Life is always crazy. Working as a freelance English teacher, I don’t always have fixed hours. Free time varies massively from week to week. That can mean it is difficult sometimes to carve out a little time in my day for my favourite hobby… studying languages. Let alone focusing on efficiency!
Whether I can set aside a study hour, or find 30 minutes between lessons, I always come across one problem. What to do? How can I use this time most efficiently? That’s when procrastination sneaks in. Spending 5 minutes choosing the perfect playlist on Spotify. Going to get a drink because I forgot to make it before I sat down. Then spending 15 minutes deciding which language problem to tackle today. After all that messing about I actually have very little time to study. What a waste!
Even though I set regular goals (Check out my Clear the List post), it doesn’t always make the choice easy. Should I read, watch a video, do some writing or practice speaking? There are just too many choices and it’s easy to get bogged down by the endless possibilities.
Never fear, Sam is here! I’m going to share my ultimate technique for always having an activity to hand when you need it. It’s called Activity Time Management (or ATM for short).
What is ATM?
It’s the golden ticket to study efficiency. Like the Holy Grail for procrastinators. Avoiding those distraction black holes (I’m looking at you YouTube). Prepared in advance to save you time when you want to get down to business… Language business!
What is it? A list of study activities and resources at your fingertips. The personalised reference guide for study activities. Perfect for you because it is created by you.
Why make one?
“That’s all well and good” I hear you cry, “But how will that help?”…
I mention this one a lot and that is because it is so important. Procrastination leads to guilt and that is a very negative place to be in. All that negativity can drain your motivation and make it harder to continue on the road to fluency. So, that’s why you need to nip procrastination in the bud. Don’t even give yourself the opportunity. Creating a positive habit for all your study time.
When we are busy it is easy to get into a rut. Doing the same activity over and over because it is fun. That can be great to build a strong habit, but a lack of variety will hinder progress. Watching TV is a great way to learn a language. But, if you watch TV and read books you will improve quicker. You’ll activate different skills, and discover more vocabulary. That’s why having a list of different activities will help you be an efficient learner.
Preparation is key
For me, preparation is one of the most important parts of my studies. Setting goals and planning activities in advance helps me be more effective. Making every second count. Rather than wasting the little free time I do have, I can simple getting going and learn something new. Turning small gaps in my day into valuable learning opportunities.
The more opportunities you create the better your results will be. And we all want better results, don’t we?
How to do it?
The first step is possibly the most difficult… make the list. Rack your brains and jot down any activity you can think of. Anything works!
If you are feeling a little stuck, try and think about the activities you like doing in your native language. Watching a new Netflix series, playing video games, reading about your favourite celebrity… each one an activity you can convert into your target language.
Once you have the basic list, we are going to add some extra information to help you organise it later. Grouping the activities based on skill, time and intensity.
SKILL – What will it improve?
When you are planning your activities it is important to know which skill it is you’re going to improve or focus on. This will help you avoid excessive focus in one area. Or to let you really give some TLC to a skill in need. Either way, understanding the focus is important. That’s why I mark each activity with either speaking, listening, reading or writing. Some may even use multiple skills at the same time, which is even better!
TIME – How long will it take?
We are all busy people. That’s probably why you are here. Trying to find a better, or more efficient, way to study. Avoiding procrastination, the eternal time waster, and see some results. Try to estimate how long each activity will realistically take.
Understanding how long it takes, helps you to choose a suitable activity. No point choosing something that will take an hour if you only have 10 minutes, is there?
I create 4 sections;
- less than 15 minutes (<15 minutes)
- 15-30 minutes
- 30-60 minutes
- 60+ minutes
Bonus tip – If the activity fits in multiple times, based on the task you are doing, then split it up. Maybe watching YouTube can take 10 minutes but watching and taking notes takes 20. I would consider these as two different activities.
INTENSITY – How much effort does it require?
Intensity is all about the amount of energy and focus is required to complete the activity. Therefore, some activities are Intensive while others are Extensive.
The basic idea being that Intensive is about quality. Focusing on getting every drop of language out of each activity. Looking up all the words, understanding the structure and analysing it. You will only get through a small quantity but the amount of information you learn will be high.
Extensive, on the other hand, is about quantity. Not worrying about every single word as long as you understand the overall ideas. Reading a book, watching a film or listening to the radio without pausing it to check words (unless you have to). You won’t remember every word and catch every new piece of vocabulary, but you will get through a lot of material.
Both have different benefits to your learning, but the main difference is in energy. If you are really tired after a long day, it can be more difficult to sit down and analyse a documentary word by word. That is when I would choose an extensive activity where less brain power is required.
This can all sound a little complicated. So, I have created a printable template as a guide to use to organise your activities.
Once you have your initial list (that you put on page one of the document), it’s time to organise. Take each activity and put it in the correct box based on the time category. In each section I try and aim for 8 possible activities. 2 for each skill, one intensive and one extensive. Giving me complete choice and variety within each time category. This isn’t always possible though, so don’t worry about it too much if you can do this for each section. The more variety, the better.
Just because you only have 10 minutes doesn’t mean you can do something intensive. Preparing will help you make the choice more easily and spend that time more effectively. This is when I also make a note of resources I need for it. So that I have everything ready to hit the ground running.
I have even included an example of a completed document so you can get an idea how I use it. Maybe you will find some new activity ideas there too.
How to use it?
Fill it in, stick it on your wall or save it on your phone. Wherever you need it when you will have free time to study.
When the time comes, the choice is simple. Pick the time, find an activity you like and get started. Easy Peasy!
Reviewing this list regularly is important. Sometimes activities won’t work or you don’t like them. So, they are taking up valuable space on your list. Remove them and replace them. Everything can be improved and over time you will gradually adjust the list to work for you! I also like to change mine for variety. If the same skill appears on there for too long I change it for something new. Something I haven’t tried before. Maybe it won’t work, but how will I know until I try?
The logical time to do this is when you set your language goals. I do mine with Clear the List once a month. Then I can tailor my activity list based on my goals for that month. Speaking focus equals speaking activities… and so on.
Until next time!