Because you’re never going to find it.


You are never going to trip and fall into an extra few hours a day to accomplish your goals. If you are serious about learning, you will quickly discover that it isn’t about finding time at all. It is about making it. The truth is, you will inevitably need to dedicate some of your precious free time towards it. (At least until they perfect direct neural uploads a la “The Matrix”). The good news is, you don’t need to quit your day job or become a social recluse. You only need find make a few hours per week.

How much time?

So you are ready to learn something new. You are motivated. You have a plan. This is great. How much time should you expect to spend? Well, if you are at all familiar with Malcolm Gladwell, a rather scary “10,000 hours” might be floating in the back of your mind.

That’s … a lot of hours.

Luckily, Josh Kaufman in his most recent book The First 20 Hours makes the excellent point that those 10,000 hours are for mastery, not simply learning something new. While mastery might be an excellent goal, you don’t have to be the next Tiger Woods or Yo-Yo Ma. Simply pick up some golf clubs or a cello and get started (along with proper instruction and planning, of course). As the aforementioned title suggests, you should be able to make a lot of progress in a relatively short amount of time.

Twenty hours is pretty reasonable if you ask me. But the question still stands: where can I find make this time?

Find your quiet place

Got a job? Got a family? Got a lot of free time? More likely than not, you won’t answer yes to all three. A good trick is to find your quiet place. Allow me to become your guru and lead you to this wonderful place. Let’s start with a simple question:

Which sounds more appealing?

A) Sipping coffee as you read the morning paper
B) Pounding an energy drink to fuel some midnight oil burning

Choose A or B, but DO NOT read both!

A) Your quiet time is: the morning (before 9AM)

Ah the morning — a lovely and peaceful quiet place. Is anything better than watching the sun slowly rise, knowing you will have done more by 9AM than most get done all day?

Try setting your alarm a few minutes early with the goal of eventually providing for an extra hour or two before your first morning responsibilities (getting ready for work, getting the kids ready, etc). You might need to start going to bed a bit earlier — you definitely should not cut into your resting hours — but to be honest, what will you really be missing from 11pm-12am every night? Those hours are for late night hooligans and boozers. Repetitive late night monologues. Endless droning of infomercials. Who needs it?

Grab your coffee and start your day off right — by setting aside your own time for learning.

B) Your quiet time is: the evening (after 9PM)

Finally, your day job is finished, the kids are asleep, and you have some time for yourself. The world begins to quiet down as the old timers start passing out. Time to get to work.

Having time in the evening specifically for your learning can be a great reward at the end of the day. You spend a majority of your daytime for other people, whether it is for work, for your family, your friends — it is a great thing to be able to end it with some time for yourself. Plus, studies show that right before bed is a peak learning time, as your brain will process the information as you sleep.

If you are a night owl, then what better way to spend that excess night energy?

The important takeaway here is that you need to set aside time somewhere in your busy day for learning. There are unfortunately only 24 hours to choose from, of which more than 2/3 are probably already designated for work and sleep. Setting aside a block specifically for yourself can be a great boon to your educational endeavors.

Full disclosure, I am 100% a morning person. I have gotten into the habit of waking up around 6AM every day, giving me an extra hour and a half in the morning before getting ready for work. It is truly some of my most productive time. Even if you aren’t a morning person now, you should think about giving it a try.

Fill your unavoidable downtime

Another strategy is to sneak in a little productivity into your day-to-day. Do you perform any of the following on a regular basis?

  • Commuting
  • Running errands
  • Chores around the house
  • Waiting in line
  • Exercising

If you don’t, then you probably have way more figured out than I do, and you should be writing your own blog (seriously, share your secrets). Otherwise, you can leverage these necessary time commitments to reach your learning goals. Running on a treadmill? Read on a Kindle or tablet. Driving 30 minutes to work each day? Listen to a relevant audiobook or podcast series. I ride the train 30-45 minutes each way every day, and have grown to depend on that time for reading, writing, and working on personal projects.

Don’t overdo it

When you first start learning something you are passionate about, it is really easy to bite off more than you can chew. Starting really big or setting extraordinary expectations for yourself is the quickest way to turn something you love into something you eventually despise. Do your best to avoid these rookie mistakes:

  • Setting goals that are unattainable (e.g. “I will learn Chinese in three days”)
  • Starting with more than one topic or skill (e.g. “I want to learn that, and that, and that!”)
  • Letting other responsibilities suffer (e.g. “Another missed project deadline, oh well”)
  • Neglecting loved ones (e.g. “Sorry sweetheart, no date night this week”)
  • Sleeping less (e.g. “I’m down to 3 hours of sleep a … zzz”)
  • Not allowing any down time to decompress (e.g. “I won’t be needing you anymore, Xbox”)

Be realistic. Don’t neglect your current responsibilities. And always allow time to unwind. You know what they say about all work and no play…


Stick with it

The hardest part may be getting started, but a close second is sticking with it. It is going to be tough, but so are most things worth doing. The name of the game is establishing a routine. If you can make it through the first 20-30 hours, not only will you have learned something new, but you will be well on your way to forming a good habit. Find what works for you and then stick to it. The more you do it, the easier it will become — and the more you will learn.

So what do you think? How do you find make your time? Let me know with a comment.