Disclaimer: I am not being paid to promote any of these apps.
From here on out, I’ll be shifting the focus of this blog to the more indirect methods of improving learning efficiency. While these techniques aren’t designed for learning Japanese specifically, they can greatly enhance your ability to retain information and study consistently. Sorry I won’t be able to write more posts like the one from last week, but I’m still learning at a snails’ pace due to college-imposed time constraints. Hopefully I'll be able to write another post like that in the future as I continue to study.
The pomodoro technique is an effective learning method that can not only improve your concentration and motivation, but help you manage your time more reliably. The way this technique works involves setting a pomodoro duration for somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes (25 is recommended), taking a short break (typically 5 minutes) between each pomodoro, and taking a long break (typically 15 minutes) after finishing a set of 4 pomodoros. Concentrating on any kind of learning material is going to be taxing on the brain, so you’ll want to let it cool down at times to make studying more productive and enjoyable. It’s thanks to this technique that I can study for 8 hours in a day without getting a migraine, and I am finding it easier to not get lost in thought.
There are specialized pomodoro timers you can use that will give you a timer for both the study and the break duration, and they'll be able to keep track of when you need a longer break instead of a shorter one. You should be able to find one just fine in Google Play or App Store, and you can buy a physical pomodoro timer on Amazon if you don’t have a smart phone (a kitchen timer and pen and paper can work if you don’t want to buy this). I don’t know much about the options for App Store or physical timers, but I do like Pomodoro Timer Lite on Google Play since it has a minimalist design, decent customization, and only shows a single popup ad asking you to buy the pro version once per day (it's a minor annoyance, but can be removed for just a few bucks (USD)).
One of the most effective ways to commit yourself to studying Japanese is by making it a regular habit. It takes roughly 30 days for something to become a habit, and 66 days to become fully committed to it. The key to making this work is setting realistic goals for yourself and overemphasizing the importance of following through with them every day. You’re free to choose whatever method fits you best, but I like to take a baby steps approach by setting small goals that only require a trivial amount of time, and gradually building on them by increasing the duration after a successful 66-day commitment. Even on the most miserable and depressing days, I can bring myself to study Japanese for one Pomodoro duration at the bare minimum, and aim for three pomodoros when I’m not down in the dumps. While going for the minimum may not produce the most optimal results, it’s still better than doing nothing.
I recommend using a habit tracker app so that you can reliably measure the number of days you commit to a habit without the frustration of noting everything on paper. For both App Store and Google Play, I recommend using Habit Bull since it’s ad free, gives you reminders to update your habits, and provides a good interface to work with. I’d advise staying away from the pro version since you shouldn’t be tracking more than 1-3 habits at a time (anything more than 3 is difficult to sustain), and I’ve come across several reviews and posts from their in-app forums talking about how the devs aren’t very responsive when it comes to purchase issues.
Developing habits can also serve as a useful method of measuring success when learning Japanese, and being able to measure progress is an excellent way to keep yourself motivated. As I mentioned in the introduction post, learning Japanese will take years of commitment, but developing a habit is something that can be done in a matter of months.
Daily Routine Checklist
It’s never a bad idea to give your lifestyle some form of structure, especially when you have issues committing to tasks you want to do. Even though I’ve been doing it for years, making lifestyle changes has always been a struggle for me because I didn’t have a good point of reference to look to. But that has changed drastically since I started writing down the steps to a workable daily routine using a checklist. That’s not to say I didn’t at least try to follow a routine before, but oftentimes I would either add too many changes to adjust to or I would forget to do something I wanted to. Given how unreliable the human brain is when it comes to extracting details from memory (usually), it’s much better to see the steps you need to take written out for you. Doing so can also make it easier to adjust to whatever changes you may need to incorporate.
For this particular task, I can really only recommend ColorNote on Android. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find a reasonable alternative on iOS for managing a daily routine, so I’m afraid you may be out of luck if you own an iPhone (if anyone has suggestions, please let me know). And managing something like this without a smart phone is probably more trouble than it’s worth. As far as ColorNote goes, it has an easy-to-work-with interface that allows you to add checklist notes from the top or bottom, uncheck everything on the list through menu commands, rearrange notes using an edit mode, and organize a list of notes through color coding mechanisms. That way I can write down my entire routine and check each item off as I go through them. That’s not to say I’ll spend the whole day looking at a checklist; I mostly find myself using it during transition periods. Another neat aspect of ColorNote's list design is that you can skip certain tasks when you're not able to do them and come back to them later when you're able to.
Unfortunately, many of the methods you’ll use to learn Japanese (especially as a beginner) will require a computer to use. This means that you’ll be subject to a number of potential distractions a computer can provide. Thankfully there are a couple solutions available to help you stay focused.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely have some kind of obsessive compulsion to browse through various social websites, hoping to find that one voluptuous post that caters to your lust for immediate gratification. Thankfully, LeechBlock provides a solution to that. This addon is surprisingly well-designed, given how it allows you the freedom to block specific web pages at specific times and days, and even prevents you from accessing the options to change settings when it meets the conditions you set. Oh, and did I mention it has different block sets for multiple conditions? Yeah, it’s sexy. Unfortunately this plugin only works with web page loading on Firefox, so you’ll want something like Stay Focused (which isn’t as good, in my opinion) for Chrome if you’re ever inclined to use that. Since I’m mainly a Firefox user, I only use Stay Focused to keep myself from switching browsers when my blocks go up. I haven’t found anything for Microsoft’s browsers, but I would like to think no one is desperate enough to fall back on those.
Now for any applications you have installed locally, you’re going to need something that can directly interact with your OS, which is where Cold Turkey comes in. As with LeechBlock, you can have this set for specific times and days, but it works for applications in addition to web pages. Sadly, this does come with a $25 price tag, but at least you’ll have the option to try it for a week before buying it, and you only have to pay for it once (not a bad deal, really). Once you’ve entered a time period you’ve set for a program/webpage, Cold Turkey will terminate the program or block the page on the spot, and it will kill blocked programs immediately if you try to start them back up. That way you can keep yourself from accessing distracting games and desktop apps and focus more on your studies. Unfortunately, you are still going to need some semblance of discipline to not distract yourself with something that isn’t on your computer, or find a workaround to get to your blocked content. But at least you won’t be as easily distracted as you were before.
Thanks again for your continued readership! Ya know, this article was a lot shorter before I started editing it, which is unusual since my edits mostly involve cutting content. But yeah, this time I wanted to add in a few other applications I didn't have originally since they were also very helpful to me. Also, if any of you are wondering why I kept the title as is despite the nature of this post, it's mostly because I consider the Learning How To Learn series a documentation of my own personal development in the form of a guide. It's definitely not the most conventional way to write a guide, but I think there are more than enough of those already, lol. I'm just going to keep writing what I want to and hope someone finds them useful.
In part 4, I'll go over some methods of coping with depression in order to keep it from significantly interfering with your learning goals. Hope to see you there!