Tomatoes and Timers: Learn to Take a Break

All too often we fall into the same trap. We start something new, we get so excited by it, we max out and do it all the time, and then a few days, weeks, or months later… nothing.

Yep, I’ll bet you know what I mean, even if you don’t want to admit it to yourself. I’ve seen people decide to start exercising, exercise too hard for a week, then be super sore and never go back to it (until they repeat the cycle a few months later…); I’ve seen people pick up a new hobby, have big plans for becoming an expert, and then not talking about it again.

It’’s not that we’re not interested, or we don’t want to do it, at least, not exactly. After all, nobody made us start in the first place, right? SO what’s the problem?

Basically the problem is a problem of intensity. A good rule of thumb is not to take anything too seriously, not to overdo anything. The reason is simple: no matter how much we might love learning Latin, it’s mental work, and after a while it becomes exhausting. It’s as simple as that.

It’s the same with anything,: if you wanted to be a marathon runner and began by running 40 kilometres on the first day, you’d never be able to continue (if you managed that at all!)because you’d have overworked yourself, become tired, and create a powerful negative experience around running.

I’ve spoken before about quitting as soon as it stops being enjoyable, and that certainly holds true here. But this blog post isn’t about that. It’s about quitting while you’re still enjoying it.

Ummm, what??

Now, you’re probably thinking I’m insane, but hear me out. I’m not saying quit altogether, but I’m saying you’ll get a lot more done if you take regular breaks.

This is a technique I first came across in music. I was a guitar teacher for a number of years, and I found that it became too easy to let my own guitar journey fall behind, because I was so focused on playing to help my students. So I had to make a concerted effort to rediscover the joy in simply playing for myself, which I did, and I’ve never lost that again.

But, of course, my problem was that I still wanted to improve, so how could I do that on limited time/

The answer was to set a timer. Basically, when I’m short for time, or I really want to work on something — or if I just want to play for fun, but would feel bad if I didn’t do some work on something — then I set a timer and work until that timer finishes.

This is a very common technique for all work, because taking regular breaks actually makes you better at the work, more efficient, you remember things better, and you’re more motivated. The classic form of this is the Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) timer - hence the title of this blog post. The Pomodoro timer traditionally works in intervals of 25 minutes followed by a five minute break, and then usually a long break of 20-25 minutes after four rounds of the 25 minute work cycles. This regular break approach is something I’ve always done naturally, but when I started working an office job full time I found I could get engrossed and my eyes would get tired, so now I have a pomodor timer app on my phone and it makes my working day so much easier.

But enough about me, we’re here to talk about Latin!

So basically, I recommend studying no more than 25 minutes at a time without a break. The famous Irish Polyglot, Benny Lewis, swears by this approach, and he’s got enough languages under his belt to make that a pretty serious endorsement!

Although I use pomodoro timers for my day job, I don’t tend to use them in my language learning - I just don’t have enough time blocked out to do that,. But an approach that I sometimes like to use is to have two 10-minute timers with a 5 minute break in between, totaling 25 minutes all up. The advantage of this approach is it helps you focus on what you’re doing, and gives you a little motivating factor because a) you know it won’t be too long and b) you might find some latent competitiveness in you that wants to see how much you can achieve in 10 minutes! Either way, you’d be surprised at how much you can get through in these two intervals!

Of course, you may not have more than twenty minutes anyway, in which case no problem. - but consider the two timers with a gap idea anyway! The long and short of it is: learn to take a break!