Never enough time. There is never enough time to get in shape or learn a language. Or even when there is time, you don’t seem to make much of the progress.
It doesn’t seem normal.
And it isn’t. There is a good chance you have contracted something I call “fluffoholism“. It’s a terrible ailment.
Fluffoholics are individuals who are very busy doing silly and insignificant activities. As a result, they either feel inadequate for not making progress or make some progress but can’t find time for anything else in their lives.
Of course, the truth is that we are all fluffoholics to some degree. The person who would concentrate only on relevant tasks would seem like an absolute genius to us mere mortals.
Let’s get it over with. My name is Bartosz, and I’m a recovering fluffoholic. This is what I have learned.
Work Hard and Smart – 3 Categories Of Activities
I like to categorize activities in the following way:
1) Low-intensity activities
It is a counterpart of lying in a cozy bed under a wool blanket with a mug of hot chocolate while your spouse scratches your head.
These are the tasks we tend to do the most. The “feel good” activities — the fluff which masks the real work. Usually, they have very little to do with making any progress.
Many industries prosper around these activities. It’s the apparent honey pot for the naive and lazy.
- “Learn how to pick up a girl without washing yourself”
- “Learn in your sleep”
- “Lose weight by eating Tacos and marshmallows”.
Duolingo – the Lazy Way to Learn Languages
In the world of language learning, it’s Duolingo. I get a lot of messages like this: “I have been using Duolingo for x months, and I completed all the levels, but when I talk to native speakers, they don’t seem to understand me. Oh, also, when I read, I don’t understand most of the things.”
Sure, it’s motivating. And it’s a pleasant past-time to have. But it isn’t nearly as effective as a lot of other activities. Like speaking, for instance. Other, almost evergreen and legendary language learning methods which allow an individual to achieve fluency include:
- “Learning by listening”
- “Learning by playing computer games”
- “Learning by watching TV”
How to tell if I am doing low-intensity activities?
Typically, you can do them for hours without any particular signs of fatigue. That’s all you need to know. If you feel like “that was fun,” it’s not the real work. It also means that you spend 5-10 x more time than people who do activities from the third category and get comparable results.
2) Moderate-intensity activities
It is a counterpart of getting out of bed and sitting down at the desk.
These activities require some energy from you, but they are not that tiring. It’s running 5 km when you already know that you can run ten if you want to. You still need to put your shoes on. You still need to go out and sweat. But in the end, the overall progress is not so significant.
In the world of language learning, it’s a B2 level. You can talk and express yourself relatively fluently.
You can read most of the articles you want. So you do. And you note down some words. But not too many because you’re already quite good.
How to tell if I am doing moderate-intensity activities?
Usually, you feel that you have to push yourself a bit to start. But once you do, it’s not that bad. Signs of fatigue tend to appear after 1-2 hours.
3) High-Intensity Activities (i.e., the Real Work.)
It is a counterpart of being mauled by a bear and teabagged by the seven muses at the same time.
It’s when you’d rather have a colonoscopy instead of carrying on with what you’re doing right now. The absolute opposite of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach. It’s the “there is always something broken, and I’ll find it” philosophy. It feels terrible. But it delivers incredible results.
How to tell if I am doing high-intensity activities?
After you finish learning, you’re sobbing softly and want somebody to hug you. And you feel damn proud. I like to think that it is our small Everest which we should climb daily.
It’s difficult to work hard and smart
I know that I should write every day to publish articles regularly. But I fail. Because they are never good enough, they are never inspiring enough.
I have read somewhere that the average time for writing an article is about 5 hours. It depresses me. It makes me feel like a failure. And I know I should come up with ideas daily. About three years ago, I read on the blog of James Altucher about the concept of becoming the idea machine.
The concept is simple – if you try to come up with ten ideas per day, in 6 months, your life should change significantly. Three years down the road, I’m still struggling to come up with ten ideas once every 3-4 days.
It’s disheartening, and it makes me feel like crap. But now and then, I manage to come up with great ideas. And my face lightens up when I send them to others. And I’m pretty sure their faces light up as well as these ideas change their lives. And that’s what it’s all about.
Remember – If you do not push, you are not practicing.
High-intensity Activities In Language Learning
One of the notoriously difficult activities in language learning is speaking.
- On an A1-A2 level, stringing more than a few words feels like a crucifixion.
- On a B1-B2 level, the challenge is to learn enough words (while improving your grammar) to be able to express yourself quite fluently.
- On a C1-C2 level, the challenge is to continually substitute the words you already know with dozens of other synonyms. It’s where you have to start saying “atrocity” instead of “that ugly thing,” or “marvelous” instead of “great.” (see The Word Substitution Technique)
It’s damn easy to play with Duolingo or Memrise for 1 hour. It’s much harder to open your mouth and start saying something.
Exemplary Results of Regular Conversation with Yourself
I like to highlight my students as an example. If they want to learn with me, they have to accept one condition – they have to bet with me. Each day, from Monday to Friday, I have to get a 10-minute recording of them talking to themselves.
It’s only 10 minutes. And yet, after three weeks, their level changes drastically. It’s almost unbelievable. The side effect is that they probably hate me, but, oh well – it works!
Not accidentally, talking to myself is how I learned Swedish to B2 level to get the job in less than four months without talking to anyone in this language.
How to Fix Your Learning Plan to Work Hard and Smart
It’s a deceptively simple recipe. But it’s hard to implement.
1. Define High-Intensity Activities in Your Domain
2. Start Doing Them at the Cost of Other (i.e., Low- and Medium-Intensity) Activities
Start small. You don’t have to do it for more than 20 minutes daily. Break this time into smaller chunks if you have to. With time, as you toughen up, the overall time spent on practice should be extended.
Remember – High-Intensity Activities Change with Time
You have to be aware that high-intensity activities change with time. They morph into medium- or low-intensity activities. What once was a nightmare can become a breeze with enough time. You should keep it in mind and adjust your learning strategies as you progress.
How to Work Hard and Smart – Summary
Being able to work hard and smart is not about perfectionism or turning into a workaholic. It’s about using whatever time you have to in the most efficient way. The critical step is identifying high-intensity activities in your target domain and executing them daily with relentless consistency.
It won’t be pleasant, but the results will speak for themselves. After all, if you decide to spend time to do something, make it count.
An added benefit is that once you learn how to work hard and smart, this skill that will benefit you all your life.