“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” - William Penn

Have you ever felt like no matter what you do, there's just not enough time in the day to learn your target language?

Whether you’re single or married, working overtime or restlessly trying to find a job, a student at a university or your kids are attending universities, you’ve probably struggled to squeeze in some time for language learning.  

I've been there as well!

Fortunately, without having to make any drastic overhauls to your schedule, you can not only squeeze in language learning, but you can actually make more time to get the job done. 

Don’t worry, you won’t have to hire a personal assistant or reverse engineer your entire lifestyle to make language learning work according to your agenda. 

First of all, let’s address the most pivotal part of time management - your mindset

When you think to yourself that you have no time for learning, you’re usually basing this off of a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This prophecy involves making a series of self-inflicted mistakes that will allow said prophecy to come true. Hence the whole self-fulfilling part. 

If you address these mistakes, you’ll discover that you have way more time to learn languages than you previously imagined. 

The mistakes are as follows: 

  1. Telling yourself you have no time to learn.
  2. Believing that language learning is “all or nothing”
  3. Learning when your energy is low 
  4. Waiting for motivation to kick-in
  5. Making it difficult to get started each day 
  6. Not connecting your learning to your other daily habits

Mistake 1.
Telling Yourself You Have No Time To Learn

Call it a limiting belief, invisible script or a fixed mindset, whatever you prefer, but you cannot fall into this trap. It’s the first barrier to your eventual time management turnaround. 

I understand that you likely have lots of commitment. Work, family, friends, and more. But I truly believe that if you were to sit down and  take a closer look at your day, you'd find more than enough “gaps” that you could fill with something more productive.  I know, I know, this means less scrolling through Instagram posts and more responsibility, but trust me, the payoff is more than worth it. 

I’ll get into the details about how much time is “enough time” for language learning, but for now, believe me when I say that your schedule is not quite so packed that you can’t learn at all. 

I don’t mean to come off as harsh, but in most cases, the thought that "you have no time to learn languages" is an excuse, or what I like to call a "limiting belief.”  It's simply something you tell yourself to let yourself off the hook for not accomplishing a personal goal.

I’m not immune to it. We all do it. However, you can’t let it become a habit. Especially a habit that overrides your most productive activities. 

Thankfully, this is something that is fixable, with practice. Next time you catch yourself thinking that you don't have time for languages, stop yourself, and try to replace that thought with another, such as "languages are not my priority.”

When you start framing language learning as something you do or do not prioritize, you will begin to feel more agency over whether or not the job gets done. If you think "language learning is not my priority", you will naturally stumble upon the followup question.

 "How could I make language learning a priority?" 

From there, you'll actively start looking for ways to fit language learning into your life, and when you do, I'm almost certain that you'll find them. But it all starts with abandoning the belief that you don't have enough time. Once you do that, the real work can begin

Mistake 2.
Believing That Language Learning Is “All or Nothing”

Once people realize that they actually DO have time for language learning (no matter how busy they actually might be), the next issue is one of ambition.

Do you think I’d know 14 languages if I approached each one with an all-or-nothing approach?

Spoiler alert: No. I wouldn’t be a polyglot at all. 

When learning a language, nearly everyone wants to get good - fast. Those kinds of results typically require multiple hours of learning per day, so lots of learners fall into the trap of thinking that that is the cost of success—that they MUST spend several hours on learning each day, or, well, it's simply not worth it.

You must abandon your native tongue, label everything in your house in your target language and speak to your family, no matter how difficult it is, in a foreign language. You either do this…or you die! 

Of course, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point. 

I'll tell you right now that that mentality is probably the biggest destroyer of peoples' language learning dreams. They have—as I'll share in a moment—perfectly good chunks of time in their day for language learning, but they convince themselves that it's not enough, and therefore they shouldn’t even bother attempting to learn earnestly. 

While I agree that spending more time on language learning will generally lead to faster results, the truth is that for most people, spending anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour each day on language learning is more than ideal

In fact, I think it's okay to do even less than that (say ~15-30 minutes), so long as you can do it consistently. Half an hour of language learning a day for six months might sound less impressive than three hours a day for three weeks, but the reality is that for most people, it's much more manageable, and much less likely to lead to burnout. And considering how challenging language learning can sometimes be, burnout is something you want to avoid, at all costs.

Mistake 3.
Learning When Your Energy Is Low

Let's say that you're following along, you’ve got the right mindset and now you’ve decided to spend somewhere from 30 to 60 minutes each day learning your target language. 

We’re off to a great start, but we’re nowhere near the finish line.  Now that you’ve carved out some time for learning, we want to ensure that this time is used optimally, allowing you to learn as much as possible. 

To retain “quality control,” we need to address energy levels. It might seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked by language learners as they go about their daily tasks. 

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have a pretty good grasp of our general energy patterns. If you identify as an “early bird,” for example, you already know that you tend to have lots of energy early in the day, which tends to taper off towards the evening. If you identify as a “night owl” on the other hand, you know that your most productive and energy-filled hours come in the late afternoon and evening.

If you fall into one of these common patterns, you should schedule your daily language learning so that it takes place during your peak energy time. I’m definitely a morning person, so I usually do my language learning first thing after waking up.  If you’re also an early riser, but you’ve got other activities you do in the morning (such as jogging or hitting the gym), then try combining those activities with Listen-to-Review. A technique I share in my Overcoming the Intermediate Plateau course that easily combines any activity you enjoy doing with language input. 

Anyway, back to language learning  early in the day. 

It allows me to learn when I am most alert, most focused, and in the best possible mood for the task. If, by contrast, I decided to learn at night, I'd likely be tired, unfocused, and, quite frankly, disengaged from what I'm trying to do.

Do your best to identify which times of day are your typical "high-energy" periods, and then schedule your language learning at those times. Doing this will literally help you learn more effectively, making the most of your limited time by squeezing every ticking second for its worth. 

Mistake 4.
Waiting for Motivation To Strike

Another common pitfall that most of us blindly stumble into is the desire to let our motivation tell us when it’s time to learn.  That sounds neat in theory, but is absolutely detrimental to your language learning in reality. 

Let me explain:

For most people, whether or not they actually sit down and learn a language is decided by a simple mental flowchart:

"Do I feel like learning today?"

  • If yes, then I'll learn!
  • If not, then I won't learn.

Following this formula, motivation is a prerequisite for action. If you have the motivation, you take action, and if not, well, maybe you'll try again tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or even the week, the month or eventually, the year after that! 

Thinking of language learning in this way often prompts learners to look for a source of infinite motivation. If they only had such a "fuel source,” they would learn every day!

Sorry to burst your bubble, but an infinite source of motivation does not exist. There are ways to increase motivation, but no ways to keep it going forever. Heck, even I have days where I don't feel like learning at all. 

To take a quote from James Clear’s Atomic Habits

“The difference between the best athletes and the average ones is their ability to overcome boredom: do the same training over and over again even if they don’t feel like it.”

Much like Olympic athletes, what separates successful learners from unsuccessful ones is their internal dialogue when faced with the question of learning for that day.  Whereas your options are probably similar to the aforementioned ones, mine are ever so slightly different: :

"Do I feel like learning today?"

  • If yes, then I'll learn.
  • If not, then I'll learn anyway.

I don't depend on motivation to take action because, as another amazing author, Hal Elrod, states, "by taking action, the action itself will produce the feelings & motivation you need to follow through." So don't let motivation be a prerequisite for action. Instead, flip the formula on its head and let action be a prerequisite for motivation.

Mistake 5.
Making It Difficult To Get Started Each Day

Have you ever sat down to learn, only to realize that:

  • You don't know what to do.
  • You don't know where to start.
  • You don't know where any of your resources are.

Language learning isn't exactly the kind of activity you can do at the drop of a hat. It can be fun to improvise here and there, but a solid foundation (and structure) often leads to the best results. 

Before you can start learning, you need to prepare, and make sure you have everything you need to learn efficiently. Otherwise, you risk wasting all of your valuable learning time getting ready to learn, and spend little to none of it productively engaging with your target language.

Some people feel energized just from getting organized and that’s great, but you have to take it a step further and do the work. You shouldn't feel satisfied from planning alone, you have to take action - consistently. 

A key trait of a master language learner is the ability to continuously start one’s learning sessions every day. To do this, you need to become skilled at reducing any “friction” in your environment that makes it difficult or less appealing for you to begin a learning session at your scheduled time.

So, sometime before each learning session, it's best to do some "prep work" establishing what you're going to learn on a given day, and which resources you're going to learn with. It's also a good idea to regularly clear your learning space of any distractions, such as phones or other devices you're not using to learn.

Personally, I like to do this prep work on Sundays, before I start my language learning tasks for a given week. It gives me a nice chance to reflect upon my language learning for that week and that helps guide my learning for the following week as well. 

Therefore, I determine exactly what materials and activities I will do each day during that week, and also set up my space so that I have everything I need to learn with when the time comes.  Remember, as few distractions as possible, your time is limited and highly valuable. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise, not even if it’s yourself! 

No matter what language you're learning, or which learning activities you like to engage in most, making it easy to start each session is another way to make sure that any time you dedicate to language learning is useful and productive.

Mistake 6.
Not Connecting Your Learning to Your Other Daily Habits

Building on the last mistake of "not making it easy to learn,” I find that people are often unaware that they can use their existing daily routines to make their language learning routines more natural and effortless.

It’s a little life hack that works wonders for most people. Once you “see it,” you won’t be able to “unsee it.” Let’s dive into this a little deeper. 

To remove the “friction” of starting in a clear, repeatable way, I recommend using something called “anchoring.”

“Anchoring” is done through connecting your daily learning habit to a pre-existing habit that you do each and every day. Since the pre-existing habit is already a well-established part of your routine, it serves as an “anchor” for your new learning habit. 

You just need to follow the simple formula of “after I do my anchor habit, I will sit down to learn”. This formula eliminates friction by introducing automaticity—your learning habit will always follow your anchor habit, no matter what. 

In the book Tiny Habits, author BJ Fogg, states that to reduce friction and make flossing as pain free as possible, he’ll have people only floss one tooth before, or after, brushing their teeth (the anchoring activity). 

If you want to, you can even use anchoring to chain habits together, and make it more likely that ALL of them will take place on a daily basis. Naturally, this “habit chain” should also include your daily learning sessions.

Personally, I’ve used this technique to build some long and reliable “habit chains” over the years. Nowadays, for example, this is how I spend my mornings:

  • I wake up
  • I make my bed
  • I write in my journal
  • I meditate
  • I exercise
  • then I study my current target language.

You can use anchoring to create habit chains that are as long or as short as you want. The important thing is to always make sure that you mentally “connect” your language habit to at least one thing that you do every day, without fail. It’s that simple.


You see? It’s not that complicated, but it does take a concentrated effort to make it stick. 

Here’s a look at that list of the most common mistakes we make when wrongfully thinking that “we have no time to learn!” 

  1. Telling yourself you have no time to learn
  2. Believing that language learning is “all or nothing”
  3. Learning when your energy is low
  4. Waiting for motivation to strike
  5. Making it difficult to get started each day
  6. Not connecting your learning to your other daily habits

If you follow the guidelines I’ve laid out for you in this article, you’ll find that suddenly (and miraculously) you have the time to be a productive language learner.  If it’s really a priority for you, you’ll make the time for it. 

Try out these new habit forming activities and let me know if they work for you! 

Additionally, if you'd like to learn even more about how to fit powerful language learning strategies into each and every day, be sure to check out the courses in my Become a Master Language Learner series. I've got one course for beginners, and another for intermediate learners, so there are useful tips that nearly anyone can apply.

As always, happy language learning!

Written by Luca Lampariello

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