How To Study Japanese When You Are Too Busy

There comes a point in your Japanese journey in which you come across a rapid river of presentations, papers, exams and deadlines that you somehow have to wade through and still catch that giant Japanese catfish in order to level up. At this point, it becomes a question of sacrificing the work in which your future depends on or being taken by the river and sacrificing Japanese.

If you know a river like this is coming up, preparing for it can lead to taking down both that fish and river, leading to success in both your work life and Japanese. Neither has to be sacrificed.

Set a goal, now!


What skills are you aiming for in the near future with your Japanese? Figure that out and what you can do in order to get there. Then, think of how you can narrow that path down to one specific goal just for this busy period.

Take for instance reading. If you are looking to improve your novel reading skills, think of one book you want to have read by the end of it. It’s important not to set too many goals when you’re busy, because you’ll most likely get overwhelmed and not accomplish anything. Having one attainable goal will help you overcome business, because picturing that goal will be your motivation.

Make Japanese follow you

No one ever has to give up Japanese completely when they think they’ll be too busy. A safety net can keep you from being carried by that river of deadlines away from your goal.

By car:

If you drive to work, your car must become your Japanese retreat. You’ll be limited to audio. If your goal is related to reading, use this as a chance to listen to material related to the book you are reading. So many books out there are accompanied by a movie, drama, anime and/or drama cd.

By train:

If you take the train, you’ll have a little bit more flexibility because you can actually read on the train, and with a mobile device you can use Anki and watch videos. Your commute time must be designated as your Japanese time, which means you cannot use it to study for exams or to do homework. Designate other times for those activities.

By book:

Always carry one. You can take this out in moments when you have to wait somewhere or even in the bathroom. If you’re going to read in the bathroom, make sure to set a limit on how many pages, so that you don’t spend too much time angering family or roommates.

By Audio:

Listen to your Mp3 player when you walk around. You can rarely ever get work done while walking, but you can immerse yourself in Japanese with ease.

Find More People


It can be hard to go at it alone. Finding partners to continue with even during the most stressful of times, will mean a constant source of encouragement.

How have you solved the “Busy Struggle?”

What has helped your Japanese study thrive when you’re at your busiest? What are your techniques and strategy?

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Rachel M.

Writer and Educator. Learning Japanese using immersion, currently soaking up as many novels and manga as possible in hopes of one day writing her own novel in Japanese. Also because she loves Japanese books.


How To Study Japanese When You Are Too Busy — 8 Comments

  1. These are all very effective tips that definitely work (although in my case for Chinese). I have a tech startup job that sometimes gets absurdly busy, but for my own sanity I’ve had to find ways to keep moving forward.

    From the moment I walk out the door, I’m listening to Chinese podcasts or music.

    On the train to work, it’s time for doing reps in Skritter and reading all the Chinese language content in my Facebook feed.

    At work, at least when possible given what I do for a living, I have headphones on listening to Chinese content. I set a timer to bug me once an hour to step outside and spend 5 minutes doing reps in Anki.

    If I’m driving, I have a phone set to Chinese, and always have navigation running with Chinese turn-by-turn directions to wherever I’m going. And of course whatever’s playing is the usual music or podcasts in Chinese.

    All in all, this keeps me from stalling out even at those crazy times when I’m working 80 hour weeks.

    • That’s so true that sticking to you’re own language study brings some sanity into your busy day. When I’m in my busiest moment of the semester, reading manga is like a retreat for me.

      Many people listen to the radio or music at work, so even better if you can listen to Chinese or your L2 if you have a workplace like that.

      It sounds like you have a really good immersion safety net!

  2. Good advice! Although sadly I can’t think of any way to have Japanese follow me on bike. Maybe in some places biking with headphones is safe, but where I live I need to be able to hear what’s going on behind and around me.

    If I know a busy period is coming I’ll stop adding cards to Anki about a week in advance, which lets the daily reviews drop down a bit and allows me to focus on preventing the due cards from piling up. I also try to be aware of how much time is going to “just a quick check” on various English sites. I’m trying to ween myself off these entirely of course, but when time is scarce I try to make an extra effort to swap those little pressure-relieving moments with some Japanese substitute.

    This other thing that might be worth pointing out is not to try to gain more time for Japanese by cutting back on sleep — for all the reasons Adshap mentions in that article, this is a pretty self-defeating strategy.

    • What about a stereo for your bike? …I don’t know if they make those. I’m just imagining Kiki’s Delivery Service with her radio on her broom, ha. That’s true, I didn’t think about bicyclists! Too bad there’s not much you can do, and I agree, don’t use headphones! That’s too dangerous.

      Good advice! I learned a lesson from sacrificing sleep to fit in more Japanese and it ended up a bad cycle during Tadoku in August. After trying to read the most I could in a day and staying up very late, I didn’t have any energy for reading during the next day, then would feel bad and try to make up for it at night. It turned into cycle of low energy and late nights. I learned the hard way that getting enough sleep provides the energy needed for Japanese. If you feel guilty about not doing enough Japanese one day, make up for it by getting a good night’s sleep so that you can do awesome the next day.

  3. Good tips. I’m a pretty busy dude myself, and one thing that’s always helped me is to always have set times for Japanese study. I always leave at least an hour in the morning for study/reading. If I can get more in later (which I usually can), that’s nice, but I never sacrifice my mornings, no matter how crowded my schedule gets.

    • Good discipline! I have a hard time following schedules. For many, they need schedules to ensure that they are consistently studying Japanese, so I think setting a simple rule like that can really help prioritize your time. Really good advice. For me, building a good safety net and good immersion environment ensures that I won’t go a day without Japanese. But in the same way, setting my commute as a time for Japanese is like how you’ve set your mornings as a time for Japanese, just a little less schedule based and more location based.

  4. I hit one of those busy times back in July when my son was born and ended up in intensive care for three weeks. Then after he got a clean bill of health we brought him home and there was all the stress and time sink involved with having a new infant in the house.

    Surprisingly when we were in the hospital it was easy to keep up with things. We spent most of our time in the room with him but there was also a lot of down time when they did shift changes or just time when the baby was sleeping and I had to occupy myself. Flashcards and working through lessons was just the thing.

    I’ve also settled into a nice groove at home. Feeding the baby? He’s usually asleep for that so I have the bottle in one hand and flashcards up on my phone in the other. I put on Japanese movies in the background or have podcasts and such playing in the background. Heck, maybe the kid will start out a little bilingual with all the incidental exposure he’s getting to a foreign language!

    But the point is that this is probably the busiest I’ve ever been in my life and I still found a way to keep at it. I’ll never say “I don’t have time for this” again because I know it just isn’t true.

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