Take Back Your Life With One Phone Setting

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Take Back Your Life With One Phone Setting

How to use the Do Not Disturb mode the right way

“Allowing an app to send you push notifications is like allowing a store clerk to grab you by the ear and drag you into their store. You’re letting someone insert a commercial into your life anytime they want.”

— David Pierce

There I was sitting in front of my computer editing the latest video, I was on fire and nothing was going to stop me from reaching my deadlines. When all of a sudden, I felt a ‘buzz’ in my pocket and heard a ‘ding’ emanating from the same location. It was my phone notifying me of a new email that had come in, it was important and it needed my attention. After replying to the first email, I noticed another email had made its way into my inbox, it too needed my attention. After 45 minutes of replying to emails and several messages from a variety of Whatsapp groups (they were important!), I finally managed to get back to editing the video.

Did I hit my deadline? I was nowhere near. This happened often and seldom did I have any peace and quiet to work on what was in front of me. I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar?

It occurred to me, what was stealing my attention was my phone. I knew that in order for me to be uber productive and get work done, I had to have a better relationship with my phone and its notifications.

What began as an experiment to focus on my work, has greatly benefitted every other aspect of my life. From relationships to personal growth, being completely distraction-free has allowed me to direct all my attention to what’s in front of me.

Depending on how you use it, the phone can be a useful tool or an annoying distraction. If you refuse to separate from your phone and leave it in another room, there is another way to stop it from constantly distracting you. In this article, I outline how I’ve managed to take control of my life with just one setting on the phone.

How distractions affect your focus

Every social media platform and messaging app is fighting for your attention and distracting you from what is important. Meaningful time spent with family and friends, creative work and focused studying are all lost because of a notification.

According to a recent study, after a simple distraction,

“It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

23 minutes! Can you believe it? A simple vibration or light emitting from your phone is enough of a distraction to lose focus, what’s worse is that these distractions happen on a regular basis, how much time are you losing because of a simple notification from your phone? Getting 3 messages within 5 minutes has robbed you from over an hour of focused time.

The one phone setting that can change everything for you

For those of you that that are unaware of the Do Not Disturb mode, it is an option that stops all notifications on your phone, rendering your phone completely silent. All noise, including vibrations and lights, are turned off, this makes it impossible to know if someone has messaged you or not.

Back then, I didn’t understand the concept of not being notified, I thought to be readily available for anyone made complete sense. If I had the Do Not Disturb mode on, how would I know if a family member or friend wanted to get in touch with me? I had no need for this feature. I’m sure you can agree with me?

In my journey of minimising distractions, I realised that in order for me to take back my attention I had to stop all notifications by using the Do Not Disturb mode. It took a few months of experimentation with the settings, but I managed to find a setting that worked for me.

What happened after? I now have a better grasp on life and I feel that I have regained control of my focus, relationships and productivity.

How I’ve set the Do Not Disturb mode

I prefer to have my Do Not Disturb mode on 24/7. I want to check my messages on my terms and not let a notification decide that for me. Using the Forest app, I would work in 25-minute blocks and take a 5-minute break once a block is done. It is only during those breaks that I will check my phone and reply to any messages that I’ve missed.

Recommended reading: The one app to help you focus.

“But what if there’s an emergency?” Sure, I understand that. You want to make sure that you’re available at a time of crises. I assure you, if there’s ever an imminent crisis nobody is going to send you a text message, let alone an email.

It’s for that reason I have only a handful of people (my immediate family, extremely close friends, and business partners) that can call me at any time and I will get the notification. Just to be clear, the only notification I will only receive is a phone call from those that are on my favourite list, I will not be notified if they message me. I’ve told every member on my list that if it is truly an emergency they can call me, for anything else, they can message me and I will get back to them by the end of the day.

Whenever my phone rings I understand that it is an important call and I must pick up, but rarely has this ever happened. With the Do Not Disturb mode on, I have created an order of priorities, if it doesn’t vibrate it doesn’t get my immediate attention.

How to set your Do Not Disturb mode similar to my settings

For Android users:

  1. Settings > Sounds and vibrations > Do not disturb

  2. Check ‘Turn on now’

  3. Select ‘Allow exceptions’

  4. Check ‘Custom’

  5. Set ‘Calls from’ to ‘Favourite contacts only’

  6. Go to your contacts and select only the people that are truly important to you

  7. Check the star next to their names to add them to the favourite list

For iPhone users:

  1. Settings > Do Not Disturb

  2. Check ‘Do Not Disturb’

  3. Select ‘Allow Calls From’

  4. Check ‘Favourites’

  5. Go to your contacts and select only the people that are truly important to you

  6. Select ‘Add to Favourites’

Conclusion

After a few months of living with the Do Not Disturb mode turned on, I realised not everything is as urgent as it seems. I don’t need to pick up every single phone call that comes my way, a text message doesn’t need to be replied to immediately, an email can sit in my inbox for a few hours.

Why let these messages take your attention when you can spend it working on the more important tasks or spending time with people that matter to you most? It’s a matter of priorities and understanding what is important to you.

Would you rather you spend your time reacting to every notification? Or would you rather be active and deliberate with everything you do and take control of your life?

Turning on the Do Not Disturb mode allowed me to do just that, perhaps, it can do the same for you.

I would suggest taking it slow and experiment with the Do Not Disturb setting, if you can find a nice balance between ‘complete isolation’ and ‘readily available’, perhaps, you’ll be able to find that it’ll greatly benefit not only your focus but also your relationships, creativity and all other aspects of your life.

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

The one app to help you focus.

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Let’s face it, mobile phones aren’t going anywhere. They’re so integrated into our lives and we rely on them so much that the majority of the population now suffer from ‘low battery anxiety’. No matter how hard we try we somehow find ourselves mindlessly checking our phones and wasting so much of our precious time.

It’s a hard feat to be laser focused on your work or the people right in front of you when you’re constantly bombarded with notifications. If you refuse to turn on your Do Not Disturb Mode for the entire day (this changed my life when I implemented this method), then I have an alternative that might alleviate the number of times you mindlessly pick up your phone.

Recommended Reading: Take back your life with one phone setting.

An app that helps you to stay focused.

With the slogan “Stay Focused, Be Present” the Forest app attempts to lock you out of your phone and enables you to focus on the task at hand. How does it do this? By killing off a tree if you don’t do otherwise. Sounds a bit dark right? Don’t worry, you’ll only be killing off a digital tree that is grown within the app. Although the concept sounds a little bit silly, this method actually works and has helped thousands of users to stay off their phones and focus on the present moment.

Forest is simply a gamified version of the Pomodoro Technique. For those of you that are unaware of this time keeping method here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Step 1: Place a timer for 25 minutes and work distraction-free during that period.

  • Step 2: Once the timer is done take a five-minute break.

  • Step 3: Repeat step one.

  • Step 4: After the fourth 25-minute timer take a 15-minute break

  • Step 5: Repeat step one.

Recommended reading:  What is the Pomodoro Technique?

Forest incorporates this method and adds its own little spin to it. Once the timer is set and the countdown begins, a digital seed is planted and at the end of your allotted time, a digital tree would have fully grown. If however, in that time you decide to pick up your phone and leave the Forest app to reply to a message, or watch a YouTube video or even just to return to the home screen, you’ll find upon returning to the app that the tree has withered and died.

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The aim of the game is to plant as many trees throughout the day and hopefully if you’re off your phone and using that time wisely, you would have had a very productive day. The gamification element is what I find quite rewarding, especially when I’ve ended my day with up to 6 or 7 trees successfully planted, that’s when I know I’ve done a lot of focused work. Looking back at my statistics it’s nice to see a little forest has been grown through all of my focused work.

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More than just an app.

If you’re having trouble focusing whilst sitting in front of your computer, Forest has also created a Chrome extension that’ll allow you to blacklist any websites that are a distraction. Whether it’s Facebook, Youtube or even your own personal website, all you have to do is click on the tree, start planting and focus on your work. Similar to the app, if you find yourself on any website that is blacklisted, your tree will wither and die.

I personally don’t use this feature as there are often times where my work or studies require me to learn from a YouTube video or reply to an email. I actually don’t have a Facebook account so I don’t struggle with the urge of checking my timeline. If you know a particular website that’s stopping you from getting any work done, you should give the Chrome extension a try.

How much do I have to pay?

Moving back to the phone, if you’re an Android user you can download the app free of charge. However, if you’re on iOS you’ll have to pay £1.99 to grant access to it, this will immediately give you access to all the premium features. Once you’ve downloaded the app you can start planting right away. For Android users, there is an option to upgrade and unlock the premium features in the app, but the basic version is more than enough to get you started on your road to staying focused in the present moment.

As I’m an Android user, I paid to upgrade to the premium because I wanted to make full use of the additional features. Below I outline what is available when you have access to the premium version.

Plant a real tree.

Planting a digital tree to help you focus is all well and good, but planting a real tree to help the environment is even better. Forest can help you with both. Trees for the Future is a charity organisation that is partnered with Forest to help plant real trees. The more digital trees planted the more virtual coins you accumulate. Users can trade in those coins with Forest and they will donate to the charity and help plant a real tree. It’s a wonderful gesture and it gives us even more of a reason to support the app.

Recommended reading: Sponsor Trees for the Future Charity

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After planting so many digital trees I had lost track of how many coins I had accumulated. When I had realised I had enough to plant a real tree I jumped on the opportunity. However, I did read that due to budget restraints each user is limited to only planting 5 real trees within the Forest app. It’s strange to think that all I have to do to help the environment is to just stay off my phone.

 

White-listing.

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If you find that you have to use your phone in order to do work, you have the ability to add specific apps to a white-list. This means that when you do start planting your tree and use an app that is white-listed you will not be penalised with a withered tree. Be sure to only add apps that you definitely need access to, otherwise, what’s the point of having the app in the first place?

I found this option useful as I found that there were times where I wanted to record the progress of my piano playing. When I had grabbed my phone to record myself I was immediately notified to get back to the app. Putting the camera app on the white-list sorted out that problem. I’ve kept my white-list small as I don’t want to have free reign on using my phone.

 

Plant with friends.

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It seems that every app includes a social element and Forest doesn’t let us down either. Once you’ve upgraded to the premium app you have the ability to create rooms and invite your friends to join you. This is a great way to start study groups with your peers or even get them off their phones whilst having dinner with each other, but be warned, if one of your friends gets distracted and misuses their phone it’ll kill the tree for the entire group. I’d hate to be the person responsible for that!

Unfortunately, I don’t have many friends that share the same sentiments I have with productivity, so I’ve not had a chance to experience planting a digital tree with a friend. If you want to give it a go, send me a message and I’ll be happy to try it out with you.

 

The tagging system.

If you’re like me and you want to have everything organised, you’ll appreciate the availability of tags on the premium version. Tags essentially allow you to categorise each tree according to what you are working on. If you use the tags correctly, you’ll be able to see a visual breakdown of what you’ve been using your focused time on.

I like to review my tags at the end of the day and analyse what I’m spending my time on the most. If I can see that I’m not spending my focused time wisely I can make changes according to the data. It’s always good to have as much data as possible as you might be able to find patterns that you weren’t aware of.

Other premium features.

On top of everything that I’ve mentioned earlier, the premium feature also includes:

  • Syncing to multiple devices

  • Ad blocking

  • Unlocking more achievements

I didn’t go into much detail with these because they’re self-explanatory.

Conclusion.

Forest’s ultimate aim is to get you off your phone and appreciate the present moment. Whether you use that time to work with no distractions or spend time with your friends and family, it’s important to understand that constantly checking your phone is not a healthy way to live. If you struggle to put down the phone, give Forest a go and see if planting a digital tree can help motivate you to stay off your phone and live in the present moment.

Recommended App: Forest

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

How to be consistent.

How to be consistent.

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“Your life is determined by the actions you take consistently.” - Unknown

The quote above is plain and simple, yet so many of us take it for granted. Want to be fit? Are you eating well and working out on a consistent basis? Want to play an instrument? How often do you practice? What else do you want to have in your life? Have you consistently been taking the necessary actions?

I’ve pretty much summed up what is required of you in order to have the life that you want. You can now stop reading this article and contemplate what you need to do consistently. However, if you want to understand the power of consistency and how to manage it in your life, read on.

The power of consistency.

“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.” - Bruce Lee

If you were given the choice of £1,000,000 or a penny that would double its value every day for a month, which one would you go for? If you chose the former you would’ve missed out on an extra £4,368,709.12. This is the power of compound interest, that Albert Einstein famously stated as ‘the eighth wonder of the world.’ In finance, compound interest is when you earn interest income on top of your interest income, which results in exponential growth. This is why after a month your 1 pence turns into £5,368,709.12. Of course, finding a penny that’ll double its value every day is far-fetched (or is it?), but the compounding effect is far from absurd.

When we adopt the compounding effect on your personal development, the key to unlocking the effect is through small improvements over a consistent amount of time. Similar to the chart above, your small daily disciplines will feel minuscule and you won’t be able to tell a difference, but those small improvements will pile up on top of each other and eventually you will unlock the compounding effect.

In his book, ‘The Slight Edge’ Jeff Olson explains it best,

Consistently repeated daily actions + time = unconquerable results.

If you want to unlock the power of consistency, it’ll take a lot of patience and discipline, but eventually, you will reap extraordinary rewards. If you have no idea where to begin, read on and hopefully you’ll have a better idea on how to start.

Accept failure.

“It’s never my intention to make a mistake, but if I do, I have given myself permission to view my progress over a longer timeline than a single day or an individual event.” - James Clear

Staying consistent is such a simple rule for life, yet it can be the most difficult to accomplish. Life takes over and you're forced to miss a day of consistency. It happens. There is no one on this planet that is consistent for every waking moment of their life. Even my track record can be a little sporadic at times, and I pride myself on my consistency.

One of the most important mindsets to adopt when you begin your journey is that you will inevitably fail. Sounds a bit dire but it’s important that you realise this early on. Otherwise, when you do miss a day you may be disheartened by the ‘failure’ and remove yourself from the process entirely. So what if you had a minor set back? Who cares? What’s important is how you react from it. Pick yourself up and commit to remaining consistent again. The more you do this, the more successful you will be in all aspects of life.

How to stay consistent.

“Don’t break the chain!” - Jerry Seinfeld

If you’re in the millennial bracket, you probably have no clue who Jerry Seinfeld is, if you do, you probably know him as the host for ‘Comedians in Cars’, but before that, he was hailed as a comic genius that created the popular American TV show, ‘Seinfeld.’ He credited his success to one simple phrase, “don’t break the chain.” When asked what his writing habits were, he mentioned a process of marking an ‘X’ in his calendar on the days he completed his writing assignments. After doing this for a few days he noticed a chain of X’s appearing on his calendar. It got to a point where the chain became so long that the idea of breaking it motivated him to continue his tasks.

‘Breaking the chain’ incorporates the theory of loss aversion, where individuals are more focused on avoiding making a loss than acquiring equivalent gains. Instead of marking a complete day on a paper calendar I’ve opted for the more modern approach - an app on the phone. Below are a few examples of apps that I’ve used in the past and would highly recommend.

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Habitbull - (Free & Premium Version)    

Works for both iOS and Android. This is the tracker that I’m currently using. If you upgrade to the premium version you’re able to track up to 100 habits. It incorporates inspirational images and discussion forums to keep you motivated.


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Streaks - (£4.99)

iOS only. Before Habitbull I was using Streaks. The reason I moved on was that it only worked on iOS and I could only track up to 12 habits max. It’s beautifully designed and I would recommend it if you’re only tracking a small number of tasks.


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Coach.me - (Free)

Works for both iOS and Android. Before Habitbull and Streaks, I was using Coach.me. I moved on because I was looking for a different interface. This app is heavy on the community side and if you’re in need of a personal coach you can easily find one here.

My track record.

You’ll notice in the images above that I’ve not remained consistent with all my tasks. As I mentioned before, life happens. There were days where I couldn’t find time to complete a specific task and I had to mark it down as an ‘X’. The time where I broke a chain of 200+ days was soul destroying, but I knew I had to pick myself up and start working on the chain again.

If you’re starting out and you’re finding it difficult to create a chain remember this - the intensity of your performance on a single day doesn’t matter so much. Even if you performed a tiny amount, don’t worry, what’s important is that you did the task. All of those tiny wins will accumulate and you’ll soon unlock the compounding effect.

Set yourself a schedule.

“Show me your calendar and I will tell you your priorities” - Unknown.

Tracking your consistency is all well and good, but I find the most important step to help you start is to schedule in advance a dedicated amount of time for your tasks. Want to read 30 pages a day? Why not schedule in 60 minutes of reading after you wake up? Want to practice an instrument for 1 hour? Why not dedicate every evening at 9 o’clock for an hour of learning a new instrument.

An example of how I schedule my time dedicated to learning a new skill.

Going through your calendar and scheduling your tasks will help you manage your time and understand how effectively you use it. You’ll soon realise where most of your attention goes to, and you’ll be able to see if there are any moments during the day where you are not spending your time wisely. If you want to know more information about how to effectively schedule your day you can read more here.

Embrace the mundane.

“Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.” - Jordan B. Peterson.

I hope by now you have begun to understand the importance of consistency and how to begin your journey. If there’s one thing I hope you take away, I hope you learn to enjoy the process. Having your eyes fixed on the prize and what you could be is inspirational, but don’t forget to appreciate what’s going on now. Remember, consistency coupled with time will unlock exponential results, but remind yourself that it’s not going to happen overnight. There will be occasions where it will get monotonous and perhaps even boring, but it’s important to persevere. Once you begin to fall in love with the process it’ll make everything easier.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to keep you consistent, sign up to my 1-minute report card.  I am on a mission to learn and document every practical skill to better my life, once a week I update you on my progress of learning something new and show you my entire process.

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

7 Free Apps To Develop a Growth Mindset

7 Free Apps To Develop a Growth Mindset.

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It’s projected that the total amount of smartphone users will blow past the 5 billion mark by 2019. Depending on how you use your device that sits in your pocket, it can either be used as a major distraction or a resourceful tool. With the majority of users leaning towards the former, this article will hopefully give you more information to push you to the latter.

What is a growth mindset?

The phrase ‘growth mindset’ made famous by Dr. Carol Dweck, focuses on the attitude towards developing your learning and intelligence. Walking away from challenges, effort and criticism all fall under a fixed-mindset and as a result lead you to achieve less than your full potential. A growth mindset doesn’t shy away from a challenge and understands that effort is the key to mastery, failures are seen as learning opportunities and criticism is seen as a chance to improve. Developing a growth mindset is one of the main keys that’ll help unlock the door to a successful life.

Recommended book: Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck

Consistency is key

With the convenience of a smartphone sitting in our pockets for the majority of the day, we all have an endless amount of resource sitting at the end of our fingertips. Below are 7 apps that I use on a consistent basis. I stress the word ‘consistent’ because it’s the daily use of an app that is important to the development of a growth mindset.

Recommended reading: How to be consistent

Kindle

A growth mindset is all about purposeful learning. Looking for some advice to help further your business? Perhaps some relationship advice? Or even information on how to be read faster? Whatever you decide, there’s always a learning opportunity with every book you open.

Even though the app is free not every book in the Kindle store is just as cheap, fortunately, digital books are a fraction of the price of the paperback equivalent. If you aren’t willing to invest the price of a cup of coffee on your development then you’ve got your priorities all wrong. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

Recommended books:

  1. Mastery - Robert Greene

  2. The Rise of Superman - Steven Kotler

  3. The Talent Code - Daniel Coyle

Pocket

Can’t commit to reading a few hours from a book? How about something a little bit more bite size? With the slogan, “Put knowledge in your pocket”, Pocket is a useful app that allows you to save articles for future consumption. I’ve found this app really useful when dealing with new articles that I come across. When I see a headline that catches my eye, I’ll save it to my Pocket account for future reading. In addition, Pocket formats the text, images and embedded videos to fit perfectly on your device or computer screen, meaning you won’t be bothered by those annoying pop-ups anymore.

Recommended articles:

  1. How To Improve Your Memory

  2. How I Pay For My Education

  3. How to Learn Any Skill: 10 Steps and Why They Will Change Your Life

Any Podcast App

If reading, in general, isn’t your thing, I would then recommend listening to a good podcast. I like to listen to a good podcast whilst I’m working out at the gym or commuting to work. Unlike reading a book, you have the freedom to do something else whilst listening to an interview. However, don’t get too distracted, otherwise, you won’t learn anything from the podcast! A good podcast app allows you to play around with the playback speed, I’ve now grown accustomed to listening to interviews at double the speed, allowing me to learn more in less time.

Recommended listening:

  1. The Tim Ferriss Show

  2. The School of Greatness

  3. The Mission Daily

Any Habit Tracking App

Seeing effort as the path to mastery is a key trait to a growth mindset, putting in the work on a consistent basis enables you to grow at an exponential rate. Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s important to be patient and consistently put in the reps. Building good habits that promote a growth mindset (reading, journaling, meditating) will set you up for success. What helps me stay consistent and committed to my habits is by tracking it on a daily basis. Any habit tracking app will do, consistent use of the app is important.

Recommended apps:

  1. Habitbull

  2. Streaks

  3. Coach.me

Wim Hof Method

A growth mindset embraces a challenge. What better way to push yourself than by taking cold showers every morning? If you’ve never heard of Wim Hoffman and his methods, then you’re missing out on a whole load of benefits to both your physical and mental well-being. His methods consist of a series of controlled breathing, breath-holding, and cold therapy.

There is also an element of mindfulness with the Wim Hof Method, the breathing exercise allows you to focus on the breath which promote the beneficial practice. Mindfulness goes hand in hand with the development of a growth mindset, allowing you to become more aware of yourself and the thoughts that are going on in your head. The more you self-reflect, the more you are able to find solutions to any challenges that come your way, enabling you to come up with new ways to overcome any barriers and ultimately reach your goal.

Recommended reading: What is the Wim Hof Method?

Evernote

In addition to the practice of mindfulness, I use Evernote to allow me to journal and document my thoughts. Being able to learn from past mistakes is crucial to a growth mindset. I like to use Evernote to document my mistakes allowing me to never forget and hopefully learn from it.

On top of that, whenever I come across information that I find interesting, I like to document it in a dedicated notebook and treat it as a commonplace book, this is essentially a scrapbook filled with information that I can refer to whenever it’s needed.

Recommended reading: How And Why To Keep A “Commonplace Book.”

YouTube

Almost 5 billion videos are watched on Youtube every single day. I would love to say that 90% of those videos are educational but sadly it’s not. Rather than treating YouTube as a form of entertainment, why not see it as a tool for education? The amount of practical information available is endless and on top of that, it’s completely free. From learning new programs like Photoshop to solving a Rubix cube in under 90 seconds, I’ve learned an endless amount of skills all from YouTube. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of the app and not spending the majority of your time watching viral videos.

Recommended watching:

  1. Learning Swedish in three months

  2. Accelerated Learning

  3. Any video from TED

The right toolkit

It’s said that a bad technician blames his tools and that’s what these apps are, just tools. Don’t think that once you’ve downloaded them into your phone you’re now set for success. You need to take responsibility with integrating each app into your everyday life. There are hundred more tools out there that can make a difference, everything I mentioned above are my go-to apps. I have found that this combination works for me, but it may not for you. I encourage you to try them out first and if they don’t gel well, experiment until you can find the right combination.

Related article: Life Designer’s Toolkit

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

Read this before talking with a native.

Read this before talking with a native.

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We’ve all heard it before. When learning a new language, the most effective way is to start speaking the language as quickly as possible. Although I do agree with this statement — especially if you’re conversing with a native speaker — you need to make sure you’re doing it correctly in order to get the most out of it. Sometimes jumping into the deep end and figuring out how to swim later is going to do more harm than you realise.

“But I want to learn a new language as quickly as possible!”

Yes, I get it. You don’t like the idea of slowing down, but there are some important things to consider before you even begin thinking about speaking to a native speaker.

 

Building up your database.

Eager learners cut to the chase and start talking to a native at the first opportunity. That conversation sounds a little something like this:

Eager learner: Hello

Native speaker: Hey, how’s it going?

Eager learner: Sorry, understand I not.

Native speaker: Oh, okay…. bye.

Okay, so it’s not going to be that ruthless, but what you’ve just witnessed is a wasted opportunity. What could’ve been a 5-minute conversation about where to find the local supermarket, became an awkward conversation that ended abruptly. Not having a basic foundation to work from will make the experience slow and frustrating. It’s important to have a basic knowledge of words and sentences before you start conversing with any native speaker. Rather than speaking and writing, the first few exercises you should be focusing on is reading and listening. You want to build up a database of words and phrases first, then once you feel confident with them, you can give those words a test run by conversing with a native speaker.

How do you build up your vocabulary database? Learning the 1000 most common words in your language is a great starting point. 80% of everyday language is constructed using only 20% of the language. Here’s one effective method that allowed me to learn the 1000 most common words in only a matter of months. Another effective way of building up your database is learning common phrases as well. Once you start to get confident with both words and phrases, you’ll be able to recall the words whilst talking to a native, making the conversation seamless. If you feel that there are still gaps when speaking, it’s a sign that you need to go back and build on your database. Expose yourself to the language as much as possible. Read books, articles, and comic books. Listen to audiobooks, music, and podcasts. Take note on the spelling, pronunciation, and rhythm of the language. What is important is that you close your mouth and open your eyes and ears.

The reason I learned another language was to surprise my multilingual girlfriend. I only had a few months to surprise her as I wanted to do it on her birthday. I focused on building up my database first, then when I felt confident enough with a few words and phrases, I started to talk to native speakers. It was liberating to be able to hold a conversation for a few minutes than for it to continuously stop, and start, and ruin the flow of my learning. Was I able to surprise her? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

 

What happens when you focus on speaking and writing?

Prioritising speaking and writing first can lead to all sorts of problems. Let me explain. Say that you’ve started learning a new language. You’ve immersed yourself in the culture, and you have picked up a few phrases. Now, you can even translate a few words. Feeling confident, you decide to write in your journal using only the new language. It reads a little something like this:

“Today a great day. I go visit my friends. We watching very funny movie. I am laughing.”

For someone who has only just grasped the language, this is great! Sure, there are grammatical errors, and the tenses are all over the place, but that’s understandable. After all, everything is still new. So what’s the problem? With no one to correct your writing, you’re going to constantly be making mistakes and not pick up on what is wrong with what you just wrote. From now on, you’re going to assume that the phrase, “we watching very funny movie” is correct, and so you will use that structure to write new sentences:

“I running to shop.”

“She reading scary books. ”

“They swimming in pool.”

By spending time on our database first, you’ll come across sentences that are in the correct format, allowing you to recognise what’s wrong, and what isn’t. How is it that children are able to learn a new language? When I was young, I didn’t read through a grammar book and study what a ‘conjunction’ is. Children are exposed to children’s books, they hear their parents talking to them, and they hear the people around them interacting with each other. For years, they are exposed to the correct way of conversing.

This doesn’t mean you have to live in the country for a few years in order to pick up the language. I know quite a few people that have moved to a different country and never really integrated themselves into their new environment. Even after 30 years, they can’t speak the native language as well as a ten-year-old! As such, you can expose yourself by reading native books, watching films and talking to the locals online. You don’t need to be in the country for that.

 

Getting feedback.

With any skill that you’re trying to learn, feedback is essential. When conversing with native speakers, it’s important that they constantly correct you on what you’re saying. Remember the poorly constructed phrases I wrote earlier? It’s important to share your written work with natives, let them critique your work and give you constructive feedback. That way, you can understand where you are going wrong. The same applies to talking. Once you’re confident about speaking to a native, make sure they stop and correct you every time you say something wrong. Otherwise, you’re always going to assume the greeting, “Hello my friend, how are you very much?” is always correct and will use it on every person you meet.

 

What to bring to the table.

I find that it’s important to be prepared when speaking to a native speaker. Similar to the wasted opportunity that we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to spend 60 minutes talking to a local and come out of the conversation with nothing learned. An exercise that I like to do is write out a paragraph or two in my chosen language. It could be something as simple as writing about what has happened during the day. I’d then take this paragraph to a native speaker and ask them to correct any mistakes. With an exercise like this, you have to check your ego at the door as there are going to be tons of corrections — especially if you’re relatively new to the language. The first time I did this, my paragraph was riddled with mistakes, and I was told that even a seven-year-old could write better than me, but I knew I had to continue doing this as it was beneficial for my learning.

Swedish Feedback.jpg

These corrections helped me understand where I was going wrong. Now that I’m aware of them, I should be making those mistakes less frequently. This technique is a simple feedback loop that will speed up your learning rate. Getting constant feedback is important to the development of your learning, and it should be included in not only your writing but also when you talk as well. I favor writing feedback exercises over talking because it can be difficult for the native listener to constantly stop you when you make a mistake whilst talking. Sometimes he/she let mistakes pass, and you don’t get the right amount of feedback. With a pen and paper in their hand, I find they're more comfortable correcting your mistakes. Some people are too shy to say that you’re wrong. Hence, make sure you decide on the right person to give you feedback.

 

Where can I find native speakers?

It’s all well and good to know what to bring to the table before you sit down with a native speaker, but where exactly do you find one? The obvious answer is in their homeland, but what if you can’t afford to take frequent trips out to the motherland? Don’t fret, below are a few options that’ll do the job.

 

iTalki.

This is a website that I’ve been using for quite a while now, and I’ve never had the need to leave the house — or even my pajamas. iTalki connects learners with teachers. From Swedish to Yiddish, there are a plethora of different languages to learn from and an endless amount of native speakers to converse with. It’s easy to set-up, and once everything is confirmed, you share Skype details with each other and move the conversation over there. Just remember to keep in mind everything I mentioned before you look into this. You don’t want to waste your hour because your foundations are weak!

 

Local Communities.

If online isn’t your thing, and you'd prefer a face-to-face interaction, then finding local communities in your chosen language would be for you. Meetup is a website that brings people together based on what you enjoy. You can start a group yourself or join one locally. It’s a great way to meet new people with similar interests.

 

Friends and Family.

Do you have any friends or family that can help you with your chosen language? Are you not asking them because you feel embarrassed? Nonsense! Put your ego to the side and ask for some help. You’ll be surprised that a lot of them are willing to give their time to you. When I started learning Swedish to surprise my girlfriend, I reached out to my cousin who is half Swedish. We talked on a weekly basis, and she really helped me out at the beginning. Since surprising my girlfriend, she’s continued to help me.

 

Conclusion.

Conversing with a native is essential to further your understanding of a language, but it should not be your focus if your foundations are limited. Make sure you first dedicate time to learning new words, then take it up a gear and learn common phrases. Always ask for feedback, and don’t be ashamed to make mistakes — we all start somewhere! I’ve documented my entire journey of learning a new language. If you want to see my journey and find out what other techniques I’ve learned along the way, click here to find out more.

***

Are you struggling with picking up another language? Is learning something new difficult for you? Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

How I pay for my education.

How I pay for my education.

How I pay for my education.jpg

Education can get expensive. Believe me, I know. I’ve spent just over £15,000 to graduate with a BA (Hons) degree in Graphic & Media Design, it was money well spent (I do hope you’re able to note the sarcastic undertone). Forget about formal education. What about learning a practical set of hard skills? From learning a new language to a new instrument, you’re going to need a few lessons and resource materials to make any progress. You could be frugal, go at it on your own and watch as many DIY tutorials on YouTube, but with so many videos contradicting each other, it’s difficult to know who to trust. Or you could speed up your learning curve and sign up to a few online courses, pay for a teacher and invest in yourself. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but I’ve managed to balance the two.

“That can get expensive, it all adds up!”

Sure it does, but as Benjamin Franklin said,

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

I’ve managed to get on top of my finances so that whenever I need to spend money on anything related to learning I don’t bat an eyelid. How have I been able to get to this position? It took a lot of hard work and self-control and I’m going to share with you my process.

Continual growth is important, what better way to develop yourself than by learning a new skill? I am on a mission to learn and document every practical skill to better my life. Once a week I update you on what I’m currently learning and if you want to stay up-to-date and pick up a skill or two click here to sign up to the 1-minute report card.

 

Secrets of the millionaire mind.

I cannot take full credit of what I’m going to share with you. Everything I’ve learned regarding money management all comes from T. Harv Eker’s book, “Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.”

“It comes down to this: either you control money, or it will control you. To control money, you must manage it.”

Eker places great emphasis on managing your money wisely. What’s the best method for taking control over your money? Splitting it up into 6 different accounts.

This book helped manage my entire life!

This book helped manage my entire life!

Whether it’s money coming in from a steady salary or a one-off gift, you should try to split your income into the following accounts:

  • 50% into your Necessities Account - We all have bills to pay. Use this account for just that.

  • 10% into your Long-Term Savings Account - This should be dedicated to your future house, holidays and/or your ‘rainy day’ fund.

  • 10% into your Giving Account - It’s always good to give. Make sure you have enough for any charitable donations.

  • 10% into your Play Account - With all that saving and money management, it’s good to treat yourself every month. By using the money from this account you won’t feel guilty about going on a shopping spree.

  • 10% into your Financial Freedom Account - This account should only be spent on generating more money. Investing wisely will assure your financial freedom.

  • 10% into your Education Account - Use this account specifically for educational purposes. Whether I need to buy an online course, book or pay for someone’s time, this is where I take the money out from.

Although this article is focused on how I finance my learning, it also shows you how I finance my life. As you can see every account covers each aspect of my life. The important thing to take away is to live within the means of each fund. If I want to buy £50 worth of books and there’s only £5 left in the Education Account, I’ll have to wait until the account is topped up. The same goes for everything else.

 

What I’ve spent my money on.

As long as each purchase is justified I will go ahead with the sale with no buyers remorse. There have been times where I have spent £100 in one go whilst trying to learn a new language, in the last 3 months I’ve spent £60 on books alone. Just yesterday, I placed an order for 3 more books that equated to £30.

A bank statement from my Education Account.

A bank statement from my Education Account.

If I had kept all my money in one account, it would’ve been hard to know if I was going over my Education Fund and eating into my Long-Term Savings account. Splitting the money up makes everything easier to manage.

 

Why have an Education Account?

When I graduated from university with my degree in one hand and the other fist pumping the air (again, take note of the sarcastic undertone) I remember telling myself that I’m done with education. I no longer have to worry about exams, studying or learning something new. Shame on me! Eker said it best,

“If you're not continuously learning, you will be left behind.”

If you’re not taking the time out to learn new skills you’re not growing, you’ll be a one-trick pony that will eventually be phased out. If I had kept the mentality of no longer learning anything new I would’ve remained as a graphic designer making posters on Photoshop. Taking the leap and starting my own business, I was forced to learn new skills that helped me in my career. Soft skills like, public speaking, email etiquette, and time-management. To hard skills like, how to take good photographs, how to edit video, how to record audio and the list goes on.

Working on my business. This opportunity would have not been available if I didn't develop myself and learn new skills.

Although I was forced to learn all of these new skills to stay afloat in my industry, I soon realised the importance of continual growth. Eker goes on to add,

“The more you learn, the more you earn.”

Even if increasing your income isn’t on your radar, learning new skills to help you develop as an individual will open up new opportunities and experiences. This is why it’s important to have one account dedicated to your personal development, it’s the first step to taking continual growth seriously.

 

Make sure you live within your means.

In order for this system to work, I cannot stress to you how important it is to live within the means of each account. I know how tempting it can be to take a little bit from the Education Account and use it to pay off your bills, but you need to stay strong and stick to it. Eker adds,

Saying "I'll start managing my money as soon as I caught up" is like an overweight person saying "I'll start exercising and dieting as soon as I lose twenty pounds." It's putting the cart before the horse, which leads to going nowhere... or even backward! First you start properly handling the money you have, then you'll have more money to handle.

It’s important for you to remain consistent with your money management. It takes a lot of discipline and hard work to get to this level, but if you’re truly serious about growing as an individual these are the practices you’re going to need to take. It took me a while to grasp the concept of splitting my money up, especially when I had bills to pay, but I kept at it. Now, as soon as money comes in it’s almost second nature for me to move the money around. It’s a great feeling to know that when I want to spend money on a few books or online courses, there’s a little bit of money stashed away in a dedicated account.

If splitting up your money unsettles you I would start off slow. If you don’t want to manage your salary right now, buy 6 empty jars and split up any cash that you come across. One day when you least expect it, you may realise that you have a bit of money in your Education Account to buy a couple of resources that’ll help with your personal growth.

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

How to improve your memory.

How to improve your memory.

Anki v3.jpg

When I first approached learning a new language, I came across some great advice to speed up the process; learn the 1000 most common words used in that language. It won’t make you fluent, but it’ll definitely help you get by. Similar to the 80/20 rule, you’ll find in life that we only use 20% of our vocabulary to construct 80% of everyday conversations. So I went off to figure out the most common words and try to learn all 1000 of them. The start was difficult, I didn’t have a system to help me memorise each word and my memory failed me at times. Countless times. Who do I blame for that? My deteriorating brain? At the time of writing this I’m only 28, so that can’t be the reason— at least I hope not! After doing a bit of research and figuring out how to improve my memory, I came across a technique that helped improve it dramatically. This technique is something that we’ve all been aware of at a very young age, it is none other than the use of flashcards.

Before you roll your eyes and switch over to another article— hopefully another one of mine— I’m not talking about those flashcards that your teacher would show to you during your time in nursery. I’m talking about a specific software that takes flipping cards to a whole new level. Anki is an open source software—  that means it’s free of charge! Their slogan is,

“Powerful, intelligent flashcards. Remembering things just became much easier.”

Each digital card is fully customisable. You can add images, audio files, videos, whatever you can think of! As Anki phrases it, “the possibilities are endless.” Before I go into the benefits of flashcards and why Anki is a reliable tool. I thought it would be best to share my experience so far with the software.

Before we begin, I wanted to add that it’s important to prioritise learning over entertainment. What better way to develop yourself than by learning a new skill? I try to learn as many skills as possible, break down the entire process and share it with you. Once a week I update you on my progress, do you want to stay-up-date and learn how to pick up a skill or two? Click here to sign up to the 1-minute report card.

How I’ve been using Anki.

Look at all of those cards that I need to remember!

The image above is my homepage for Anki. Every flashcard sits in a deck, think of it as a folder, a place for you to organise all your cards. You’ll notice that I have quite a few decks in my account. I’ve come a long way from only memorising the 1000 most common words. I’ve added new decks that focus on a variety of topics. Now that I’ve become more comfortable with individual words I’m trying to become comfortable with useful phrases as well, another practice that is known as sentence mining.

With a tangible deck of cards, you have to write the question on the front and fill in the answer on the back. With Anki, you have to do the same thing but in digital form. However, each card is fully customisable giving you the freedom to be creative in your learning. Want to add an image to remind you of the answer? Or add an audio snippet of someone speaking the language? The possibilities are endless and it’s really down to how you want to use Anki for your own learning experience.

Filling this in can be boring.

It can get tedious filling in each card, especially when you have to enter in a 1000 new words. What I found most useful with Anki is that there is a community of learners that are willing to share their own decks. At the bottom of the home screen is a little button labeled, ‘Get shared’. Once clicked on, you are navigated to a new window and presented with a search bar that grants you access to trawl through their database of popular decks. A simple search of the word ‘Swedish’ came up with 50 results of detailed decks; I downloaded three of them! I would recommend you try out this feature, there’s an endless amount of free resource that you can take advantage of. I even typed in the word ‘Geography’ to see what would pop up, there is a community for almost every topic of learning.

So many decks to choose from!

Another feature that I am quite fond of are the detailed statistics for each deck. I am a man who enjoys looking at statistics (some of you might think of me weirdly now) and seeing the visual representation of small improvements. With that being said, Anki provides updated statistics for every deck that you can go through. Below is a screenshot of my progress with the 1000 common words deck. I’ve been using this deck for just over 5 months now, you’ll notice that I’m quite confident with 674 words and I’m still new to 131 of them. I do find this feature useful, getting instant feedback and knowing that I am progressing gives me comfort and motivates me to continue. Being able to say that I’m confident with over 600 new foreign words goes to show that I’ve come a long way. Before using Anki, my memory was all over the place, but after committing to going through the decks every day, I can clearly see an overall improvement.

Quite happy with my progress so far.

How does it work?

So how exactly have I been able to learn hundreds of new words and phrases? Well, there is some science to using Anki and I hope that by now you can see that it does work.

 

Spaced Repetition Systems.

Remember when I told you that my memory sucked when I started learning a thousand new words? Well it turns out I wasn’t the only one (phew!). Say I gave you 10 new words to remember, studies show that our memory rapidly declines as the days progress. By the end of the week, you’ll probably only remember 2 of them! The famous forgetting curve graph depicts how our memory deteriorates over time.

Look at that dip!

In order for us to combat our forgetful memory, we need to introduce a technique known as the spaced repetition system (SRS). This technique is pretty simple, you repeatedly review the information over a certain amount of time to allow the mind to absorb all of it in. The mind retains more when we regularly revisit the information. As the forgetting curve shows, trying to cram everything in one sitting isn’t productive, as you’ll eventually forget all of it by the end of the week. Having a system where you’re able to review the information at set intervals will make your memory last longer.

This goes to show that repetition is important.

That’s where Anki comes into play. The software includes its own algorithms that figure out when it’s time for you to review a specific card. It can tell when I’m not as confident with a card and let that surface more often than other cards that I have no trouble with. Also, don’t expect to go through the entire deck in one sitting. Anki understands that cramming everything in one day doesn’t make sense and it staggers the learning process. What does this mean? It means you’ll only be learning 10-20 new cards per day, and the remaining time is spent going through all the other cards that you’ve previously been exposed to. It took quite a long time for me to see all 1000 new foreign words.

This tells me that I'm quite confident with the card.

As you can see from the photo above, if I got the answer wrong it’ll let me revisit the card within 10 minutes. If I found it easy, I’ll revisit the card in 8 days time. Anki’s algorithm changes depending on each card. There are cards where the only option available is to review it within 1 minute, others where I will review it in 9 months time. Having this spaced repetition automated makes the whole learning process a lot smoother. Sure, you can use real flashcards, but to figure out when is a good time to revisit each card can get quite complicated. I’d rather let Anki figure that out for me; I’ve already got enough on my plate as it is!

 

Active Recall.

Did you ever have a method to prepare for an upcoming exam? I remember mine. A week leading up to my GCSE’s (end of secondary school exams) I would spend the majority of my days locked away in a quiet library. I would skim read a few books, underline ‘important’ information, transfer the notes to my notebook and then read them over again. I’d do this until lunchtime, take a break and then repeat until the end of the day. I realise now that this form of revision wasn’t the most effective way of learning, maybe that’s why I only ended up with 1 A, 5 B’s and 4 C’s (still, not bad!).

Reading books, listening to lectures and watching videos are all considered as a passive form of learning. This is not to say that it doesn’t work, but it’s not the most effective. Remember the saying, ‘in one ear and out the other’? That generally happens when the brain is placed in a passive state. Active learning— also known as active recall— is when you constantly challenge the brain, making it work by retrieving the information.

It's better to be on the right side of the graph.

How do you promote active recall? By constantly quizzing yourself on the answer. How do you do that? Isn’t it obvious by now? Every flashcard you interact with is getting you to actively recall the information stored somewhere in your brain. You’re constantly testing yourself and making the brain work, because of this, the information slowly moves from short-term into long-term memory, making it easier for you to recall the information. I wish I knew all of this when studying for my GCSE’s; I could’ve gotten more A’s!

What else will I be using it for?

It’s amazing to see how such a simple tool can help improve the mind dramatically. I guess there is a lot of truth to the phrase, ‘less is more’. I hope this article has shown you just how important— if used properly— the use of flashcards are. What I do want to stress is just how important it is to remain consistent in your learning. Being lazy with your flashcards will get you nowhere, your progress is determined by the actions you take consistently. Don’t expect your memory to become superhuman in a matter of weeks either, these things take time, but it’s a hell of a lot quicker than reading a book and cramming it all in.

Just remember, Anki can be used for just about anything. Currently, I’ve been using it to learn a new language, but I know Anki is a tool that I will continue to use whilst learning other skills. The next skill on my list is to learn piano, I’m certain I’ll be making new decks to help me memorise piano chords. Being creative when building your decks will help the process of learning more enjoyable. It can get quite monotonous flipping a card and seeing a word pop up on screen. Add a few images, insert sounds, it helps to be creative. One thing is for certain, by using Anki it will help improve your memory, which is important for when you’re learning any new skill. So how do you plan to include Anki in your learning?

Want to see how Anki helped me learn a new language? I surprised my girlfriend by secretly learning one of her languages and surprising her on her birthday. Everyday leading up to the event I was on Anki building up my vocabulary. I wouldn't have been able to do this without the software.

How I learned Swedish in three months.

How I learned Swedish in three months.

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Before I begin outlining how I managed to drastically improve my comprehension with the Swedish language in a short amount of time, let me explain why I wanted to put myself through all of those long arduous hours. You see, there’s a girl involved. Don’t all great stories start like that?

My girlfriend was born and raised in Sweden and is of Persian descent, she’s multilingual and can speak English, Swedish and Farsi fluently, which at times I am quite jealous of. With English being her weakest of the three I would occasionally correct her on subtle mistakes. How to pronounce the word ‘determined’, correcting her v’s from her w’s as well as her g’s and j’s. Whenever I would stop to correct her she would jokingly say, “Whatever, I know three languages.” I would reply back with, “Two and a half.”

Every so often she would pull out a complicated word in English and I’d stop to ask her how she learned that word. She would shrug her shoulders and think nothing of it. I, on the other hand, would be amazed and wonder how hard it would be to learn a new language. Being born and raised in England and be of Filipino descent, I never really embraced the Filipino culture. Learning Tagalog (the native language of Philippines) wasn’t really that appealing to me. I stuck with English and always struggled with learning another language. In my early 20’s I gave Tagalog a go and failed miserably, I would periodically go on Duolingo and attempt to learn Spanish too. That didn’t last long either.

Regardless of my lack of experience with learning a new language, I decided for my girlfriends next birthday I would surprise her with learning one of her languages. I chose Swedish instead of Farsi because I thought it would be the lesser of two evils, plus my cousin is half Swedish so I thought I could reach out to her and get some tips. Not only would it be a nice surprise, I thought that I could hit two birds with one stone. Her dad doesn’t speak English well enough to maintain a conversation, so I thought I could use the skill of a new language and be able to communicate with him.

I had carefully planned this out, I wanted to start off by taking photos together with the camera on a tripod, then I would sneakily hit the record button and start talking to her in Swedish and not stop until she took me seriously. Did I manage to surprise her? I guess you can be the judge of that.

I had come up with this idea 12 months beforehand, but I didn’t really do much for the first 9 months. I had no idea how to approach learning a new language and I wasn’t taking the challenge seriously. I had purchased Rosetta Stone for Swedish and hardly used it.Occasionally I would jump on Duolingo for 10 minutes and be so lackadaisical about it. I was making little to no progress, but I could only blame myself. Then with three months left everything changed. I realised with the birthday looming, I had to get my priorities in order if I wanted to successfully surprise my girlfriend.

Instead of dusting off the cobwebs and jumping back into the Rosetta Stone program, I thought I’d do some research on useful techniques on how to learn a language within 3 months. I knew I had to put the work in and time was running out. So I committed to a minimum of 10 hours a week of studying Swedish whilst implementing the different techniques of learning a new language in a short amount of time. The goal wasn’t to be fluent in Swedish but have enough knowledge to get by and surprise my girlfriend. I do regret not taking the challenge seriously from the very start. Who knows, I could’ve been fluent by the time I surprised her. At least I now have enough knowledge to have a basic conversation with my girlfriend. If I keep up this progress I’m sure I’ll be speaking fluently in no time.

A useful guide that helped put everything into perspective for me was an article written by Arthur from Faster To Master.  It outlined how to learn any language fast and I got some useful tips from it. You can check it out here.

With the use of deliberate practice coupled with the Pomodoro technique. I managed to effectively study around 10 hours a week. Here’s what my schedule would normally look like:

 

Monday - 19:00 - 21:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

5-minute break

25 minutes of Memrise

5-minute break

25 minutes of watching an English film with Swedish subtitles

 

Tuesday - 0 Hours

 

Wednesday - 19:00 - 21:00

60 mins on iTalki

5-minute break

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of reading the book, “Essentials of Swedish Grammar.” - This was so boring and I dreaded doing this every time I picked up the book, but I knew it was essential for my learning.

5-minute break

 

Thursday - 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

5-minute break

 

Friday - 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of writing exercises

5-minute break

 

Saturday - 19:00 - 21:00

60 mins on Skype with my Swedish cousin

5-minute break

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo

 

Sunday 18:00 - 19:00

25 minutes of Anki Flashcards

5-minute break

25 minutes of Duolingo.

5-minute break

 

That was pretty much it. Of course, the times were flexible and I would often shift things around depending on my schedule. I would mix and match the different exercises according to my mood as well. Regardless of the order, within a week I was trying to cover all the important sections of reading, writing and speaking. I would repeat this week after week for the entire 3 months. Keep in mind that I had to hide this all from my girlfriend, so whenever I was with her it was difficult to practice. There would be times when I’d only study 3 hours for the week as opposed to 10.

Even though at times I failed to study 10 hours a week, I still noticed a steep learning curve within the 3 months. Now that this is no longer a surprise, I have the luxury of practicing with her. I’d like to strengthen this skill to the point of confidently talking with her and hold a conversation about everyday life. I guess I just have to keep up what I’ve already been doing.

For anyone who is attempting to learn a new language or skill, practicing with an intense focus is essential. What helped me commit to each practice was by scheduling everything in advance. Keep track of how much time you commit to a skill and try and not to break the chain. You keep this consistent and I’m positive that you’ll see a major difference within 3 months time.

***

Are you struggling with picking up another language? Is learning something new difficult for you? Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone. Who Wins?

Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone. Who wins?

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I remember coming across a YouTube video of a young man reviewing Rosetta Stone. I was watching this because I was contemplating whether or not I should purchase the iconic yellow language learning programme to help me learn Swedish. In his review, he mentioned he had reached the end of the programme and assured the viewers that almost 90% of buyers will not finish it. Although I had no idea who this man was, I took his statements personally and I wanted to prove to him that I was not going to be part of his statistic — If there’s one way of getting me to do anything, simply challenge me and I will blindly jump into the fray. So there I was, ploughing through the course, breezing through each chapter. Did I reach the end? Sadly, no. It’s tough for me to admit this, but I too became one of the 90% of people unable to complete the course. Why exactly? All I could put it down to was sheer boredom and laziness. 

Weeks passed and I felt like a failure. I was aware of Duolingo and its free service, but I assumed anything free wouldn’t give me enough value to successfully learn a language. I needed something to get me back into learning a language, so I decided to give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen? 5 months later, I can proudly tell you that I have reached the end of Duolingo and I was mistaken with the idea that ‘anything free holds no value.’

I reached the end. Hurrah!

I reached the end. Hurrah!

So is Duolingo better than Rosetta Stone? With the experience gained from being a user with both platforms, I go through a variety of categories to answer this very question.

Should I pay for an online course?

Let’s get the obvious one out the way. One is (somewhat) free, whilst the other is not. Not only do you have to pay for Rosetta Stone, but their products come at a hefty price. Since purchasing one of their products, Rosetta Stone has been changing up the way they sell their programs. The product I bought was a stand-alone piece of software that I had to download and install, this meant that I could only access it via one computer. From what I can see on their website, everything is subscription based and can be used across different platform. 

I spent how much?!

I spent how much?!

As you can see from the photo above, I was fortunate to purchase the product with a discount. I can’t remember what special offer was going on at the time, but boy did I grab a bargain! Parting ways with just under £300 for a language learning programme is asking a lot, no matter where you stand financially. Now, just like many other companies, Rosetta Stone has embraced the subscription model as well.

Looks like everyone is going subscription-based.

Looks like everyone is going subscription-based.

These prices are considerably cheaper from what I paid in the past, but when compared to a free product in Duolingo, Rosetta Stone has no leg to stand on. When starting out, my initial reaction was to opt for a paid product as I thought it would provide more value to my learning. I don’t want to say that I wasted my money because I’ve yet to reach the end of the course, so I can’t really tell if the product is worth all of that money. The real waste is me giving up on it a few weeks after purchasing the product. That being said, I do plan on going back to it and completing the course.

 

I had no need for this.

I had no need for this.

Duolingo is completely free and you don’t need to pay any hidden fees to unlock extra content. There is, however, a Duolingo Plus option where you pay a monthly rate that provides you with an ad-free experience and the ability to download the lessons for when you’re not connected to the internet. I guess this will come in useful when you’re traveling with no Wifi connection—  it certainly would’ve helped me whilst commuting underground— That being said, I prefer to use Duolingo on a web browser in the comforts of my desk at home, which meant I was usually connected to the internet. Personally, the ads didn’t bother me one bit, so I never had a real reason to upgrade to a premium version either. With the lure of upgrading to Duolingo Plus not so appealing, I managed to get through the entire course without spending one penny.

Who wins?

Hands down Duolingo clearly wins in this category. There’s no competition between the two. With a free price tag, I’m surprised to see how much value it brought to my language learning experience.


How are both programs structured?

Both Duolingo and Rosetta Stone throw you into the language, you don’t really get a lecture as to how and why the language is constructed the way it is. You’re not taught the rules of grammar and nor are you given a reason for why one word works in a particular sentence and not in another. It’s because of this, it can be quite difficult starting out if you have absolutely no knowledge of the language. With that being said, both courses ease you into the language by introducing you with very basic words like ‘girl’, ‘boy’ and ‘car’. As you move further along, both courses start introducing full sentences like, “the boy in the car”, but they don’t really explain how to construct a sentence. Again, you’re left to your own devices to figure it out. I think that’s what’s lacking in a lot of language learning programmes. For me, grammar was one of my weak points— it’s something I still struggle with now— understanding how to construct a sentence and why it works would’ve helped me tremendously. It’s as if both courses expect you to pick up on how a language is constructed by going over a variety of different sentences over and over again. That’s not to say this method of repetition didn’t help— which it did— it’s just that I’m sure I would’ve gained more value if someone explained the rules of the language.

So how is Rosetta Stone structured? The product I ordered consists of 3 different levels that is broken into 4 units per level. Each level consists of different categories such as, “Language Basics”, “Greetings & Introductions” and “Everyday Things.” Each category is then broken up into a variety of small bite-sized lessons, which some of these lessons can last up to 5 minutes and go all the way up to 25 minutes. Keep in mind there are about 30+ lessons in each category, so there’s a lot of content to get through— no wonder a lot of people give up less than halfway! 

 

An endless amount of lessons to get through!

An endless amount of lessons to get through!

Rosetta Stone covers all the elements when it comes to language learning; reading, writing, speaking and listening. Photos are heavily implemented within the software, which I think makes learning a lot easier. Every word you hear is spoken by a local, which is a great way to train your ears and get used to the language. There’s a useful speech recognition software, that analyses your voice and visually shows you where you are going wrong. Although I can’t really vouch for this technology as it sometimes confuses a random shout as part of the Swedish language. In order to progress to the next level, you’ll need to correctly answer a certain amount of questions, anything below 90% means you have to repeat the lesson.

How is Duolingo structured? Similar to Rosetta it covers the basic reading, writing, speaking and listening. On the home screen of Duolingo, you are introduced with a language skill tree, similar to Rosetta you have to complete each category in order to progress to the next circle. You start off with the ‘Basics’ and then move into ‘Phrases’, ‘Questions’ and ‘Sports’. The whole Duolingo experience is gamified which I found helped motivate me to get all the way to the end. The inclusion of the different type of game mechanics such as learning streaks, community leaderboards, and achievement badges made the whole learning experience more enjoyable. There is a handy ‘Practice’ button that allows you to go over categories that you’re quite weak in, I did find this feature quite useful when I wanted to strengthen my weak points.

Such a simple, yet beautiful interface.

Such a simple, yet beautiful interface.

Duolingo features a robotic voice that doesn’t sound as natural when compared to Rosetta Stone’s audio. It’s not the best voice to listen to as you don’t really pick up the local pronunciations. Each stage is text heavy, rarely are you presented with photos as a learning aid. The interface of the Duolingo is simple yet beautiful, it’s easy to navigate and it’s one of the reasons what drew me back to learning with Duolingo as opposed to Rosetta.

Who wins?

In terms of structure, I give this one to Rosetta Stone. Although both cover the basics very well, Rosetta has the slight edge with the use of local speakers and more use of images. 


What other perks are available?

What else does Rosetta Stone have to offer? Well, if you were like me and only bought a stand alone and don’t have access to the subscription services, there’s not much else you can do with the programme. Committing to a subscription grants you access to live tutoring with native speakers, talking with other learners and playing different types of games. Is it worth getting a subscription? I can’t answer that question as I couldn’t justify spending a monthly amount when I could have access to all of Duolingo’s features for a small fee or even a free rate.

What does Duolingo have to offer? I already mentioned the gamification element to Duolingo, but there’s also an element of experimentation which you can find on the Labs tab. This is where there are ongoing experimental projects that could lead to something or be discontinued at any time. So far these include ‘Duolingo Stories’, where they use dialogue to help learners improve their reading. This is only available in a limited amount of languages. They also have Duolingo events where you can connect with other learners face to face. There’s a huge community and there are events held all over the world, you can find one in 6 out of the 7 continents. There’s also a podcast available to listen to that talks about real-life stories. This, unfortunately, is only available in Spanish, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they expand it to a few more different languages. If you want to get a recognised trusted certificate that shows how proficient you are in English, for $49 you can take an online test at the Duolingo English Test Centre. Who knows what else Duolingo will come up with?

Who wins?

Duolingo easily wins this category. The culture of constant experimentation and each project being so easily available gives no chance for Rosetta Stone to compete with Duolingo.


What else can you use?

 

Very similar to Duolingo, but with a slight twist.

Very similar to Duolingo, but with a slight twist.

Although this article puts Duolingo up against Rosetta Stone there are other available language learning courses out there. Memrise is similar to Duolingo and makes good use of the language learning techniques of mnemonics. It too is also free, but there is a Pro version that gives you some added perks. I’ve used Memrise at times, especially when I wanted to break the monotony of Duolingo and Rosetta.

 

Never tried this.

Never tried this.

Babbel is another language learning course that you can use, although I’ve never used it, there are people out there that swear by it. Similar to Rosetta Stone you have to pay a subscription in order to use their product. It’s for this reason, why I’ve not attempted to give Babbel a go. I had already spent money on one product, I’m not going to spend more money on something else that is similar.

I find that there are cheaper and more easily available techniques to help learn a new language. Sentence mining, learning the most common 1000 words and the scriptorium method are techniques that you don’t need to spend a penny on. I can certainly say just those three alone were a lot more effective than completing Duolingo.

Where do I stand?

So who wins in the end? It’s really down to preference. When comparing two language courses to each other it reminds me of the age-old argument of “Mac vs PC”. Which one is better? Ultimately, both are tools that help you navigate to reach your goal. Each has a different interface, one is slightly more expensive than the other but each has a fanbase that swears by it. Being a user of both Mac and PC I eventually made the decision to stick to PC because it was a lot cheaper. It’s for a similar reason why I personally put Duolingo ahead of Rosetta Stone. The value I got from this course far outweighs what I paid— which was nothing! I’m sure I would’ve got a lot of value from Rosetta Stone, and I plan to finally reach the end. 

What I must say, is that neither course will get you to a high-level fluency in any language. I used each programme as a supplement to my studies. I would talk on the phone, read books and watch tv shows, then occasionally refer back to the course. I didn’t make it my main source of learning, as you should do too. Just like a computer, treat these courses as a tool to help get you to your end goal.

***

Are you struggling with picking up another language? Is learning something new difficult for you? Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

What Is Deep Practice?

What Is Deep Practice?

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I remember watching a video a friend put up online. It was only a 10-second watch, but it made me realise how I wanted to spend my next few days. Sitting at my desk, fiddling with a Rubix cube. The video was of my friend solving this colourful puzzle and she captured the last 10 seconds of her solving it. After watching this I was inspired to learn the skill too. I remember telling myself, “If she can solve it, why can’t I?”

I found a second-hand Rubix cube at a local market and got it for a bargain, only 50p! I remember sitting at my desk with the cube placed next to me, I was searching the internet looking for tips on how to solve the puzzle. After an hour of researching, I thought I’d get stuck in and give it a go. Naturally, my first few attempts were atrocious. Constantly getting confused with the colours, I had to keep referring to the many guides on the internet. I was going nowhere. Over the week I kept at it. Constantly making mistakes, I would take a few moments to understand where I went wrong. I’d reset and give it another go. Fast forward a week later and I was able to solve the Rubix cube under 2 mins. Now I can solve it in under 90 seconds.

When I look back at those frustrating moments during my learning, I realised I was incorporating a specific type of training that I was unaware of. This type of training not only helped me tackle the challenge of solving a Rubix cube in under 90 seconds, but it has become the blueprint of how I tackle a new skill. This type of training is known as ‘deep practice.’

What is deep practice?

When I came across the idea of deep practice it changed how I approached everything in life. It’s funny because I came across the term in my late twenties. If only I had learned this way of thinking a lot earlier, who knows how many skills I would have under my belt right now? Oh, how hindsight can be a cruel mistress.

I came across the phrase from Daniel Coyle in his book, ‘The Talent Code.’ I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to take any skill to new heights. He coined the term ‘deep practice’ that has similar attributes to the phrase ‘deliberate practice.’ Whichever term you’d prefer to use the idea is simple; being 100% present in the moment and limiting any distractions that could you take you away from a  heightened state of focus. With this heightened state, you are to tackle the weak points of your skill, slowly struggling and correcting any mistakes throughout the process. If you are constantly training in this manner, you’ll eventually turn a mediocre skill into a world-class talent.

It sounds easy enough, but believe me, it isn’t. There’s nothing sexy about this approach, it’s boring and at times frustrating. Repeating the same process with the same amount of focus can be taxing both mentally and physically. However, I can certainly say that it pays off. I wouldn’t have been able to surprise my girlfriend by learning a new language in such a short amount of time if I had not implemented this way of thinking.

 

Why breaking it down helps.

“Break it into chunks"

- Daniel Coyle


They say ‘practice makes perfect’, but what if the method of your practice is incorrect? You could be practicing with a bad technique for 3 hours a day and pick up bad habits from it. It’s no wonder you’re not seeing any progress in your chosen skill. Understanding what to focus on during your practice is really important, otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

One of the main concepts of deep practice is to break the skill down into smaller manageable pieces, memorising them individually and then bring them back together in larger groups. Coyle likes to call this process, ‘Chunking’.

When learning another language I took this advice to heart and broke everything down. Instead of jumping into Rosetta Stone and going through the motions, I researched what were the common 1000 words used in the language and memorised each word until I was confident with each one. With the use of Anki flashcards, I was able to memorise the 1000 words in quick fashion. Learning the rules of grammar allowed me to put the words together, and I realised that I could construct sentences with more ease. I was able to recognise words whilst reading and pick up words whilst listening, this would allow me to understand conversations a lot easier and help me progress a lot faster.

Breaking down the skill into smaller pieces allows you to not get overwhelmed with your practice. Biting off more than you can chew can deflate you and put you off practicing entirely. With any skill that you’re taking on, try to break it down into smaller pieces. Really take the time to understand the fundamentals, then when you’re confident with it put it all back together again.

Embrace the struggle.

“Struggle is not an option: it’s a biological requirement."

- Daniel Coyle

What puts many people off from practising is the frustration of constant failure. The idea of constantly working on your craft and making mistake after mistake can be disheartening, but it’s in the failing where you will find success. It’s something we all have to go through and accept. Whatever you decide to take up, at the beginning you’re going to suck at it a lot. And I mean a lot. Plain and simple. Your comprehension of the skill is still raw and you won’t be able to grasp the intricacies of it all. However, it pays to be patient. Target the weakest points and constantly develop it until you’ve got it to an acceptable level. It’s the only way you’re going to be able to progress your skill.

When learning Swedish I tried to implement this advice. I made countless of mistakes when conversing with the locals, whenever I would make one I would laugh it off and not be afraid to make another. A lot of the times our insecurities of failure causes us not say anything at all, embracing the struggle and accepting that it’s going to happen often is an important mind-shift for the development of your skill.

Don’t just work on what you’re good at. Really take time to reflect on your progress. Is your dominant hand stronger when dribbling the basketball? Then why aren’t you working on your non-dominant hand also? Are you able to deadlift 200kg? Great, but what’s your flexibility like? Do you call yourself a great a musician? Amazing, but what are you like live on-stage playing with other bandmates? Make sure that you hone in on the weakest parts of your skill and target the struggle.

The importance of going slow.


“It’s not how fast you can do it. It’s how slow you can do it correctly."

- Daniel Coyle


Not only is it important to embrace the struggle of any given skill, but it’s important to do it slowly. Everyone wants to pick up a new skill fast, I only had 3 months to surprise my girlfriend with another language. That didn’t mean I crammed everything in and rushed on every aspect of the language. I broke down my days and scheduled intensive hours where I would tackle my weak points slowly. As Coyle would say, ‘Baby steps are the royal road to skill.’

Going slow in your practice allows you to pay attention to your mistakes, allowing you to get honest feedback on where you are right now. This gives you a chance to work on your faults and rectify the issue properly. Being able to study the methods of each breakdown at a slow pace allows the skill to really stick in your brain, so make sure you slow down. You’d be surprised how well you develop with 1 hour of intense deep practice every day. Make sure you do this slowly and often, which leads me to my next point.

Repetition is valuable.

“If I skip practice for one day, I notice. If I skip practice for two days, my wife notices. If I skip for three days, the world notices."

- Vladimir Horrowitz

Another element that needs to be included with deep practice is repetition. This is the hurdle where a lot of people fail, I know at times I did. Being consistent in your practice time is difficult, we all have our lives to live and it can be easy to postpone practice time. I found it a lot easier to commit to a daily practice when I scheduled everything in advance. The question you need to ask yourself is where does learning a new skill sit with your priorities? Another technique I used to keep me accountable with daily practice was by not breaking the chain. When there were times where I couldn’t be bothered to practice, the idea of breaking the streak would motivate me to get off my lazy arse.

The cycle of breakdown and repair is constantly going on in our bodies, this is applicable to our skills as well. If you do not practice your skill for an entire month you will see degradation, that’s why it’s important that you constantly train on your skill. How long should you be practicing for? Well, the greats practice for about 3-5 hours a day. You might think that’s way too much, but how about committing to an hour for now? It’s not really about how long you train, but the intensity of the session. In that hour can you be focused 100%? You want to be training right. Make sure that you repeatedly break your skill down and target the struggle. Do this consistently and you’ll definitely see a change.

My own experience.

“We are all born with the opportunity to become."

- Daniel Coyle

I’ll be honest with you, consistently targeting the struggle was a struggle in itself. Keeping up that intense focus was draining at times, and I can understand why so many people depart from it. However, when I was able to perform a decent level of deep practice I saw great progress in my skill. I’m still a long way from hitting my target, but I’m sure the more I incorporate the format of deep practice, the closer I’ll get to achieving my goals. The quote I previously used about 'having the opportunity to become' means a lot to me. World-class athletes aren't born with God-given skills, just like us, they are born with no idea how to walk let alone run. Eventually over time, coupled with numerous hours of deep practice and intense focus they were able to turn their average skill into something great. I'm not hoping to be a world-class athlete, but maybe I can achieve the same mentality to allow me to learn a few practical skills along the way.

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

What is the Pomodoro technique?

What is the Pomodoro technique?

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A few years ago I was really embracing the role of a video editor. I had a total of 4 monitors glaring back at me, two of them were used for video editing. The one to my far right had a window opened for email, I was ready to immediately respond to anything that landed in my inbox. The last monitor placed above was mostly empty, but whenever I was doing something that didn’t require my full attention I would put on something on YouTube or Spotify to entertain me. Did I need all four to complete a video edit? Of course not, but it was pretty cool sitting in front of it all. I thought I was being productive, I thought I was focused. However, when I came across this one technique of improving my productivity, I realised the monitors had to go and it was time to downsize to one. What productivity hack did I come across might you ask? It was none other than the Pomodoro technique.


How the Pomodoro technique works.

It’s a pretty simple concept that is split into 4 rounds.

One complete round looks like this:

  1. Decide on the task you want to tackle.

  2. Set your timer for 25 minutes.

  3. With no distractions and 100% focus, work on your task until the timer ends.

  4. Set your timer for 5 minutes.

  5. Take a break.

You are to repeat this for another 3 rounds. At the end of your fourth round, you are to have a 15-minute break. This is to be repeated until your task is complete.

When translated into English the word ‘Pomodoro’ means ‘tomato’. It got its name from the tomato-shaped timer the inventor used to keep track of each cycle. Of course, you don’t need to use a tomato timer for your workflow, there are a plethora of apps and websites that can do the same job.

Skillful management of energy.

In his book, “The Power of Full Engagement” Loehr talks about the importance of managing your energy levels. One of the main methods to managing this is by taking regular breaks, 

“At the most practical level, our capacity to be fully engaged depends on our ability to periodically disengage.”

Jim Loehr

Have you ever felt burnt out and your performance level slowly going south? The reason for your burnout isn’t always due to the intensity of work you put in, but rather the lack of rest you implement. Taking calculated breaks from your task is important for the mind. Not only does it allow you to take a step away from your work, it resets your focus levels for when you come back. Allowing you to be more productive in the long run.

That is why the Pomodoro technique incorporates the occasional break. It reminds you to stop. In our society, so many of us have embraced the culture of burning the candles at both ends. Not only is it detrimental to the body, but it halts your performance as well. Overworking has unhealthy consequences that include lack of concentration, sickness, anxiety and a loss of passion. It’s no wonder why so many people are burnt out after long periods of work.

Similar to a car, when we work we’re expending energy from our tank, taking calculated breaks allows us to recover and fill that tank back up. Loehr puts it nicely, “Performance is grounded in the skilful management of energy.”

How do I spend my 5-minute breaks? If I’ve been working at my desk I definitely take a step back and walk away from it. I highly recommend creating distance between your work space and your place of recovery time. Take a 5-minute walk, go to the toilet, have a conversation with a colleague, do anything to get your mind off work.

One of my favourite past times is something quite childish. I like to throw a ball at my wall and invent new exciting ways to catch it. One handed, 360° spins and whatever else I can come up with. You might think I’m being immature but being playful in your rest periods is quite important. Be adventurous in your breaks, wind down and make the most of it. 

Effectively manage your time.

Knowing how to effectively manage your time for each project is an important skill to have. There are so many occasions where we feel overwhelmed and not know where to begin, I know at times I have felt like that. There are times where I’ve been working on a particular task, I look at the clock and I think to myself, “where has the time gone?” Ever since I started incorporating the Pomodoro technique I’ve been able to keep an eye on the time and effectively manage it. 

Knowing that I am to work on a task for 25 minutes at a time, I am able to keep a tally of how many rounds that have gone by. This allows to me decide if I’m working on one task for too long or if I’ve been wasting my time. If you can take control of your time and not let the day go by, I’m positive that your productivity level will spike. 

Remove all distractions

Remaining in a high state of focus can be mentally taxing, it’s challenging to maintain it for several minutes, let alone hours. That is why the Pomodoro technique forces you to work in short bursts. It understands that the mind cannot keep up such a high level of concentration for so long.

In order for you to make full use of the benefits of the Pomodoro technique, it’s important to remove all distractions from your work space. For the next 25 minutes, it’s just you and whatever task you set out to complete. Keeping your phone next to you or allowing colleagues to interrupt you isn’t going to help you be productive. Leave your phone in a drawer, close your email window tab, turn off any desktop notifications. In that time you’re going to be uber creative, solve problems and come up with the next best thing. Allowing something or someone to take that away from you is a travesty, you owe it to yourself to get the work done. Time is precious, what’s more, is how you spend it.

Saying this, I can totally understand if you find it difficult to remove all distractions. If for some reason you need to take the dog out for a walk or if the water is boiling, deal with that first, especially the latter! If you do get distracted, don’t beat yourself up. Reset the timer and continue with doing what you set out to do.

There are times when I’m in a new environment and noise pollution becomes a distraction, what I like to do is put on some headphones and listen to instrumental music. Not only does it drown out the background noise, but it allows me to zone in on the work and reach a level of flow.

My Experience.

Maybe the Pomodoro technique isn’t for you, but before you decide to jump onto the next productivity craze give it a go for at least one of your tasks. Don’t be so strict with the way you approach it, give yourself some leniency and enjoy the process. If you only have 45 minutes to work on a task, mathematically speaking you won’t be able to complete 2 full Pomodoro’s. That doesn’t mean you should not start the task at all!

There are times where I have bent the rules. I added a few more minutes to my break or continue working when the timer went off. I use the Pomodoro technique as a rough guideline to help me manage my time and energy. Ever since I implemented the Pomodoro technique it has definitely streamlined my workflow, which has had a positive knock-on effect on other aspects of my life. I recommend you give it a go and see if it can benefit you too. Everyone has their own methods to be productive. What’s yours going to be?

Links & Apps

What you’re looking for is a way to keep track of each Pomodoro round. You can do this with the help of an app or you can do this with your own timer and notepad. Whatever you choose, make sure it suits your needs.

For the pen and paper enthusiast

Sometimes you can’t beat a good old pen and paper. These days, almost everything is digital, break the trend and go analog! Buy yourself a traditional Pomodoro Timer, a Moleskin Notepad, and a pen.

For the iOS lovers

Having a timer on your phone, tablet and desktop can help you keep in check and not get distracted. If you’re on an iOS device the Be Focused App is ideal

For the iOS haters

Hate everything Apple? No worries I’ve got you covered. The brain focus app will do the job for every Android phone.

For the desktop fanatic

As the majority of my work is done on a laptop, I knew I needed to install a Pomodoro timer on my computer. My go-to desktop application is Tomighty. It's available for both Windows and Mac, which is great as I work on a Dell laptop. Tomighty conveniently sits on your taskbar and notifies you when your break is due and when to get back to work. I’ve been using Tomighty for a while now and I can’t see myself switching over to anything else.

***

Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

What I need is a deadline.

What I need is a deadline.

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I had given myself an impossible goal, at least that’s what I thought at the time. I wanted to surprise my multilingual girlfriend by learning one of her languages and randomly start using it with her. The chosen language was Swedish and I decided to surprise her on her next birthday, which gave me just under 12 months to hit the deadline. With a goal set so far ahead, I thought I’d easily complete it. Stupid me for thinking such a thing! Knowing I had almost a year before the surprise I immediately took a back seat, there was no sense of urgency and I let time fly by. Fast forward 9 months and I was nowhere where I wanted to be. Sure, I studied every now and then. I could understand a few words, construct a few sentences, but enough to surprise my girlfriend? Definitely not. With 3 months left I realised I had to pick up the slack if I wanted to successfully surprise her. I decided to commit to a minimum of 10 hours a week of deep practice. I would use flashcards, converse with locals and log into Duolingo for multiple hours. I’ll be honest with you, it was horrible, but I brought this upon myself. This could have been avoided if I had studied properly from the beginning. Did I successfully surprise her? I’ll let you be the judge of that. 

In my experience, I found setting a deadline one of the main motivators that pushed me to hit my goal. Not only did it hold me accountable, but it put some added pressure that pushed me to get off my lazy arse. In this blog, not only will I share with you my experience with deadlines, but I’ll explain why having a deadline for your goals is not a bad idea for you to implement in your everyday life.

Get your priorities in order.

Having a checklist of tasks to complete is very useful, especially when you have so much to do! You could either track it with a pen and paper, or you could use an online management tool like Trello. The problem with a to-do list is that we can fall into the trap of piling on more tasks without getting a chance to complete anything else. You start off with 3 important tasks, but then reality kicks in and you have to add another 10 more by the end of the week. Sound familiar? Well, it did for me. It wasn’t until I started adding deadlines to each task that I realised what was the most important item to complete. Adding a deadline allows you to step back and discern what needs working on immediately. Tasks with a shorter deadline tend to get bumped up to the top of the list, helping you to create a little order in your list of priorities.

Warren Buffett had a more interesting approach to prioritising his list. When talking with his personal pilot he asked him to write down his top 25 goals. Having done that, Buffett told the pilot to circle his top five most important goals. Once that was done, the list was now split in two. The first list with 5 important goals, the second with the remaining 20. Then Buffett said, “Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

It’s a cut-throat approach to prioritising. but maybe this is what is needed in order to reach your goals. This way of thinking doesn’t have to just be for your life goals, it can also be used for your to-do list for the week or even the day! Understanding what your priorities are in all aspects of your life is important, and setting a deadline for each task, goal or challenge, allows you to establish your level of priority for each one. 

Move with a sense of purpose.

In hindsight, I realised that giving myself a lengthy timeline was my downfall. Knowing that I had an entire year to learn a new skill I moved with no purpose, sure I had a goal, but it was so far away I thought I could take my time and learn at a slow steady pace. There was no sense of urgency, there was no commitment to learning 2 hours a day, there was nothing pushing me to go and study the language. Once I realised that the deadline was looming, that’s when panic set in and I realised if I don’t take this goal seriously, I willmiss the deadline.

Robert Greene, the author of the book Mastery phrased it well,

“The feeling that we have endless time to complete our work has an insidious and debilitating effect on our minds...For this purpose you must always try to work with deadlines, whether real or manufactured.”

The only thing that got me moving was knowing that the birthday was soon fast approaching. The idea of failure and having to wait another year in order to surprise my girlfriend was enough to light a fire under me and get to work. 

Having a deadline not only helps you to understand what needs working now, but it actually gets you moving and completing the goal. Learn from my mistakes and not set your goals too far in advance. Which leads me to my next point.

Set shorter deadlines.

Setting a goal and giving yourself a deadline is great, but setting one too far into the future that you forget about the goal, is just as bad as not setting one at all. We’ve all been there, it’s a new year and along with it comes new resolutions. Losing weight for the year, getting on top of finances or reading more books for self-improvement are a few of the top ranking new year's resolutions every year. How many are able to stick to their new year's resolutions for the entire year? There’s about a 30% drop off rate from the first week, that increases to 40% after the first month and about 60% fall off the wagon after 6 months. Statistically speaking, you have less than half a chance of sticking to a new year’s resolution.

One reason I believe that so many can’t stick to their resolutions is that they don’t break down their goals down into smaller, manageable deadlines. Looking back, I realised that I should have broken it down into quarters, or perhaps monthly and maybe quite possibly weekly. For this reason, I now keep a weekly report card on my learning status. I honestly grade myself from the previous week, basing it on the number of hours I’ve committed to achieving my goals and deadlines. Ever since I implemented this into my life, I have found that I’ve been holding myself more accountable and getting closer to the main goal. 

Keep that sense of urgency alive in you by constantly giving yourself shorter deadlines to work towards. No matter how little, all of those little victories add up, and sooner than later you’ll find that you’ve achieved the big goal you set out to do. Duke Ellington, the famous composer, and pianist said it best, “I don’t need more time. What I need is a deadline.”

Hold yourself accountable.

Setting yourself a deadline is one thing, but to announce it to the world is a whole different story. Why would you want to do such a thing? To keep yourself accountable of course! When I realised that I only had 3 months left on my deadline, I made a commitment to myself that I would study for at least 10 hours a week, sometimes that would mean studying for 2 hours in one sitting! If I didn’t share this commitment with anyone I could have easily kept it to myself and no one would have known that I had failed. I knew I had to find someone to hold me accountable. After searching the internet for such a service, I came across a website known as Stickk.com. Not only do you announce your commitment to the online world, but you pay a fee to an anti-charity for not achieving your deadline. Sounds ridiculous, but I was sold. Stickk.com utilises the psychological power of loss aversion, the idea of losing something is a great motivator to achieving your goals than getting something for completing it. So I invited a few friends to follow me on my journey and got one of them to referee my progress. Ironically, if I had failed one week I would have to fork out $20 to the anti-charity that campaigned for an independent Britain. I was pretty much funding an organisation that wanted to push my overseas girlfriend further away from me.

How did I do? Out of the 13 weeks of intense studying, there were only two occasions where I was unable to commit to a minimum of 10 hours per week. Which meant I had to fork out $40 to the anti-charity. At least it wasn’t the full $260! Having friends following my progress and the thought of losing out on a relatively large sum of money really motivated me. If you decide to do something similar I recommend increasing the stake to an amount that you’re uncomfortable ‘throwing’ away.

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

A screenshot of my profile on Stickk.com

My final thoughts.

Everything I’ve shared with you in this article has come from first-hand experience. I too have wondered endlessly with no real direction to achieving my goals. It was only when I decided to give myself a deadline, whether small or big, that it help me establish what the next step was. I can totally understand the stress of giving yourself a deadline and not achieving it. This doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just gives you some perspective on where you are on your journey. Remember, constant feedback is never a bad thing. Hopefully, by reading this article you would have understood the psychological benefits of constantly giving yourself a deadline and how it far outweighs the little-added pressure on hitting your goal - sometimes a little pressure is good for you! I would recommend at least giving this a try with something small, you can then see if it help motivate you or not. Since experiencing the 3-month deadline for learning a new language, I realised the importance of having a deadline in general. Not only have I placed a deadline for each of my main goals, but I also do it with small tasks throughout the months, weeks and even days. Give yourself one and see how it goes. I wish you good luck on your journey!

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.

How to take control of your time.

How to take control of your time.

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It’s nearing the end of the day, you’re tired, your mind is fried and all you want to do is close your eyes. Your body feels like you’ve achieved so much, but then you stop to question yourself and ask, “what exactly did I achieve today?” Sound familiar? How about this one. You feel so overwhelmed with your to-do list that you don’t know how you’re going to complete it by the end of the week. I know I’ve experienced this a few times. Okay, last one. You’re so focused on one task that you lose track of time and no longer have time to do anything else. Believe me, I’ve been there before too.

The problem isn’t that you’ve got too much on your plate, the issue is that you’re not taking control of your time. All of the problems stated above can be remedied if you're able to embrace the productivity hack of time blocking. What is time blocking and how can it benefit you? That’s exactly what I’m going to answer in this article.

How I’ve used time blocking in my life?

In simple terms, time blocking is a method of advance planning. You schedule time on your calendar to complete everything that you need to do. Not only can this method be used for work, but it can be used to plan personal activities like hanging out with friends to scheduling all of your appointments.

For example, let’s say you want to learn a new language. Before you even get started on Duolingo, you should open up your calendar and figure out the optimal time and duration for you to dedicate time to learning. This means you will block-off space in advance and commit to what you have written down on your calendar. Once you’ve scheduled something in advanced, it generally tends to get completed. This is why you should try to schedule in time for work, play and rest periods.

This is exactly what I did when I gave myself the task to surprise my girlfriend with a new language within 3 months. Knowing that I had a 90-day deadline to learn a new language I knew I had to commit to at least 10 hours a week of intense studying. I then went to my calendar and blocked off 2-hour slots for learning. Everyday excluding Tuesdays, from 7 pm to 9 pm I would be at my desk learning Swedish. 

Not only do I block off time for learning, but I also do this for all aspects of my life. This includes how much time I should be spending on my business, when to check emails, as well as when I should be going to the gym. I’ve even taken it to the extreme and blocked off time for when I should be reading and going on walks. Obviously, you don’t have to do the same, but you understand the concept. It took me a while tinkering with my calendar and I’ve made quite a few changes throughout the months, but I now feel that I have a balanced schedule thanks to time blocking.

The rigidity of time blocking calls for a lack of spontaneity and some people can’t function with too much order. I’m not saying that once you schedule it, it is now set in stone. I’ve learned to embrace being flexible with my calendar. There are countless times where I have shifted blocks around during the week, as things that I didn’t have control over forced me to make a change or two. Time blocking helped give me structure and clarity in my life. For all you free-spirited folk out there, even if you think time blocking is not for you let me share a few benefits and hopefully encourage you to take more control over your time.

Being aware of the hours ticking away.

It is said in an eight hour work day you’re only really productive for roughly three of them. What happened to the other five? Well, a study shows that those five hours are lost in reading news websites, checking social media, talking with co-workers and much more. It’s crazy to think how much time we waste when we lose track of it, but with time blocking it’s difficult to do so. By scheduling time to complete your tasks in advance, you realise that you no longer have the luxury of constantly checking your social media feeds and other unnecessary activities. This awareness of time and a constant reminder of what to do next allows you to become more productive with your time. 

Once you’ve allocated a specific amount of time to your task, you’re able to schedule it in and block it off. Knowing that you only have ‘X’ amount of time to complete the task, you become more focused. Which brings me to my next point. 

Laser eye focus.

I used to brag about how many different projects I had going on at the same time, it was only until recently that I realised how counter-intuitive it was to juggle too many at once. Being self-employed and growing my own business, I thought it would be a good idea to diversify and get involved in another industry and form another business on top of my current one. The idea of having two different revenue streams was great and for a while it was. However, I soon realised I couldn’t keep up with the workload. My main business was taking a hit from bouncing between two different projects. I had to make the decision to stick with one and step away from the newly formed business. In hindsight, if I had spent my time wisely and focused 100% on one rather than being split between two, I’m confident that my main business would have been far more successful than the two combined.

The ability to multitask is a myth, stretching yourself between two different activities can cause the level of quality to drop, eventually leading to neither task being completed. With time blocking you to block off your time to dedicate to one thing and one thing only. Need to clear out your inbox? How about dedicating one hour of your day to just that? Want to spend time learning a new skill? Why don’t you try blocking off 90 mins in the evening for that? Being laser focused on one task in mind allows you to be more productive and get more done, with just one hour of deep work you can see huge results. 

Reduces anxiety.

Ever since I’ve implemented time blocking into my life, I realise how it has given me order and has helped my overall well-being. If I were to look at an empty calendar now, it’ll just bring a wave of anxiety and worry over me. The idea of not having anything planned in advanced makes me vulnerable to missing out on appointments, tasks and important meetings. Being able to know exactly what I’ll be doing for the week allows me to not get overwhelmed. By planning ahead I’m able to make time for any occasion and allocate the necessary amount of time I need to spend on it.

For some people, being free and having an open calendar works for them, but as I mentioned before it doesn’t for me. This is not to say that every hour is planned out on my calendar. It’s not like I schedule in when I should be using the toilet, or figuring out an ideal duration of time for talking with my girlfriend on the phone. I use time blocking to help me create some order and stability in my life. 

Every day I block out time for myself to do anything I want with no regret, this can be from playing computer games to anything I want. I’ve realised that rest is just as important as getting work done, so I make sure I dedicate time for that too.

How to start.

Let me give you some insight into how I like to schedule everything into my calendar. Before I even begin to look at a calendar, I write down a few tasks that I would like to achieve by the end of the week. This can include work-related tasks, catching up with friends to working out at the gym. Once I’ve completed my to-do list for the week I look at my calendar, I then decide on when I can realistically work on each task and give it an appropriate amount of time for me to dedicate to. Once I’ve done this for every task, my calendar should be filled up with different coloured blocks. I use different colours to help label different tasks, that way I can tell what needs to be worked on at a glance. For a little bit of inspiration here’s my colour code:

Grey: Personal habits (Journaling, Reading and etc..)
Purple: Work on low-level work.
Orange: Meetings and emails.
Green: High-level work.
Red: Rest periods
Blue: Exercise
Teal: Work on the blog.
Purple: Learning something new.

An example of my week scheduled in advanced. It hardly ever stays like this, but I use this as a guide.

An example of my week scheduled in advanced. It hardly ever stays like this, but I use this as a guide.

I generally keep my days the same throughout the week, that way I know what I’m doing at any time of the day. Of course, life throws curveballs and I’m forced to shuffle things around if need be. It’s because of this, I recommend adding everything to an electronic calendar like Google calendar. That way you can access it anywhere as long as you have your phone, tablet or laptop with you. However, if you’re old school and you prefer a journal, you do what you’re most comfortable with.  

It’s important that you be realistic with your time. Don’t block off five hours to work on a project when you know full well that you can only commit to one. Make sure you schedule in rest periods as well, do not overlook this. Burning the candles on both ends is going to get you nowhere. Rather than having my email inbox open on another tab, I dedicate a couple of hours of the day solely for returning or composing new emails. That way I’m less distracted and I can focus on the task at hand. One other thing that I’d recommend, is to schedule all the difficult or more creative tasks earlier on in the day. Generally speaking, we’re most creative in the mornings, so get that out the way as quickly as possible. I say this, but everyone is different. There are people who find the stillness of the early morning their most creative time. Make sure you experiment with your schedule and move around your time blocks where necessary. It took me a few revisions before I settled for something that worked for me, but it could change again next month.

Depending on my work, time blocks tend to move around, and it’ll continue to move around the more I continue with my life. I know for sure that I can’t maintain a schedule like this once I move in with my girlfriend, nor can I continue like this whilst I’m away on holiday. However, since I’m getting used to blocking time out now, it’ll be easier to adapt and continue the practice of time blocking as my life progresses. In the words of Lao-Tzu, “Do what is difficult, when it is easy.”

Whether you’re a free spirit or someone who loves order just like me, give time blocking a go and see if this technique is for you. Not only has this technique improved my productivity, but it has also helped me with my well-being, and this is something that I cannot put a price on. I’d love to hear your experience with time blocking, whether you found it difficult to stick too or found it annoying to plan, let me know what you get up to and how you plan to schedule your life.

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Do you want to learn new skills to improve the quality of your life? Download the free 13 page e-book that teaches you the methods to approach every new skill you plan to learn. These same methods is what I've been using and it has helped me learn skills effectively in half the time. Click here to download the free e-book.