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How To Destroy An Anki Deck Without Any Real Effort

So sometimes you open Anki and sonofabee, you’ve got 90 cards to do. My immediate reaction used to be “well, first I’ll have a protein shake” but then of course I’d be fresh out of whey protein so I’d have my butler drive me to the store and I’d start chatting up some supermodels who are on an emergency baby-oil run before a swimwear contest, and next thing I know I’m avoiding calls from their lawyers and whoops, I never got around to that Anki deck and oh fiddlesticks, now it says 300 cards, I’ll do it as soon as I drink a glass of raw eggs, uh oh looks like I’m out of eggs, etc.

So my new strategy has been the two minute time box. I know, I know, time boxes are older than the queen’s bitties, but they’re so effective I have to say something. People recommend time boxes of all sizes, but I’ve found two minutes to be the sweet spot. At one minute, you’re still accelerating your pace when the timer goes off, and three minutes actually feels like work, but two minutes is the intersection on the corner of Lazy Blvd. and Results Ave., which is conveniently located near the Pizza Hut where you can buy the good weed (ask the cashier for “Rudy”).

So here’s what I do:
1. Open the Anki deck, a movie or TV show, and API Mac timer (set to 2:00 minutes, repeating).
2. Start the timer.
3. Watch the movie until the timer rings.
4. Do Anki until the timer rings.

Just keep bouncing back and forth between steps three and four. If you’re in the middle of an Anki card when the bell rings, don’t answer it! Always err on the side of laziness. Your primary goal is to get back to the movie before your brain realizes that work is happening. On the flipside, feel free to keep watching the movie for an extra ten seconds or so, because hey, why not.

Seriously, this blasts through Anki decks so fast and effortlessly it should be illegal.

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Matt is an unorthodox teacher and, above all, an unorthodox writer. He taught himself French mostly by watching TV, and now lives in Korea where he is training for the International Bench-press/Bicep Biathlon.

Latest posts by Matt (see all)

15 Comments…

Lan December 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Good post. With most of my decks I have no issues polishing them off every day without any devious schemes even if there’s a lot of cards – average about 150 or so a day now I guess. But: my kanji writing deck has me a bit mentally defeated. It takes longer to review than the others, and has a lot higher failure rate. So if there’s even a small backlog it gets procrastinated until there’s, well, a not at all small backlog. Going to try this today and see if I can’t power through it.

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Matt December 5, 2012 at 5:22 am

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I completed Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji and did my Anki deck for several months, so I know where you’re coming from. For kanji writing decks, I might actually drop the timebox down to a minute, with two minutes of (Japanese) entertainment between each box. Good luck, and cool blog btw!

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kalek December 5, 2012 at 6:44 am

1 minute time boxes turn boring RTK decks into addiction city for me. I’ve accidentally finished getting through a large backlog more than once that way (like, when I sat down, I said, “okay I’ll just do this minute to keep the momentum up on my kanji deck”, and the next thing I knew, 45 minutes had passed and I was down to zero).

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Kristofer December 9, 2012 at 6:28 am

Damn, I must be over-using Anki big time. 90 reviews seems like a lot?

At one point I was adding 90 new cards a day (50 MCDs, 10 audio cards from songs, 10-15 audio cards from movies, 10-15 audio cards from native speaker recordings, and a bit of verb form memorization) with between 1100-1200 reviews. I only cut back because the audio cards I use (taken from films/tv shows) were getting too time-consuming to make; I still use them but 40-50 new cards a day was too much. I’m in a comfortable range now with 50 total new cards a day and 600-700 reviews. Does that still seem like a lot?

The truth is, I enjoy using Anki. I wake up at 4:30 each morning (mostly because I hate my job and feel better about facing the day if I have a couple hours to myself before having to go), make coffee, use Anki for 30-45 minutes, then watch TV/movies in German until I have to catch the bus. The rest of the reviews get done on the bus to/from work and sometimes even when I’ve got time to kill at work. I can’t remember having to do any reps in the evenings.

But yeah, time boxing is probably a great idea if Anki feels like a chore. It might not feel like as much of a chore, though, if you’re doing your reps while you’re out (on the bus, train, at the coffee shop) or if you actually like what you’re studying. If you listen to music in your target language why not make audio cards out of your favourite songs? I mean, if your cards are boring, surely it can’t hurt to try something new.

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Matt December 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Holy… 1200 reviews? Well, if you’re capable of that kind of insanity, keep it up. Maybe you’ll set the land speed record for language acquisition (assuming you don’t blow a fuse). I like my cards just fine, but I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed Anki more than watching movies, playing video games, or reading comic books, and massive amounts of sleep. Seriously. I sleep 9-10 hours every night. I can’t imagine waking up at 4:30 AND doing Anki AND hating my job…

Seriously though, keep it up and keep us updated on your progress. I’m curious how your meteor-entering-the-atmosphere pace will play out long term!

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Kristofer December 10, 2012 at 3:53 pm

Ha, I probably sound like a crazy person. 1200 reviews is a lot (it took just over 3 hours each day) but, like I said, I’m down to half that now.

It’s worth pointing out that I do have A LOT of extra time on my hands at the moment. More than the average person, at least. I did a degree in engineering, didn’t enjoy it, and ended up with a lot of student debt to pay off. Subsequently, I decided to take a job in an isolated location for a year to earn enough money to pay it all off as fast as possible and move on with my life. Other than going to the gym, there really isn’t much to do here. The population is 65% male and most of the females are here because they were dragged here by their husbands. I started learning German about 4 months in to my “sentence”, and it’s definitely helped deal with the boredom issue. If you have a life, 3 hours of Anki a day plus watching German movies, listening to German songs, etc. would certainly be overkill, but if you’ve got nothing else going on it’s really not that bad! The true test will be in a month and a half from now when I head back to civilization.

But yeah, I’m about 6.5 months in and I haven’t missed a day of Anki yet. I don’t speak any other languages so I have no basis of comparison in terms of what “good” progress is, but what I can say is that I understand about 80% of what I hear in dubbed shows; I can make out every individual word that I hear on the news (they speak very clearly) even if my vocabulary isn’t at the point where I understand everything (sometimes I’ll look a word up, other times I wait for it to make sense by context); I understand about 60-70% of what I hear while watching German films (of the non-dubbed variety) but this increases each time (for example, I can understand every line of ‘Das Leben der Anderen’, ‘Lola Rennt’, and ‘Im Juli’ now, having watched them so many times). My output is fairly low and my reading skills certainly need to improve. I’m not too worried about the output at this stage, though. I’m sure people have made much better progress than me in 6.5 months, but I’m new to the game. If I decide to learn a new language a few years from now (most likely French) then hopefully I’ll be able to learn from my mistakes and speed the process up.

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Livonor December 10, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Maybe you found the language learning’s holy grail: “fight boredom with more boredom and make everything the isn’t related with the target language looks boring as hell”

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Claytanic December 11, 2012 at 1:39 am

I need to find one of these jobs in isolated places. Lumberjack, oil worker, etc…

Or something even further out on the fringe…..

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Chris March 28, 2013 at 6:58 am

Wow, this sounds like me. I’m on an engineering work rotation in the middle of nowhere and I’ve been doing 75 new cards of Mandarin a day for a few weeks now. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up to get to 1200 reviews. If I could force myself to fall asleep at a decent time, I’d wake up and do anki. I use audio methods like Pimsleur, Michel Thomas, and foreign radio for commuting too so that it’s not all flashcards.

Once you get to the point where you can read books I’d recommend doing that, when I was studying German my understanding increased considerably after trudging through Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen.

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James October 7, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Although your post is old, I decided to post to share my sentiments with you, in that I am in the EXACT same reality. I am an engineer, worked my tail off, had debt, now paying/paid it back, and realized along the way that this isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Only difference is that I am not in the middle of nowhere, but stuck in an office job in an ‘engineer firm’ with little to no real engineering on a daily basis. I call myself a ‘high-level clerical’ with an engineers salary (basically i review specs, staple papers, grammar checks, and look at engineer done by consultants and ‘check’ their work).

I do Anki for learning Mandarin everyday, but don’t nearly do that many cards. Perhaps I should increase the count?

Being in an office makes it difficult to watch movies, but doing Anki while I have other ‘work’ on the screen, most people don’t notice the small screen that Anki is on. I mostly am able to only practice reading and writing (since it is silent), but need to figure out a way to incorporate more listening and speaking comprehension.

Any suggestions anyone? Apologies for the response to a REALLY OLD post. Just had to say something.

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Matt October 13, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Suggestion number 1: Never apologize to anyone for anything, ever. Everything you do is good and right and just.
Suggestion number 2: Plain old immersion. At my job I listen to Korean and French podcasts all the live-long day. Sometimes I run MiniTube on a second monitor and have it stream L2 “Let’s Play” channels. It can be difficult to get away with active L2 learning at work, but passive immersion is hella easy (especially with a pair of wireless bluetooth headphones!).

Ramses October 14, 2014 at 1:01 pm

To add to Matt’s reply (I can’t believe I’m telling this and he isn’t sharing his own story): Matt used to take his iPod to the toilet at work and have really long bathroom breaks. People probably thought he was constipated or something, but he’d just squeeze in an extra episode of his favorite show in French or Korean. Personally, I just write emails and replies to posts when I’m on the shitter, but watching a show on the toilet isn’t a bad idea at all.

If other accept it, you can always put on headphones and listen to music in your L2, or you rip the audio of one of your favorite movies in your L2 (can also be dubbed) and listen to that.

Kay December 31, 2012 at 9:39 pm

This sounds like me haha! I’m up to 900 review cards and its been like 3 moths since I even opened my Anki deck (still drinking my Hot Cocoa ….then I went out..so much) then when I decided to actually open Anki it was just too many and I didn’t have the energy HAHA!

I’m going to try this method ..only risk is with me I can watch that movie for the full 2hours then tell myself “I’m tired…I need to sleep” then still Anki never gets done HAHA

But 2013 new year so new rules xD

Thanks it was a good post :) as always!!

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Matt January 4, 2013 at 11:20 pm

DO IT!

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Ben Winters May 31, 2013 at 1:58 pm

Okay, I’m trying this tonight with Lincoln. Two minutes at a time.

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