Transform your Studying into a Daily Automatic Routine

I think to-do lists suck. They all start out glamorous. You write down all the awesome things you’re going to do and why you’ll be such a blooming success and think how good you’re going to feel after you get all of them done. They never actually end up getting done. Somehow, you end up putting them off later in the day – whenever that is – and you get lost in TV Tropes or something instead. Then after a long, unproductive day, you cry yourself to sleep and tell yourself you can’t get anything done. Sounds like fun, huh?

So what does this have to do with Japanese? The problem is treating Japanese study time as a task, a chore, something you gotta get done with a big green check mark next to it on the to-do list, and if you don’t get it done you must be a big dummy. That’s not really the attitude you want.

Automate the Process

Turn Japanese study into a habit. Have you ever noticed how there are some things you never have to motivate yourself to do? I’m talking about things like taking a shower, making coffee, putting on your pants… I mean, when’s the last time you got up in the morning and thought, “Man, I have to brush my teeth today…”? That’s because they aren’t tasks or check-marks on a to-do list. They’re just habits. You’ve worn yourself into them with months and years of practice. You don’t really even think about doing them. You just do them.

So don’t make Japanese a task you have to do to feel good about yourself for the day. Make it a habit. You don’t worry and dread over habits; you do them, simple as that.

Difficulty of Getting into a Routine

I’ll warn you though, getting yourself into a habit can be pretty tough. I prefer to do most of my studying early in the morning, so I started doing an hour (or however long the Brian Eno album of the day is) of Anki reviews right after I took a shower and got myself something to drink. It takes a lot of discipline at first. I know you’d rather check the news or scroll a mile down your Facebook news feed first, but you need to let your brain know that you do Japanese in the morning. It can take a while, but eventually you’ll figure it out and it becomes routine.

I’m not being rigid. Your Japanese habit can be anything from an episode of anime with a cup of tea at seven o’clock to a half-hour of flipping pages through a grammar textbook when you get home from work. Find what works for you.

And please don’t beat your poor mental self up for missing a day or making some other mishap. It won’t help you at all. Just forget about it and do it again the next day. You don’t yell at yourself for forgetting to brush your teeth one day, do you? It’s not worth worrying about.

It sounds like one of those mystical, arcane concepts that only the truly enlightened could ever have hope of mastering, but it’s not really. It’s how your brain works, you just need to program it. It’s not too hard to do. Give it a try.

So how have some of you turned your Japanese study from task/chore into routine/habit?

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


Transform your Studying into a Daily Automatic Routine — 8 Comments

  1. I wake up in the morning and put in the DVD I burned a daily soap opera episode on last night and watch it. ThenI do my anki reviews while watching The Simpsons (yes, I know it’s not Japanese, but it actually keeps me focused on my reviews). Then I go onto watching the latest drama episodes. Before I go to bed I read around 30 pages of a manga and then I go through my textbook to review grammar points.

    It’s always been a habit and not a chore. I didn’t make it one, it made itself one.

  2. This is, I think, an important step to take concerning those parts of language learning that aren’t necessarily enjoyable enough that it’s easier to do them than not do them – for example reading manga isn’t something that would go in the “requires a habit” category for me since the main difficulty there is making myself stop! But writing something in Japanese is something I’m working on making a habit now, because that isn’t something I really enjoy (yet) and it’s difficult enough (or I just make it difficult, I suppose) that it’s easy to procrastinate.

    One point to consider carefully is not to attempt to make too many habits at once, and all habits are in the same category there; for example, making a habit of writing on Lang-8 every day and going for a run every day at the same time is not likely to work well. One at a time.

    There are quite a few tools around for this by now, many focusing on the “don’t break the chain” idea popularized by Seinfeld. I used to use, which is very good. Now I prefer Habit List for iPhone. There’s also HabitRPG, which should be popular here because it takes your habit successes and failures and gives you XP and gold for them, which you can use to level up and buy weapons and armour.

  3. Great article topic!

    I cannot echo this strongly enough. By making things habitual, you forgo the need for “will power” – in fact, you’ll feel uncomfortable if you don’t do your habit. Developing good habits is one of the strongest pillars of a successful life, IMHO.

    W.r.t. Japanese, I visit every morning while I drink my first cup of coffee and work through 50-100 repetitions of the set I’m studying (N2, currently). I also habitually take “Anki breaks” at different points during my work day.

    • Have you found doing readthekanji to be helpful? I am considering starting it. I want to get ready for JLPT N2.

  4. I began my Japanese studies using the AJATT method, and used Khatzumoto’s method of turning wherever you are into a piece of Japan. He’s a big advocate of letting your environment work for you instead of you trying to work alongside or separate from (or against) your environment.

    So, I constantly have Japanese podcasts I downloaded from the Japanese iTunes store playing. I have two iPods, so I keep one at home on a charger hooked up to a speaker, so when I come home, I don’t have to fumble trying to set everything up to get some Japanese going. It’s already on. With my other iPod, I keep it on and playing some kind of audio all throughout the day, even when I have to take my headphones off (because I am still in high school), it’s playing so all I have to do is put the bud back in. Luckily, I am able to listen to Japanese through most of my school day.

    At home, I have typed up and printed out all the kanji and taped them up on my walls (I couldn’t afford the Kanji Poster), I have pictures of my favourite Japanese bands all over my door and walls, my bookshelves are slowly filling up with manga and novels, and I sleep on a floor futon every night (I and put it away every morning. It has never felt like a chore. I feel like a Japanese person getting ready for the day~).

    On my computer, Google Japan, Amazon Japan (I love to do aimless browsing on here…), Anki, and (Japanese Online Dictionary) are the tabs that automatically open up when I start up the browser. I hardly have to expend any effort to have Japanese on; it’s already all around me, automatically flowing into my head. All I have to do is click the button to start my reviews and go through my little routine. I do my reviews in the early morning, during the school day whenever I get the chance (I have Anki on my iPod), and as soon as I get home from school for no longer than 10 minutes. Usually, by time I come home, most, if not all, of my reviews are done for the day. That gives me time to do homework and relax with the latest J-drama or anime I’m watching.

    Japanese was a habit from the very beginning of my studies.

    • Yay, I’ve been an AJATTeer since November 2010

      I don’t know how good you are with Japanese now, but once you get to a certain higher level, I’ve noticed that immersion becomes exponentially funner, because that’s when you get to understand most things without any aids (like a dictionary)
      Being able to just read a book without needing a dictionary to know what’s going on is way funner.
      Being able to have conversations on chat sites for hours straight and having people think you are Japanese is an amazing feeling.

      So keep going at it, it will only get funner.

      About the main topic on immersion:
      I usually listen to a playlist of my anime and tv shows through the night. I’m not sure if it’s proven that sleep learning works, but it takes me a while to fall asleep, so I can listen to it, and it will always be the first thing I hear when I wake up.
      People say it might affect how well you sleep, but I’ve been doing it for 2 years and I’m fine.

      I have an ever growing shelf of Japanese books. In the past year I’ve spent around $250 on Japanese books (, and keep in mind I’m only 16 so that’s like all of my money LOL. Definitely doable if somebody like me can do it.

      I love video games like anybody else, so naturally I have a lot of Japanese video games. I especially love final fantasy and zelda, and I got them all. Protip: If you have a Wii, install homebrew channel and emulators, and you can play any old game you want. (FC, SFC, N64, Mega Drive, PC-Engine, etc)
      Though I also have physical copies of games like FF13 for PS3 also.

      I always carry my phone with me with headphones, playing Japanese music.

      And then best of all:
      Japanese Operating System. Do it. I installed a japanese operating system 9 months after I began learning, and it was no problem.
      I think this is a must do if you use a computer a lot, you can learn quite a bit. It might be hard at first if you set up your network and can’t understand the errors, but it’s worth it. I was able to fully understand the entire operating system after about 16 months of learning, so it’s not hard to do, just give it time.

      I don’t know if this makes me strange, but I enjoyed reading the EULA when I installed Windows XP Japanese on my 2nd computer and Windows 7 on my main computer. Strangely, the Japanese on something technical like a EULA is quite simple.

      Just how I immerse.

      Though recently, I’ve had some interest in Cantonese for some time, so sometime soon I might begin to do All cantonese all the time. :D

  5. Good post, but in my opinion the examples miss their mark. I’m not sure how many of you agree, but I do consider things like showering and brushing my teeth troublesome tasks in a daily checklist that must be done. (I also have acquintances who also have eating on this list…)

    • I agree, I don’t shower or brush my teeth automatically, I have to force myself to get it done haha

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