else could do, but that were taking up a lot of my time.

You may remember a few weeks ago when I announced this project, that I ran a promotion for people to get an extra if they bought the Speak From Day 1 package? These extra earnings weren’t so I could go Mitt Romney style and hire a masseuse on a yacht, or buy a Rolex watch, first class flight or anything of the sort. That extra boost was so that I could invest that money into giving me more time.

I’ve hired a PA before for very specific tasks, but this time I hired one for the duration of this project to help me with things that would clear up my time. Luckily what I made during the promotion was enough to hire him for a few hours a week for the entirety of the 3 months.

For example, subtitling my videos was always such a chore. I’d have to re-listen several times, make a note of the transcript, translate it, and then start over and get the timing of the captions just right for the subtitles file. It would typically take 20 times longer than the length of the video to get that file – so a three minute video could take an hour to caption in two languages. Some of my videos in this project are already over ten minutes long.

So this is work for my PA! He is from Egypt, so he can caption the videos once I start interviewing people too, and he speaks English, so he can also translate those captions!

He is also the one making all my Anki decks for me! I wrote a detailed email explaining how it works, and now all I need to do is send him the list of words in English, and he will translate them to Arabic, apply romanized script so I can learn them faster and speak the words aloud as audio, so I can hear these while studying. Even forgetting adding the audio, creating these decks with good translations on a regular basis would take me a lot of time that could be spending actually learning the language.

If anything comes up that someone else may be able to do for me, then I consider outsourcing if it’s practical and affordable. Unfortunately, the list of ways I can clear up my day like this is very small (so I definitely can’t have a four hour workweek like the guy that gave me this idea), but luckily I know that what I do outsource is saving me a LOT of time each week. The resources I use to find these people are odesk and elance [aff links] for quality work, and fiverr.com for quick tasks that I’d pay $5 for.

I still need to send a lot of emails to explain the task and find the right people, but ultimately it’s time and money well spent.

Learning a language more efficiently

Finally, we’re on to what it’s all about right now for me! Despite the above five thousand words worth of things trying to grab my attention during the day, I still need to put some serious time into learning Arabic and progressing towards what will ideally be fluency by December 18th.

Thanks to working more efficiently, as described above, even though I have a LOT of work to do during the day, I’ll still have plenty of time to focus just on the language.

I apply a similar approach and treat it just as I would treat any work. As above, I block out distractions, timeblock a study or learning session into a 25 minute block, and focus on doing one thing at a time.

18. Multi-tasking is for people who don’t give a sh*t

Sorry to be so blunt here, but if you are so lazy as to only invest serious time into “learning” your language, by having it on in the background as noise while you do something else, then you will never get anywhere with the language, and don’t deserve to.

When studying, give what you are learning your 100% undivided attention. As shown in the video above, I am listening to audio, but I’m taking notes and staying focused to try and make out the words.

The only exception would be when doing something that really requires no brain power, such as doing the dishes or going for a leisurely walk somewhere familiar etc. Although even here I wouldn’t listen to podcasts myself, as I like to make notes if I can.

I know a lot of people get effective study time done while doing chores though. But while driving your car is not quite the same – the attention required to push an iron isn’t quite the same as what is required to control a vehicle than can run over puppies. You have to draw the line somewhere – is someone honking their horn at you going to drag you away from your studies every couple of minutes?

Certainly, having something on at this time is “better than nothing”, but don’t kid yourself that it’s making a huge difference. Make real dedicated learning time throughout your day. Don’t multitask with anything else that requires any sort of attention.

19. Fill those empty moments with flashcard studying

The point a little above about finding more time throughout the day can be taken advantage of in language learning if you have a smartphone or iPod using the Anki app (for iPhone, for Android, and for everyone else). In the elevator, you can review another two words. While stuck in a supermarket line, you can learn those essential phrases, and so on.

Anki Flashcarding is a major part of my study day, since vocabulary and phrases (both producing them and recognizing them) are ultimately what will get me into conversations.

Rather than use generic ones, I have created decks based specifically on what I am most likely to talk about. Generic word lists are usually based on word frequencies in newspapers, and as such I find them to be incredibly unhelpful for beginner language learners and the kinds of conversations they are more likely to have.

I write out the words I’m likely to say, get them translated and spoken aloud by my PA as described above, and study those lists. Then in my spoken sessions, I see what specifically is missing and add those new words to my next list to be studied.

And when I get around to grammar, that is also dealt with flashcard style. Grammar needs to be covered at the right time and place, not at the very start. Right now the only grammar I’m concerning myself with, is the kind that without it my conversations are hindered a bit too much.

So while it was OK to use any version of a verb before, I’ve just added a new deck with basic conjugations to be learned. It won’t apply to all verbs, but it will get me a little bit further into expressing what I need. I will continue to accept speaking incorrectly as OK for the moment, and will add more grammar only as it is needed.

Since I find that I can focus on flashcard studying while walking slowly (since I may put the phone down for a second to think of a good image association for the word and use my environment for inspiration), and I like to walk to get around as much as possible, I actually study while walking! You can even see me apply that in this video because I have an app that shows me where I’m going, by making the screen “transparent” with the back camera, so I won’t bump into people.

20. It has to be all building up to actually speaking

Speak from day 1, seriously!!!

As you’ll have seen in the previous video, I have a spoken session first thing in the morning at 8AM to get me into the speaking flow, and remind me what I need to work on, and then another one in the evening to work towards.

If your study sessions are for something specific that you can apply in your next spoken session, you will be amazed at how quickly you progress. It’s like that last-minute-exam pressure all the time. We all learn the best the hours just before the exam – the same goes with before an upcoming spoken session. I make my “exam” daily, and then I HAVE to keep improving.

21. Stay sane and don’t forget to have a life!

The last thing and probably the most important one to make sure you stay focused and work well, is to let your hair down and go out and have some fun at least a few times a week. You’ve earned it!

I found that focusing too much on the project was a mistake with Chinese, and the stress from not relaxing more meant that I reached saturation point and couldn’t focus at all any more!

This time I’ve corrected that and every single day I meet up with Brazilians for lunch or dinner to hang out and talk about anything but language learning ;) And once or twice a week I’ll go out for the entire evening and dance, flirt with cute girls, make new friends and do whatever else that makes me remember that I’m human and not an Arabic learning and blogging robot.

I pick these relaxing times specifically as social occasions, to make sure that they are definitely relaxing.

If relaxing is just watching TV, or lounging away the evening on Youtube, then if after it you don’t feel energized about life, I’d say it’s done more damage than good. An evening out (or in…) with friends and fun people can be just what the doctor ordered and make sure that you’ve recharged your batteries for another efficient working day.

It’s not all about work after all – why work so hard if you aren’t going to reap the benefits and appreciate that you are a healthy person with friends that want to support you and help you? All of this work with Arabic for me, is so that ultimately I can have the kind of friends in Egypt that I have here in Brazil.

For me, it’s all about the people. The more efficiently I can work during my day, then the less distractions I have from that work when it’s time to socialize!

Hopefully these 21 suggestions can help you along to work and have fun more efficiently. Let me know your comments below, and if you liked the post, please do share it on Facebook!



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  • Lars

    Wow, danke! Du inspirierst mich. Ich werde deine Tipps auf mein Studium anwenden :) Besonders die Pomodoro-Technik gefällt mir! Danke Danke Danke!!
    Viele Grüße aus Deutschland und viel Erfolg noch beim Lernen.

  • http://twitter.com/bleakgh Andrew Moorehead

    Good post. Is Anki like Byki, or does it cost money?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Anki is much more versatile than Byki. It’s completely free. If you have an iPhone, jailbreak it, for a legit free version, or pay if you like iOS as restricted as it comes. On Android Ankidroid is there for free and on computers it’s for free. See Anki’s own website for more info.

    • NoelEmerald

      Hi Andrew! Anki is a flashcard app like Byki, but there is where the similarities end. Anki presents flashcards to you, and based on how well you have learned the material on the flashcard, it will review that flashcard again sooner or later; The better you know the material presented on the card, the longer the amount of time before you’ll see that card again, just to remind you.
      It’s honestly one of the most important programs I use for language learning. the desktop app is free and can be downloaded at
      If you want the mobile version then it depends. The Android version is free and can be found on Android Market (or Google Play… whatever they call it now), and the iPhone app costs (a ridiculous) €15. Worth the money, but extremely unfair to iOS users in my opinion!

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        Actually, Anki is completely free on iOS *if you jailbreak it*. This is a legit download via Cydia.

        How anybody can use iOS without jailbreaking it is beyond me. It’s the only thing that makes that operating system barely tolerable for me, and I can’t stand the inflexibility otherwise. But if people are concerned with their contracts or whatever, then they can skip a few Cappuccinos.

        • NoelEmerald

          Quite true! And even my iPhone is Jailbroken, so perhaps I should have mentioned! :”)
          I like iOS, somehow I prefer it to Android, Jailbroken or otherwise! But I digress, Apples and Oranges! :)

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    Great article Benny, I love hearing about how your run your biz and life here… heading on a trip to Europe shortly and will be picking up a copy of your speak from day 1 course to prepare. Thanks for all your hard work!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Best of luck in Europe Dan! I’ll only be there around Christmas en route to Egypt in January, but I’m sure our paths will cross somehow again soon!

  • http://twitter.com/EverywhereTrip Gary Arndt

    I’d write a similar article about how I manage my time, but I’m horrible at it and I’d probably end up getting distracted by something on Hulu.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Looks like this is a job for Leechblock!

  • Kyle

    You have just inspired me to get off the Internet and study Mandarin, and for that, I am thankful. I don’t care if what you’re doing is real work or not, it’s damn helpful. 谢谢你!

  • Gwilym James

    This is a really great blog post filled with lots of really interesting links. Boomerang for gmail is exactly what i’ve been looking for. And i know how long it takes to write a post, and especially how long it takes to edit movies. Did your fancy new camera zoom in/out by itself? I’m looking into the pomodoro technique too.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      You can see in my hand that I have a remote control. So I was controlling the zoom. Needed to be a little better prepared in future because I left it zoomed in to a bad spot for a couple of seconds.

      Best of luck with Boomerand and pomodoro!

  • MidlifeSinglemum

    There are some fantastic guidelines here. There are several that I’m going to implement straight away. The one about delaying your reply to emails so as not to seem too available and avoid a chat situation is especially insightful. Thanks for this.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Glad to be of help :)

  • Bram Schoenmakers

    Did you consider using Priority Inbox in Gmail? Google can also assist you with classifying mails which may be important to you.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I tried it, and found it didn’t do the trick for me. I get such varied emails, most of the time from new people, that it categorized emails as non-priority that I viewed as a little bit more important.

      I prefer my current system – just one inbox that I can go through and clear twice a day. The priority is to keep it empty, not to grade the emails.

  • MCM

    Good blog – very useful. I love meeting with native speakers to practice, its the sitting down and actually putting in the work beforehand I have to sort out! I think I will try the timer method. Quick question – what about TV in the target language? Studying or wasting time?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I personally view TV as incredibly passive, but if you were to go about it as I showed myself doing with the podcast – by taking notes and pausing and going back to tricky parts, until you understood as much as possible, it could be a very helpful session.

      Otherwise the likes of watching the news and so on are more appropriate for intermediate level and up – also good practice if you are truly focused.

      I learned some Spanish from soap operas, but it was a very slow process and inefficient use of time from an intensity point of view. I’m just not much of a fan of TV any more, but I’m sure others get use out of it, and perhaps some use it efficiently enough to make it a really worthwhile study tool.

  • http://www.zoomis.com/ Daman Bahner

    Great post, is there a place you recommend for sharing of Anki cards?

    • Nicholas

      Yeah, an answer for this would be great. I mostly make my own cards, but have downloaded a couple of decks from the built-in “download” function of anki. I hadn’t thought of any other way besides receiving the .anki file from friends. A better selection would definitely help find some good ones.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        The download function of Anki IS the public database, where everyone shares decks they’ve made. You won’t find a better selection than that one.

        I don’t use it SO much myself – and prefer to have decks made for what I specifically want to learn.

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Wow, fantastic write-up, I was surprised to see the Pomodoro technique mentioned, I don’t recall you mentioning it before, though it’s entirely possible that you did and you’re who I learned it from when I first came across it about a year ago–have you mentioned it before?

    Love the Pomodoro technique, it’s beautiful simplicity, anyone not familiar with it should look it up, it will literally take you all of 15 seconds to understand it and learn how to do it, it’s extraordinarily simple and just as effective.

    I agree on outsourcing, I can’t wait until I can actually afford to do that :D

    Unlike some people, my feelings on it are: the less actual work I have to do, the better. If I could outsource 99.9% of the real “work” I do everyday, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I like what I do, it beats the hell out of the great majority of jobs out there, but I don’t like it that much, it still qualifies as “work”.


    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yep, I have indeed mentioned the pomodoro technique before! Two years ago in fact: http://www.fluentin3months.com/day-in-colombia/

      I’ve been applying it since I first saw it mentioned on Lifehacker, although less in some countries unfortunately. I made sure to make it a part of my routine here asap.

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        Ah ok, you probably are the one I got it from then, thanks for that.


  • Randybvain

    ROTFL! 21 ways to what? You call this “work”? LOL! Man, you deserve your own demotivators, something in the lines: Works hard – wakes up 5.30am to write the blog. Or Works hard – reads 400 e-mails a day:)))) It is the funniest post I have ever read!
    P.S The Pommodoro technique is really very good for having things done and I myself use it every day.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      I don’t know what you mean by your childish comment. People who work on computers don’t “work hard”? I don’t “read 400 emails a day” – I’d appreciate it if you actually read the blog post before leaving such comments.

      • Randybvain

        Of course I have read it, I like your writing so much, anyway it seems that you are living in such a different world that we have, say, mutual ununderstanding:) Let’s focus on learning languages then;)

  • Flargus

    In the video you mentioned that you could even study when you were walking, what were you using for that?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      An app that makes my Android screen transparent by using the back camera.

      • Flargus

        Eh, I guess I kinda didn’t get my point across in the first Post, my bad.
        What I meant was What app were you using?

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          Search or transparent screen in Google play.

  • jack

    Awesome article, I needed that!
    When you mention “12. Task based day”, do you include specific language goals (“learn weather vocabulary” or “write two journal entries on lang-8″)?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Yes, I’ll include specific language goals whenever possible, although I do have general vocabulary work to catch up on that just gets the task name “flashcard study” a lot of the time.

  • p’tit tête

    Benny it’s really amazing what you do !
    When you get in bed I’m pretty sure that you feel like you really done something today, and live very much !!
    Congragulation :)
    And thanks for chearing this advises!

  • http://twitter.com/Junesun Sprachprofi

    Very useful article! I’m using Boomerang now and I think it can really change the way I deal with e-mail. If you come to the JES this year, I hope you will present some of this tips at the Lifehacking group discussion.

    Also kudos for the video, your Arabic is sounding MUCH better than the Chinese did at this point and this bodes really well for the mission. 加油!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks Judith.

  • http://fr-fr.facebook.com/people/Kris-Gorski/1099384820 Kris Gorski

    Great article full of useful tips :).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thank you

  • Dylan

    Hey Benny

    Can you provide some journal articles that you read about having less sleep? I’m a biology student, and a power lifter, and every journal article I’ve read says the opposite of what you said. Can you provide where you got your info? And as for the Uberman sleep schedule, that schedule says to only use REM sleep and to do that by taking 20 minute naps. The problem is your body doesn’t enter REM sleep until about 90 minutes after falling asleep.

    (Btw, after rereading my message it almost sounds like I’m attacking you in a lame way. I’m not at all. I’d love to read some research that showed me how to sleep less, as I would apply it immediately. I just need some sort of article since all the articles I’ve read says you need 7-9 hours of sleep a night)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Look, I’m sorry to be so blunt, but if “every journal article” you’ve read tells you it takes 90 minutes to enter REM sleep, then every journal you’ve read is full of shit.

      In my 20 minute power naps, I dream. Maybe I’m dreaming that I’m dreaming and it’s all in my head, but baring that, it’s REM sleep that I enter within a couple of minutes. I feel energized and well rested each time, which is very unlikely if it’s not efficient sleep.

      I don’t read journal articles, I live life. I can only share my experiences. I’m very disappointed when real science is abused and totally bogus conclusions are drawn, and I suspect you are researching which articles to read very poorly, because there is no way me and the many people I know applying multiple sleep schedules are anomalies. Some experiments can be carried out in your own home without any guys in lab coats to oversee them.

      Just try to have a siesta in the afternoon. It took me about a week of failed attempts to finally get to sleep properly, and then another week to make the length of time appropriate. Since then I feel well rested every time, without reading a single journal to give me research statistics. You do NOT need “some sort of article”.

      • Dylan

        lol okay

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    This article is filled with things that took me years to find out on my own and some that I didn’t know yet. Thanks!

    I took the dedicated workplace idea a bit further, since a web filter wouldn’t be able to keep me from distractions at all. I took an older laptop and put Puppy Linux (specifically Lucid Puppy 5.2.8) on it. Then I set up the necessary things to do my work on it. I use it far from my personal desk to decrease the distraction even further.
    An older laptop running Puppy is great because you still get hardware constraints without a great loss in speed. Puppy is easier to customize than most Linux distros between SFS files and PET files, but because Puppy is so small, backlogs of dependencies are far from uncommon and you have to really get in there to install things properly. Basically, if you have another system, it’s not worth putting anything beyond what you need on the Puppy system. Add Linux’s spotty Flash support and the fact that video will take forever to buffer (because of it being an older laptop) and you’ve got a work centralized computer that is geared against distraction.
    As a bonus, I set the language to Japanese (what I’m studying) to get a used to the language a bit more.

    I can’t use that laptop for everything, but it can handle the majority of my work. For language studying, I have a tablet (wifi only) to use Anki and read on.

    Pretty much all of my work and studying can be completed on those devices and it goes so much faster since there’s almost nothing to distract me.

  • Danny

    Hi Benny,

    Just wanted to say great article and website. I was referred here by a friend about a year ago and then a month later I was in China learning the language. At 23 years old it was the first time I’d even CONSIDERED the possibility that I was capable of learning a language other than English. Before it was all the BS excuses and horrible attitudes that you so often write about. I’ve been studying Chinese for about 1 year now and am planning on taking the HSK 5 before the New Year. I’ve loved every minute of my travels and studies and you know what?? I’m NOT DONE. I want to travel and learn other languages now, see the world, broaden my horizons, AND EXPERIENCE LIFE. None of this would have happened if it wasn’t for you and your website. I don’t know if you’ll see this but if you do I just wanted to let you know that you really changed my life (for the better). Thank you. Keep doing what you’re doing and PLEASE never stop. You’re an inspiration to us all.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Wow, I’m humbled! Yes, I read all comments and emails don’t worry. ;)

      Great job Danny!

  • YankeeTranslator

    Benny, huge improvement with the Egyptian; understood everything you said without the subtitles.

  • Thomas

    Benny, if you ever get tired of language hacking you probably have a fine career waiting as a “life style coach” or something of that sort.
    Some of these hacks I already know and use (LeechBlock made my thesis paper possible!) and a lot of others I SHOULD know and use (like getting up early and getting things done).
    But this is one very inspirational and well written list.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks – glad you enjoyed it!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    No, I don’t think using images would be particularly beneficial for learning phrases. You’d have way too much work to find a picture that conveys the concept well enough, and the work to add it in would have been better spent as time studying.

    Pictures are more appropriate for single word vocabulary learning in my view. But I prefer to learn phrases and words in context, unless it’s something like an object (fruit, table etc.) with a simple single translation. Although even there, grammatical concepts of word changes due to cases and the like make this less useful.

    That post you linked to seems quite similar to one I wrote on the blog a long time ago (also recommending using Google image search rather than a dictionary for single words).

    • http://www.mnemonik.it/ Fabio

      Benny, i agree with you when you say ”

      Pictures are more appropriate for single word vocabulary learning”, but i think also:
      1-using Anki with images i don’t connect phrases in my mother tongue with phrases or words in the language i’m trying to learn: i have to think only in the target language!
      2-I don’t use images to learn phrases but to learn just one word (verb, adjective, substantive) in the phrase. Obviously i have to remember the meaning of the other words of the phrase too, but the context helps me to remember those too.
      3-Finding right images could take a little bit time, but for me finding right images is part of learning the new words;
      4-Using Anki with images is funny: I have to try to remember how to say words o phrases in my target language just watching images (better if a little bit crazy images or with emotional impact, so i remember better the new words), not reading boring words or phrases in my mother tongue.

      It’s impossible to use images for all, in fact it’s hard to find images for articles, preposition or some abstract verbs, but my goal is not to find images for all, but not using my mother tongue in Anki.
      With this comment I just want to share my thoughts with you :-)

      PS: You right, I knew that article through your blog many months ago.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis


  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Fair enough. But I saw much more people taking it to the extreme in North America with several cups, than I do in Europe. It seems that it’s an all or nothing thing there, but in Europe a lot of people would maybe have a single espresso with lunch. This moderation would bring the per-capita up if much more people in America don’t drink coffee at all, even if those who did drink take it too far.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I don’t do heavy weightlifting, but I do jog several times a week. I find exhausting myself in this way helps me to sit still and feel that extra bit more tired for the siesta. But I don’t push myself so much to be honest (this way I can do it more regularly, rather than once a week).

  • david

    “40 year old virgins” lol, I bet however that Benny was such a shy nerd growing up that he lost his virginity late as well:)

  • disqus_5kgkbbaz50

    Great article!

  • Vitor Souza

    why you are always wearing that T-shit “tengo la camisa preta”??

  • http://www.facebook.com/tor.stemland Tor Hunderi Stemland

    Hi, Benny!
    I was just wondering, you say that you listen to podcasts in the language you are learning. But where do you find a sufficient amount of these? I’m beginning to learn italian soon, and it would be nice to have lots of stuff to listen to, so I get used to the sound of the language :) So please tell me where you find yours!
    Also, nice blog ^.^

  • PhilC

    Hey Benny, found you through google yesterday, I have found your site, blog and youtube channel amazing. You a real inspiration. Well done and thank you! Back to my Greek studies I go!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    “one of the special few people”
    I hear this way too often for so many aspects in life. Why can’t people just work hard and achieve things, or make drastic changes in their life, without saying they can’t because they haven’t been blessed by an angel like other people?

    I’m not part of the sleepless elite. I slept 8 hours a day my whole life, and then I found a more efficient way to do it. Please look into research on polyphasic sleep. You will find is not restricted to the 1% elite…

  • Marcelo Rodrigues

    Benny, eu também cochilo por 20 minutos, as vezes, e me sinto tão bem. Parece até que quando faço isso eu durmo umas 8h.

  • CollaborationXXXcreativity

    Einfach klasse! Simply great! Superbe!

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