Let’s get straight to the point:
There’s no ideal fixed amount of daily time you should spend on your language learning.
There is a right amount, though.
While it’s sometimes a good idea to schedule a fixed amount of daily language learning time, I now believe you won’t optimize your language learning time this way.
Not all days are created equal, and thus, the time you spend learning each day should take that into account.
A Motivated Turtle
If you shoot for a daily goal of doing 3 hours of language learning, chances are you won’t meet your goal on many days.
Bad news for your motivation.
On the other hand:
A daily goal of doing only 10 minutes of language learning is achievable by anyone. You meet your goal every day, and your motivation thanks you for that.
There’s just one problem…
You advance like a turtuga.
At that rate, you’ll be fluent in 366 months! (Hmmm, could be an idea for a new website…)
So you need something else.
Something that maintains your motivation, while also ensuring that you have enough time at your disposal to progress with the language you’re learning.
Enter Stretch Goals
Stretch goals come from the business world.
They are additional funding goals to be achieved after the initial target has been met.
For example: let’s say that the CEO of Zappos (Tony Hsieh) sets an initial goal of selling $100,000,000 worth of shoes in 2017.
But he doesn’t leave it there.
He also sets some bigger goals to leave room for growth, if the first goal gets met early.
Those goals could be selling $150,000,000, $300,000,000 and $800,000,000 worth of shoes.
Now, stretch goals have been criticized in recent years because — among other things — they could motivate unethical behavior. Especially in employees who have their eyes on the big prize.
Fortunately, we’re not dealing with money here. We’re talking about language learning time.
And for that purpose, they work if you follow the steps below:
1. Set a small base goal
If you never meet your daily goals, your motivation is taking a (daily) hit.
So let’s first make sure that it doesn’t get brain-damaged from all the punches.
You can do so by setting a small daily goal like: 15 minutes of language learning.
This is your base goal. Your primary daily target.
It’s a goal you can achieve almost every day, so you won’t feel bad about yourself and your language learning.
When done, you can be satisfied about your day.
2. Set your highest stretch goal
15 minutes is probably not enough to advance quickly.
So you need to set stretch goals you can aim for on days you feel like it. This way you can leverage your brighter days without the obligation to go all out every single day.
So let’s determine the most amount of daily time you could possibly spend learning your new language.
Taking into account all your other obligations, that might be two hours.
Might be more, might be less. But for this example’s sake, let’s keep it at two hours.
3. Set the stretch goals in-between
Now we have the two extremes set, it’s time to set the other stretch goals in-between.
You can set them however you wish…
But I recommend you set them in small increments, so there’s always a way out and a next goal to achieve, just around the corner.
- Base goal: 15 min
- 1st Stretch Goal: 25 min
- 2nd Stretch Goal: 35 min
- 3rd Stretch Goal: 50 min
- 4th Stretch Goal: 1 hour
- Final Stretch Goal: 2 hours!
4. Add some rewards (Optional)
For some people just reaching their daily goals is a reward in and of itself.
(If you are such a person, skip this section.)
Others need some additional rewards to get off their butt.
Needless to say: the bigger the goal, the bigger the reward should be.
You should receive your biggest reward when you achieve your final stretch goal. Likewise, the smallest reward should be yours when you complete your base goal.
- For reaching your final stretch goal, you could reward yourself by watching a good movie, or buying yourself something.
- Achieving your base goal, however, should reward you only with the right to waste 30 minutes or so on Facebook…or something similar.
Not Just for Time
If you haven’t been reading this in a zombie-like state, you’ve probably thought something like:
“Hey, I can use this for things accomplished instead of just time spent.”
And you’re right.
In that case, your base goal might consist of:
- Listen to one short audio lesson of your language course
- Learn 3 new words
And your final stretch goal might be:
- Listen to three audio lessons
- Learn 20 new words
- Review 200 flashcards
- Read 20 pages of a book in your new language
- Have a one-hour conversation in your target language
Charlie Sheen Would be Proud
Whichever way you plan to use this system, it will probably be beneficial to you.
You can learn at your own pace, and do more when you feel like it.
The beauty of it, is that once your reach your base goal, the motivational boost you receive will often inspire you to do much more.
Since the stretch goals are already set in stone, it’s a breeze to continue.
And if your day doesn’t allow you to, then that’s fine as well. Soon, a day will come along in which you can do more.
Done a little? Good!
Done a lot? Excellent!
You always win.