Sometimes we (myself included) need a reminder that time moves in mysterious ways, and that each and every person always has way too much of it whether they think they do or not. As Einstein said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” So the question is, how will you spend it?
You have a finite amount and you have to use it right. That’s why I spend so much time (hurr hurrr) on TextFugu going over ways you can study more efficiently and gain more time. It’s also why we cut out unnecessary readings, vocab, and even handwriting from WaniKani, because your time should be spent learning things that will give you the most impact first (and then you can come back around when you have more of that “time” thing). This is also why I wrote the “30 Days To Becoming A Better Japanese Student” ebook. You can definitely save a ridiculous amount of study time just by changing a few small things. You’re trading time for more time. What a nice deal!
The thing is, though, learning Japanese requires a lot of time. Like, a ton. Learning Japanese is measured in years, not days or months. Time, along with “motivation,” are perhaps the two biggest factors for people when learning Japanese. They are also the two things that come up time and time again as you study, so they never really leave you once you start. There will be days where you feel like time is your best friend. There will be others where it’s your mortal enemy. I’m here to help you, though. I’ve put together two lists. One is “I don’t have enough time” and the other is “I want to spend my time efficiently.” For your sake and the sake of time, I’ll put everything into bullet points.
I don’t have enough time
This is for those of you who are using this excuse to avoid starting studying Japanese (or continuing). If you feel overwhelmed and feel like you never have enough time you should probably stop reading things on the Internet like this article, but only after you’ve finished reading this article. Okay? Good.
- Start a “ritual.” This is something you just “do” instead of “have to do.” This is like, “when I get home, I do my WaniKani reviews.” It’s not an option, it’s just what you do. Rituals don’t feel like they take time but chores do. What part of your Japanese studies can you change into a ritual?
- Do you walk places? Do you ride things? Do you take showers? If so, you should be using those opportunities to try out some passive learning. Also, consider talking to yourself like a crazy person.
- Remember that it’s about the small, consistent chunks. Don’t study 8 hours all at once, one time a week. Study 30 minutes a day or 15 minutes a day twice, or something along those lines. The time between study sessions is important for that giant brain of yours to process things. Plus, smaller chunks are easier to manage, time-wise. Do you have 15 minutes today?
- Consider your current responsibilities. Humans have a hard time quitting. But, sometimes quitting something is the best thing to do. Even though it hurts to quit, take a look at the things that take up your time. What wouldn’t kill you to stop doing? What could you pay someone else to do? Imagine how nice it would be if you had that time for Japanese. No seriously, imagine it!
- Do you have “repetitive responsibilities?” Things like Facebook, Twitter, and email? Those things take up a ton of time, especially if you are viewing them all the time / in real time. Compress these things into very strict batches. For example, 12:30-1:00pm is generally my email time. I don’t get it all done during that time, but I get a lot more of it done than if I just check it constantly. Also, I’ve only spent 30 minutes on it and I don’t feel stressed out about “whether or not I have any email to check” the rest of the day.
- Don’t let yourself get interrupted. I read somewhere that each time you’re interrupted it takes around 30 minutes to get focused back into what you were doing before you got interrupted. Do things like close the door, put on headphones, or hide/close social media and email (previous bullet point will help). Interruptions are your enemy, and they destroy huge time chunks every time they occur. Take this very seriously and you’ll find yourself with a lot more time.
- Give yourself less time. This may seem unintuitive, but the less time you give yourself the more focused you become. Also, forcing yourself to cut off what you’re doing makes you want to do it more.
- Plan a little bit. Although I’m personally not a huge planner, planning helps a ton. Deciding what you’re going to do before you do it then turning it into actionable tasks is a great way to give yourself more time. Most people spend all their time deciding what they want to do and never do what they should be doing. You should decide what you want to do and then do it.
- If you haven’t yet, learn hiragana. It makes it so you have access to all the best Japanese language resources. If you can only study with crap, you’ll only poop out slightly more digested crap, and that’s a waste of time.
- Did you read this article? Okay, you have some time then, no excuses.
Hopefully some of these were helpful. So now how about efficiency?
I want to spend my time efficiently
This is if you’re studying Japanese, but think / know you’re spending way too much time studying it. I mean, you should spend a lot of time studying Japanese, but the more efficient you are the more you’ll learn and be able to use, which will help you to get better faster. Suffice to say, efficiency is helpful for time in the long run.
- A good SRS is going to be key. If studied with on a daily basis, this will make sure that you study what you need to when you need to, and make sure you don’t see things too often (thus wasting time). We recommend Anki / Memrise for general SRS systems, and our very own WaniKani for the radicals/kanji/vocab system. Over a long period, an SRS will save you many months, possibly years of study time.
- Learning in the correct order is important, though this is hard for a beginner to figure out on their own because they have no idea what is used and what is not. There are “order” vocab / kanji lists out there, though. iKnow has a “Core 2000” list which seems like it’s based on the most common words from newspapers (you can get this on Anki as well). There are also other lists out there that do similar things. Doing this for kanji is important too (what we do on WaniKani / TextFugu). The idea here is to study the words that will give you the most impact right away so that you understand more, earlier, allowing you to study with more advanced and realistic resources earlier as well.
- Early on, study kanji more than you think (or more than anyone tells you). The fact is, the more kanji you know the easier and everything else will become. Literally every part of Japanese has some reliance on your ability to read kanji. You should absolutely be learning this as quickly as possible, even if it’s the only thing you focus on for a while. Try WaniKani, Remembering The Kanji, or KanjiDamage for this.
- Sometimes spending some money will make things more efficient. While there are plenty of free resources out there that will get the job done, one drawback is that they are very disorganized and require you to do a lot of the footwork. While this is fine for some people it is very inefficient for others. Time ain’t free, as they say.
- Really focus on “why” something works the way it does. Even if you have to spend extra time doing this, the time it will save you in the long run is incalculable.
- Focus on the things you’re bad at. The things that you’re bad at are holding you back and slowing you down. People who are really good at something aren’t good because they ignored what they’re bad at, obviously. Figure out what these are and tackle them head on. Then, everything moving forward will go quicker, saving you more time.
- Fix the things that slow most people down. They eat away at your study speed over a long period of time but they really shouldn’t.
- Spend some time learning how memory works. For example, learning that “recall” (pulling something out of your head) is what builds memory was a big breakthrough for me. It’s not about what you put in (or how many times you put it in… I’m looking at you people who write kanji over and over again), it’s what you pull out.
- Forget about writing Japanese. Although a little bit helpful (people type these days anyways), it doubles or triples the amount of time you have to study. Instead, focus on reading because this is something you can use right away. With all the time saved from not writing things, you can learn twice as much Japanese.
- Also don’t forget, there is no speed limit.
As the venerable Douglas Adams once said, “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.” While time can be dicey at times, all of you have some time to study Japanese if that’s what you want to do. Don’t let time be an excuse. In fact, you’ll make time for anything you want time for, so the question is, do you really want it? Maybe you should JFDI.