Part-time Paradox

I haven’t really talked much about what I’ve been doing outside of my language studies, but I have an exciting update: I’ll be moving to Hawaii to start a graduate program in second language studies this fall! It’s time to start officially shifting my life in the direction of all of this wonderful stuff that I’ve been focusing on for so long. :)

I know that my life will get much busier starting this fall, so I’ve been looking for ways to squeeze language learning into a busy schedule. So far I have mainly been looking for ways to compartmentalize the languages within certain focused blocks of time that I can squeeze in at the library, but I’ve been running into some problems as I downgrade the amount of time I spend each day. I’m finding that in some ways it’s actually harder to work on this part-time.

One of my biggest problems has still been that when I’m not working on a language, I make myself feel like I should be. When I just want to relax and read a book or watch TV in English, I tell myself that I should do it in a foreign language. That doing things in English is really just unnecessary.

But when I’m doing something in a foreign language, I get caught up in the things I don’t understand. And after five years of working on this, I’m finally willing to let myself accept that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a big part of why I started in the first place. It’s all so new and interesting — it’s just begging to be understood!

Unfortunately, this underlying feeling that I should be working on languages ends up being pretty exhausting because it makes it hard to actually relax.

So the question is: how do you fix this? It’s something I’m still working on, but I’d like to talk about the approach I have been using recently.

Basically, I have been applying Cal Newport’s idea of fixed-schedule productivity. The general idea is that you only work on things within a certain time frame (i.e. from 9 am to 5 pm, 8 am to 12 pm, 6 pm to 11 pm, etc.). After this time, you can’t work on work, or in my case, languages and work. This is actually very similar to the unschedule, with slightly different implementation.

The nice thing about it is that after this block of time I can just turn off the feeling that I should still be working on languages. Even if I’m unhappy with the amount of time I spent that day, I know that relaxation is important too and it just gives me fuel to spend more time on languages the next day.

One very important thing to keep in mind: this time frame is not one that must be filled with work, it is just the only time that you can work. The main point of it is to allow for guilt-free relaxation after the daily activities have been completed or after the fixed-schedule. Relaxation is just much sweeter when you don’t have the underlying feeling that you should be doing something else.

I’ve decided that within the fixed-schedule, what I’m really concentrating on is focused time on the language. As focused and deliberate practicey as possible, with the requirement that I can work on it in the library, which means I’m still focusing on things I can do on my own.

I’ll talk more specifically about how I’m managing my time in a later post, and in the next post I’ll talk about how I have been spending most of my library time so far with something I’m calling a spaced repetition notebook.

Any techniques that have helped you work on a language part-time? I’d love to hear about them in the comments. :)


  • Koyami Tulley on Apr 10, 2013 Reply

    I actually experimented with something similar to this when I was juggling languages while on break from school. 7am-12 was for Chinese, 12-5pm for Korean, and 5-10pm for Japanese. I’ll have to change up my schedule now that my goals have changed, but this sounds like an interesting idea. Nice post!

    • Jeff on Apr 10, 2013

      Thanks! It’s interesting to hear that you used something similar. I’m always open to hear about new ideas so let me know if you ever have any recommendations. :)

  • Greg on Apr 11, 2013 Reply

    Hi Jeff!

    Great post! I’ve been thinking of writing up something similar. I’m currently juggling a full-time job, graduate school and language learning. You nailed it when you said that learning almost becomes an obligation–yet it’s so much easier to catch up on old Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons in English as a way to relax. Anyway, it’s where language study itself almost becomes a job, and trying to overcome it. Anyway, I’m looking forward to your future posts!

    • Jeff on Apr 11, 2013

      Hi Greg, thanks! That definitely sounds like a pretty intense schedule. I haven’t been in school for awhile so it should be interesting fitting languages into such a busy life. Thanks for the encouragement and good luck with everything you’re working on!

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