“How do I make time to learn German?” you ask? The answer is to choose to work at learning German instead of other things. You can only spend your time once, so adjust a few things in your life to make serious progress for German.
Some of these tips listed here are things I’ve seen clients do to make themselves some more time for German, some are decisions my friends have made to help them manage their other commitments well, and some of them are recommendations I have collected from many, many hours reading about productivity and creating efficient working systems.
These are all methods and strategies I stand behind both as an instructor and a fan of efficiency. I very much hope you can take away at least one of them as a strategy to help you make more time for German and less time for something else.
1. Turn down one other activity.
This might mean you’ll have to say no, and that can be so hard for many people, however you can’t do everything at the same time. It’s just not possible and trust me, I’ve tried. So if you’ve already got a number of commitments outside of work, then turn down one of them to make some time for German.
This might mean taking a hiatus from a committee for a year or two to make time to do it, or it may mean simply bowing out of another activity you’ve done for a long time. It might mean setting up a home gym instead of driving to and from your usual place. How much time would it save you? 20 minutes a day? 80 minutes a week?
The benefit to having fewer commitments is: you do things the old-school way like genius composers. Do you think Mozart had any more time to do things than you did? Nope! He simply had fewer distractions. He spent his time delving into learning the instruments of the day, taking composition lessons, and attending concerts. He spent as much time as possible working with and on the music.
Turning down one other activity can be one powerful way to focus on learning German. And there are other solutions, too! Read on for more.
2. Turn off:
the automatic notifications on your laptop
the push notifications on your phone and
change your email to sync to every 30 minutes.
Do you really need to know immediately that there was a [insert horrible tragedy here] in [insert any country name here] 10 minutes ago? No, you don’t, because you can find that out when you watch the entire news summary later in the evening. Right now it’s simply a distraction.
That bad news will still be there when you’re done with what you wanted to do. Really. And there will probably be even more of it then. So shut off those notifications and get the bad news when you’re done learning.
An interruption can cost you up to 25 minutes of concentrated learning time. (Source) That’s a huge waste of almost half an hour! What could you do with your German if you had fewer interruptions? How many more vocabulary words would sink in? How many more verbs would you be able to conjugate before your next lesson?
Imagine having fewer technological interruptions on a daily basis. How much time do those interruptions cost you every day that you could spend learning? 15 minutes? 25? Even more?
25 minutes is enough to do a serious amount of German homework.
Be courageous and create a different way of learning—shut ‘em off.
3. Unsubscribe bravely
When the cashier asks “Would you like to sign up for our loyalty program?” what s/he is really asking is: “Could you PLEASE sign up for [insert name of program that tracks everything you buy and how often you buy it]? I have a certain quota of sign-ups I need to meet every day and in return you’ll get a measly discount of 3-5% off select purchases and we’ll bombard you with emails on a daily basis!”
Practice these in response: “No thank you.” “No, and I don’t want one.” And the very assertive: “So sorry to interrupt you, but I’ve been asked before and I’m not interested.”
How many purely advertising and junk emails do you wade through every day? How many of them are actually applicable to your life? Maybe one or two, right? How would you feel if you simply didn’t have to deal with those emails anymore? How much time could you spend doing something else, like learning German?!
To give you a real-life example, I have a cat (his name is Connor and he’s awesome, his picture is at left here) and I tend to buy his food from the same chain store every month. I belong to their loyalty program because it saves me several dollars on his food, but their emails are focused on their customers who are dog owners.
Approximately 75% of their emails are focused on products for dogs, which makes them completely inapplicable to my life. They also arrive four to five times a week. It's way too much! So I’ve unsubscribed from their emails. Why would I spent several minutes a week reading these emails? That time adds up--it’s pointless and a waste of my time. So I’ve bravely unsubscribed from them.
So which emails can you unsubscribe from that have nothing to do with your life? Try unsubscribing from just two of them this week, you’ll be amazed how nice it is not to have to deal with them anymore.
Remember, too, that if you can unsubscribe from a list, you can usually subscribe to it again! You might find out you want to get back on one mailing list—then subscribe again! If it adds something to your life, then it meets the requirements for the next point.
4. Subscribe selectively
The other element of this is that it’s a good idea to only subscribe to newsletters and mailing lists that actually add something to your life. When you find a newsletter, a website, or a loyalty program that is applicable to your life and adds value to it, then subscribe to it. Ask yourself: does this add fun or quality information to my life or do the coupons at least put some money back in my pocket? That’s a great rule of thumb to follow for subscribing selectively.
5. Guard yourself against energy vampires, time burglars, and brain pickers
In all of the productivity reading I’ve done (and it’s been a lot since I started this business back in 2013), this has been the best method that has helped me focus to get fantastic readers (that’s you!), fantastic Google search results, and a growing community of newsletter subscribers who love to learn German! There are so many time burglars, energy vampires, and brain pickers in the world and it’s up to you to guard yourself and your time from them.
Energy vampires are people who seem to require a bit too much of your concentration, they really don’t get anything accomplished, and worst-case scenario they even leave you feeling a bit dazed & confused. Avoid, block, and limit your time around them so you can use your energy for what *you* want! (Want to read more on this? Check out this article.)
Guard against an energy vampire by:
- limiting conversation time (make an excuse to leave the conversation/hang up)
- avoiding contact with them (screen phone calls)
- block them (unfollow them on social media so you don’t get pulled in)
Brain-pickers are a mixed bunch. Sometimes it’s a very good idea to have coffee with someone who wants to pick your brain—it might be a great way to help someone who needs some quality information and a solid opinion. Sometimes it turns out that individual is an energy vampire. So be selective about whom you allow to pick your brain so you can use your brain for German!
How many time burglars do you have? How many social media accounts that you “need” to check every day? Useless email subscriptions (see above)? How many activities do you say “yes” to, even though you don’t want to?
This is one of everyone’s biggest challenges and my helpful tip for you is to practice saying: “Let me think about it” or “Let me get back to you on that.” It gives you time to think about it and consider if you do want to do the thing or not, and then when you do respond, you can give them a respectful response like “Unfortunately I don’t have time for that right now” or “I’m not available that night.” You don’t have to tell them that it’s because you’re studying German, you just do it!