Make the journalling habit stick: 5 tips

I’ve been a bit of a personal development geek for a while. About 10 years ago, I was reading blog posts about all the benefits of journalling: how it can help you to process your thoughts and emotions, to work through difficult situations, develop a better understanding of yourself and to boost your creativity. It was no surprise that online productivity gurus like Tim Ferriss owed much of their success to daily journalling. I was struck by the vivid detail that Richard Branson described his life events in his autobiography. These productivity gurus outlined a daily ritual: wake up early before the sun rises, before anyone else is awake, sit in a quiet room and scratch away with your pen to the paper for 15 minutes. Do this everyday, and you too will be successful.

Hungry for all of the purported benefits (and the success!), I was burning with motivation to try it out. I picked up a notebook and pen and set aside time in the morning to sit down and write about my thoughts. I woke up bleary-eyed at 6.30am (at least an hour before my usual waking time) and got prepared to attack the day with my pen. With the best of intentions I sat at my table and flipped open to the page, pen in hand, ready to write and start my journey to success and then.. I just stared blankly at the page for 14.9 minutes, trying to fight through the morning haze in my brain. Eventually I proceeded to give a bland recap of mundane things from the day before: “I ate this for dinner” and “I saw this person today”. I pressed on with it for a few weeks, each day getting slightly faster at writing. The result after a month: I only got slightly higher quantities of bland words.

So I gave up on it. Granted, this wasn’t a huge amount of time that I’d dedicated, but I was young and impatient. I returned next year to try it again, reinvigorated about the promises after reading another blog post, only to go through the same motions and give up again.

Every time I went through this cycle, I found that the same issues kept coming up:

  1. I always felt tired when I sat down to journal. It was a massive mental uphill battle just to form coherent thought.
  2. I could barely read my handwriting in my journal. I would also forget to bring my journal with me, so I never had it on hand if inspiration struck.
  3. I felt like my entries would be written once and forgotten forever. I didn’t have a system of going back to review old entries, so the lessons I’d learned weren’t being remembered.
  4. Even when I wasn’t tired, I got massive writer’s block and couldn’t think of anything to write.

I found ways to overcome each of these issues one by one. Once I did, journalling finally felt easy and worthwhile. Fast forward to today and journalling is actually a habit that I look forward to doing! I don’t do it everyday, but nor do I feel like I need to in order to get the benefits from it.

If you’ve been struggling to start journalling, I hope these tips will help you to find a method that works for you.


1. Find the right time

The idea of “productive morning = successful in life” is one that’s parroted a lot in the productivity world. People draw on examples of countless CEOs like Tim Cook who are early risers. Naturally I thought that it had to be one too.

Turns out, I’m not a morning person. My neurons take their sweet time to wake up and start firing properly. So when I sat there in front of a notebook right after getting out of bed, the only thought I could muster was “this wouldn’t be a bad place to go back to sleep”.

It took years to let go of this ‘productive morning’ idea and accept that I’m just a night owl. So instead, I now journal at night or in the afternoon and I find that I could immediately get my pen to the paper and open up my stream of consciousness. It feels so much more natural for me to reflect on a day that had already happened instead of trying to desperately pull memories back from a previous day.

You might be like me or you might be an early riser. Or somewhere in between. Whatever your preference, write according to that. Don’t blindly follow people trying to recommend the same regimen for everyone.


2. Find the right medium

I consider myself a very digital person. My handwriting has always been terrible and keeps getting worse every year that I’ve finished school. It doesn’t give me much satisfaction to look at my handwritten chicken scrawl.

So now, I write my journal on my laptop as well as my iPad or iPhone (yes I’m very spoiled). I can start an entry on my phone, jotting down a note while I’m out and about, then finish it on my laptop at home. I can type a lot faster than writing by hand and the end result is a lot prettier too.

I use an app called Diarly, which has a super clean and minimal interface, syncs entries via iCloud across all of my devices, allows me to record special data like location, weather and movement. It gives me all I need in a journalling app for a cheaper price ($25/year) than the leading Day One app ($35/year). It’s a steal if you ask me.

Yes, there’s something special about the feeling of the metal ball rolling against the paper, the tactile feel that connects you to your words in a day that a digital device never could ver replace. It’s also a lot easier to get distracted and start scrolling while writing if you’re doing it on a internet-connected device rather than a paper book. But these are trade-offs that are well worth it for me.

Don’t get hung up on the whole physical vs. digital thing. If you like a paper notebook, go for it! My advice to you would be to find what works for you: like with morning routines, don’t dogmatically subscribe to a certain medium because someone else (even me) told you it’s ‘better’. Focus on what will help you get the job done.


3. Do a weekly review

I used to open my dairy, write my entry, close it and never look at it again. Again it didn’t help that I could barely read my own handwriting. The problem was, it was hard for any for it to feel that meaningful. What was the point of spending all this time writing something, only for it to be lost forever? I wanted a way to feel like all this effort was building towards something bigger.

When I started using Notion seriously in 2021, I found out about something called the Weekly Review. Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like. I do it on Mondays late in the morning, and it allows me to think and reflect on everything that happened in the past week, as well as plan the week ahead. This routine forces me to look back on the entries I’ve made in the past week in Diarly and surface any learnings and memorable moments from them.

I also have a Monthly and Quarterly review routine that I do as well with a similar idea, but I’d recommend starting with a Weekly Review if you haven’t already.


4. Write like you’re giving advice to yourself a year ago

This piece of advice really helped me get my pen to paper (or rather, fingers to keys) a lot faster. It also helped with making the entire practice feel more meaningful. Rather than writing about what I had for lunch, this prompted me to think about what I’d learned so that I could potentially help out someone going through a similar situation.


5. Have prompts

This follows from the last idea. Have a list of 3-5 prompts to start your entries with so that you spend less time staring at the dreaded blank page and make sure your time is well spent writing insightful things.

My favourite ones are:

  • “I’m grateful for..”,
  • “Today I learned..” and
  • “I’m proud of myself for..”.

With these prompts alone, you can write a solid entry every single day.



Now, I actually feel excited to write entries. I can open Diarly whenever I’m in the mood for it and immediately note down an idea, insight or reflection I have. I know that these special moments will build into bigger pieces of my overall life, not to be lost like leaves in the wind any longer.

If you’ve wanted to get into journalling for any amount of time but have found it hard to stick, I hope these tips give you some ideas to switch it up and inspire you to find your own way to make it work.

What’s your favourite method of journalling? What elements have I missed here? Feel free to reach out to me with a comment or message.

Beat perfectionism with The Lean Startup inspired method

Having a YouTube channel has been a fun little goal of mine since I started making videos for a living a few years ago. I thought that having video-making skills would help me, but they actually got in my way because I knew how good the videos could look if I spent the time perfecting them.

I found myself spending a lot of time editing each video: wanting to add more cuts, more transitions and flourishes to make it look just that bit better. It became a form of procrastination. Mainly driven by the insecurity about being on camera, my perfectionism always told me that I could make the video just that bit better if I spent more time editing it. I found myself missing deadline after deadline, justifying it by telling myself the video wasn’t “finished” because a small tweak had to be made. I had become my own nightmare client.

There was no way I could upload a new video every week – the amount that everyone says it takes to “make it” on Youtube.

Popularised by the book “The Lean Startup”, early-stage tech companies have taken on a culture of product development centred around rapid prototyping. The term MVP (minimum viable product) is a ubiquitous term in 2022. Under this model, you decide first on a minimum set of features that your product needs to have (the MVP) in order for a small user base of customers to test out, and only once this MVP is validated do you sink more resources into developing it further.

Since I now work at a tech startup, this concept has been front of mind. Recently, I found a way to bring it into my video production process and it’s been a game changer. Let me share it with you.


How it works

My videos used to be delayed by weeks in order to make tiny extra tweaks, which in the end would only net me a 10-20% better video overall. The truth is, they were ready a lot sooner than I decided. Time that I could’ve been spending making entirely new videos and growing as a creator much faster. If this sounds familiar to you, here’s how to make sure you deliver your work when it’s ready.

When you sit down to start editing, ask yourself: “what’s the minimum viable product that I can deliver?” – in other words, what’s the smallest amount of editing that this needs, in order to actually be watchable and deliver your message? Write these down into a list. I call this the “MVP list”.

Here’s an example of what that looked like for a recent video:

After that there’s usually a long list of things like sound effects, colour grading, extra B roll, animations and transitions I’d like to add. All of these things make the video look better but aren’t actually necessary for telling the video’s story. These go into a list called “Stretch goals”

The rule here is that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING after the MVP list is optional, and you’re only allowed to work on if you have time after finishing the MVP List. There’s no sneakily checking off any tasks in the Stretch Goals list until each and every box on the MVP List is checked.

For me, following this method does a few things:

  1. Ensures that I deliver the video once its actually ready, not when I “feel” that it’s ready.
  2. Motivates me to finish the MVP editing quickly, because then I’ll get to work on the stretch goals that make the video look better.
  3. My creativity isn’t stifled, because I still get to imagine what the video could be if I don’t have time as a limitation.

Here’s what the same project looked like by the time I uploaded the video:

Notice how some of the Stretch goal items were checked, but not all. That’s all I had time for before my deadline this time. It’s totally okay, because the MVP list was well and truly complete!



I’ve outlined how to use this method for video editing. But it can be applied to other things too: blog writing, journalling, working out etc. The time we have to work on anything in our lives is finite and precious, and we should treat it as such. It’s important to state clear goals for finishing a task, otherwise Parkinson’s law kicks in and it ends up taking all the time we allocate to it, leaving less time for other important things in our lives like spending time with loved ones.

Think about your own life, your own hobbies and your work. Do you have anything you’re working on for a little bit too long to get only marginally better results? If you’d like to get more output (it’s okay if you don’t – remember to enjoy the process), you might want to consider trying this approach.

How To Tell a Good Story: 4 Storytelling Basics

Here’s a guilty confession: when I first wanted to get into making videos, it was because I watched travel videos from influencers. Creators by the likes of Sam Kolder, Benn TK and JR Alli. I felt a rush while watching them, with all of the transitions, trendy dance music, teal-and-orange colour grades and hyperlapses. I loved watching them and for a while could only dream about making something like that one day. As I went for short trips and holidays, I would get my camera out and start filming random bits and trying to put together travel videos of my own. I eventually managed to learn a lot of these skills and put together videos that were great eye candy.

But they were missing something. As I watched more and more travel videos, it became clear that the best ones had something that most of the other ones didn’t: the ability to hold my attention and give me a reason to keep watching until the end. In other words: a story.

Over the years I’ve seen the power that stories hold: they can bring a person to tears, change minds, move hearts, spark a movement. If told correctly, your reward for telling a good story is a receptive audience to which to send a message. You can teach them anything, from the value of family, to working together as a team or the perils of fast fashion.

I’d developed these skills to make great videos, which had now suddenly they had taken on a whole new meaning. It felt like I’d gained a superpower.

Without any formal training or background in filmmaking, when I started I had no idea what storytelling actually meant. In order to find out, I took an online storytelling course called Crafting Moving Films, which gave me a fantastic education on what I’m sharing here. Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks and Dan Kennedy has also been a great resource.

I want to share it with you today because if you’re starting out, the whole ‘storytelling’ term can feel super nebulous because it gets thrown around a lot these days and it times can seem like a tough, complex beast.


1. Separate the end and the beginning as much as possible

A story in it’s most basic form, is a transformation of a character from one point (the beginning) to another (the end). This might be a discovery of their own talents, of the value of friendship, the meaning of family or the ability to accept help, to name but a few. The journey from this beginning state to the end is the story arc. This is a tip I learned from Storyworthy: the bigger the difference between beginning and end, the better the story. A great tip is that if you’re coming up with a story: come up with the ending first. Then flip that to the polar opposite to determine where your story should start. For example, if your story is about a woman getting back in touch with her roots, then the start of the story should show her as out of touch with them as possible.

This is why people tend to enjoy stories about the underdog. They’ve got a bigger change to make. There’s more to gain. A better story.


2. Desire matters most

Desire is something that a person really wants, beyond what he or she already has.

With the start and ending of your story determined, the next most important building block is desire. Every main character has to have this. Harry Potter wants to become a wizard and kill Voldemort. Iron Man wants to escape from his cave prison and live up to his father’s image.

When the desire is clear, it creates empathy and allows the audience to connect with the story.


3. Conflict: The fuel that propels the story

Once the desire in the story is set, the next step is for the hero to undergo conflict.

Conflict is a challenge or obstacle that the character must overcome to attain their desire

It creates engagement and gets people to pay attention. This is because it creates a question, something you want answered. So there’s no choice but to keep watching to find out.


4. Follow the 3 act structure

Nearly every story ever told follows this structure. You’ll do well to follow it too:

  1. Beginning: The story is set up and we’re introduced to the characters and their desire
  2. Middle: The character confronts their conflict and tries to work through it
  3. End: The story reaches its climax where the hero resolves the conflict. The bad guy is slain, the guy gets the girl etc.

After the third act comes the conclusion: this is where as a storyteller you get the opportunity to send the audience a message. This is your reward for taking the audience on their journey. If you’re making a documentary, this could be your chance to raise awareness about a cause or social matter. If you’ve spent the last 90 minutes telling a story about climate change, tell them what they can do to help.



There are many more nuances to storytelling beyond what I’ve covered here. Indeed, you can find entire books, courses and degrees related to the craft. No matter how great or small, stories always boil down to these building blocks. From a cute Pixar short to an Avengers movie, to a travel vlog, to a Mr. Beast video.

Just remember these things:

– Separate the start and end as much as possible

– Have a character with strong desire

– Give them a compelling conflict to overcome to reach that desire

With these guidelines in mind, you can now structure a story and think about the most important elements to make it a compelling and moving one. If you pull it off well, you might just be able to make somebody feel something.

Next time you watch a Youtube video or movie, try and think about these principles and how they’ve been applied well (or poorly).

6 Steps to Manage Your Video Projects in Notion

If you’ve been a freelancer for a decent amount of time, then you probably know the stress (and exhilaration) that can come with juggling many projects at once. After all, you’re the one in control of how much work you take on, and it can be hard to say no to jobs that pay your bills. Sometimes though, you might end up saying ‘yes’ to too many jobs and find yourself either pulling all-nighters to get them over the line, delivering at a lower quality standard, or missing deadlines. None of these outcomes is desirable.

When I started out, I didn’t have a method for keeping track of my projects. My files were all over the place – I had scripts, checklists, budgets and planning sheets stored haphazardly in Google Docs and Word Docs on my computer. I wrote down the deadlines I had in the next week, but beyond that it was anyone’s guess. To be honest, this actually worked fine. That is, until I started working on more than 2 projects at the same time.

I started wasting sooo much time just figuring out what the most important thing to to tackle next would be – should I write the script for next week’s shoot? Or edit a video due sometime later this week? I wanted to keep getting more jobs, more clients, improve my skills and make more money. This wasn’t going to happen if I had to devote more and more time just to figuring out what I needed to do. I had to find a better way.


For me to scale my freelancing business, I needed a system that would:

– Be easy to maintain

– Allow me to see what’s upcoming on all my projects at once

– Track progress on each project

– Help me prioritise what to work on

– Alleviate repetitive tasks that were done for every project

– Allow me to forecast the work on my plate ahead of time

That’s when I stumbled on the wonderful app, Notion. At first I thought it was a just great note-taking app which would easily replace OneNote. I found that it met all the needs that I stated above, and was capable of so much more.

Now it runs my entire life. That’s not an exaggeration. I keep track of all my goals, notes, habits, journalling, knowledge and more in there. But that’s an explanation for another post.

Today I’ll break down step by step, how I use Notion to manage my video projects. I’ll assume that you already have basic knowledge about how Notion works, what databases are, how to make database relations, filtering etc. I also use it to stay on top of my social media content and personal content too.


1. The Projects Database

Let’s start with the Projects database. Each new project gets its own entry in this database. This is where I capture my projects, no matter what type they are. I use different emoji to denote what type of project it is.

2. The Project Template

I’ve set up a template for client videos that that has different areas . This guides me through the production process from start to finish. Every time I start a new project, it generates the checklist for me and I go through and start checking them off as the project progresses.

3. Recording Milestones

Within every project template, there is a view of another database called All Tasks. This Tasks database also serves as high level to-do list. I usually use this only to enter project milestone dates, like “pre-production”, “filming” and “editing 1st draft”. I don’t go too granular on this, because things get start looking messy real quick. I enter these in at the start of the project if possible, so that I can keep as much visibility over my schedule as I can.

4. Dashboard View

Each project has a status field, which can be used to create filtered views. I also add another status field called Next Action where I can type what needs to happen next, which could be anything from “sending an invoice” or “waiting on client”. This filtered view allows me to be greeted with a dashboard where I’m greeted with my active projects and their next actions.

5. Timeline View

This is one of the coolest parts. It’s is a Timeline view of the Tasks database, which pulls together all the milestones that were recorded in your projects. You can forecast when your busy periods will be and know when you’ll have to start saying no to things. I consult with this when I want to know if I have the bandwidth to take on new work.

6. Handling Revisions

These are added into the Task database under the Project it belongs to. I usually include a Rough Cut with 2 revisions as a standard on my projects, so these are added in at the start. Sometimes, the client will need more revisions (which I kindly ask them for payment on), and these will be added as yet another milestone.

Putting it all together.

Here’s what my project management process looks like today:

  1. I open my Notion in the morning and instantly see my Dashboard, which shows me what active projects I have and what to do next for each of them
  2. A quick review tells whether I’m currently waiting on something from the client (in which case I can follow up if needed)
  3. By looking at the Timeline View, I get a wider view of how my schedule looks for the next few weeks. I can see if there are things that need to be tackled first because other tasks depend on them
  4. My Task database allows me to rearrange items to prioritise what needs to be worked on next
  5. Whenever a client wants to bring me on for a new video, I just create a new page in the Projects database. My template guides me through what needs to happen to bring it to life.
  6. All of this takes just 10 minutes in the morning and gives me total clarity over what needs to be worked on and in what order of priority. After that I can get to work doing the next task, then the next, and so on.

Taken together, it all works to meet the needs of the checklist I laid out at the start.

Over the years, I’ve built my Projects database to handle a lot more – social media posts, photography projects, personal projects, blog posts (like the one you’re reading now) and anything else really. You can modify and add to your template as your needs grow, and it will apply to all future projects you make.

If you’re interested in any the of the templates I’ve shown or talked about here, feel free to drop me a message using the contact form on my website and I’ll send it over.

My Top 10 Tips For Using Anki

In my last post, I talked about how much I like using Anki for learning languages and how I’m currently using it to learn European Portuguese. Today I’m gonna go through my top tips to get the most out of this wonderful app.

This guide assumes you have a pretty basic grasp of using Anki already. Truth be told, there is a large-ish learning curve involved with using it – it’s not as easy as other tools like Memrise or Quora. But that’s the price you pay for having an app with no subscription and better functionality. I feel that Anki is best used as a way to learn base vocabulary – up to around 1000 words. Beyond this it can still be useful but the motivation to continue reviewing cards everyday drops (at least for me) after this point to where I can’t feel bothered.


Here are my 10 Tips:

  1. Download shared decks. Chances are, if you’re studying a major language like Spanish, German or Mandarin then there will be decks that other people have made already. I downloaded a deck with 1000 cards from English → Portuguese, all the way from the basics to full sentences. This is what I usually do when starting a language learning journey. But be careful – these are made by other users so they can have errors. Get them checked by a language teacher or native speaker if you can.
  2. Have 3 types of cards for every new word you want to learn:
    1. English→Target language,
    2. Target language→English
    3. Spelling.

    The first two ensure that you learn the word thoroughly so that you can both understand and speak it in conversation. The third type deepens your knowledge of the word and saves you from being illiterate.

  3. Use pictures instead of the English word (and bury the English under a Hint). This tip comes from the Fluent Forever method, which I loosely follow in my own language learning efforts. What you want to do is train your brain to think in your target language. When you speak a language fluently, you don’t think to yourself “how do I say x in Portuguese?”, you just go ahead and say the word. So if you have a flashcard for the word “minuto”, on the reverse side you should NOT put the word “minute” but instead a picture of a stopwatch with minute readings. Bonus points if it looks like a typical Portuguese stopwatch. Here’s an example of this card:

    Example of flash for “minute” showing only an image, no English text.

  4. Make sure flashcards have audio recording in your target language. When the card comes up, you want to be able to hear it being spoken so you repeat after it. Try to be in a quiet place when you study so you can practice saying it out loud at a normal volume (not a whisper). This helps you improve your pronunciation and gets you closer to a native accent.
  5. Use it to pick up words when you’re out and about – out with the pocket notebook! When I lived in Cambodia, I used to carry around a little physical notebook with me, as is common among foreigners learning a new language. When somebody told me a new word I didn’t know, I would write it in the the notebook. But I would have to pull out the notebook, fish around for a pen, find the page I was up to and begin scribbling down the word and translations as fast as I could so that I could return to the conversation. It was also a pain to have to carry around in the first place. So as you can imagine, this only lasted a week or two before I decided to use to notes app on my phone to do the same thing. The problem with both of these methods is that I never went back and studied the words properly – I just gave them a glance over every now and then. With Anki, I’ve been able to take this a step further and directly make a flashcard when I learned a new word. I can kindly ask my friend/teacher/stranger to say the word for me so that I have the correct pronunciation recorded too. And as long as I keep up my study habit of doing flashcards every day, I can be confident that these words will get committed into my long-term memory instead of just staying in my notebook.

    I used to use a notebook similar to write words in when out and about. No longer.

  6. Zoom in and out on desktop. I often find that on the desktop version, the text and images don’t scale very well, so it gets a bit difficult to read the cards. Maybe I’m just getting old. Either way, this is a handy tool that can let you zoom in and out for easier reading:
  7. Use CSV import. I do online 1-on-1 lessons. Over the course of a lesson, I’ll pick up a bunch of new words that I’ll write into a list as I go. I’ve found a much easier way of getting them in to my flashcard deck: the CSV import. This way, I can enter all the words I learn into an Excel spreadsheet and then import the whole thing as a bunch of new cards after the end of the lesson. Bonus tip: you can also send this list to your teacher and ask them to spend a couple of minutes making a voice recording (using their phone will do) of all the words, so that you can add them to your new flashcards too.

    Words I learned recently in an Excel sheet to be exported

  8. Set a goal for how long you want to spend studying on a daily basis. Consistency is the key here. Pick a goal that you know you can achieve almost every day, even if it’s just 1 minute. This will determine how many new words per day you can learn, which is the next step.
  9. 10 new words = 30mins per day (give or take). At the start, 10 new words will only take a few minutes, but every day you’ll be adding more reviews from previous days, so it will start taking longer. Eventually, the time it takes usually stabilises for me at 30-45minutes if I’m learning 10 new words per day. Remember that each new word makes 3 flashcards, from tip 2. Set your goal and schedule your time accordingly.
  10. If you miss a day or a week, don’t be intimidated by the reviews, even if it’s telling you that you have thousands left. Focus on getting back to doing it consistently, even if that means starting again in a tiny way. Tell yourself that you only have to review ONE card. Chances are, you’ll get on and do more than one. Then get on the next day and chip away at it again. Before you know it, you’ll be back into the swing of it. But only if you allow yourself the space to not have to review hundreds (or thousands) or cards again. This is great for when you want to go on holiday or just need to take a break for a bit.



Very often, language learning can be a very ambiguous undertaking. It’s difficult to know how far you’ve come and how far you’ve got left to go. You can be feeling on top of the world after your lesson one day and totally disparaged the next as you try to have a conversation with the lady who works at the local cafe. If you’re making measurable progress toward a goal everyday then it’s a lot easier to keep that motivation rolling. That’s what I love about learning with Anki: it turns your language learning journey into a SMART goal.

So here’s a pretty concrete example: let’s say I’m beginning to learn a new language, and I know that the most common 1000 words in a language will give me a great foundation and let me know 85% of the words spoken in day-to-day conversations. Using the tips above, I know that I can learn and memorise 10 new words per day if I commit to study 30-45mins every single day. Which means I can get through this first 1000 words in 100 days, or just over three months. Three months! I don’t know about you, but that sure beats French class in school which left me barely able to introduce myself after years of study.

Of course, learning a language isn’t just about learning new words. But learning new words is the most memory-intensive part of the journey that needs to be slogged through. I would totally recommend trying to get out and speak to other people as early as you can, even if you’re just pointing at something on a menu and asking for “uno”. Speaking to real people if the only method that I’d recommend learning grammar as well, after all that’s how we learned out mother tongue. But that’s a story for another post.

My Favourite Tool For Language Learning

The Challenge of Learning a New Language

It doesn’t matter if it’s your first, second or eighth: learning a new language is hard. There’s just so much stuff to learn: syntax, grammar, pronunciation, politeness, culture and vocabulary.

But it’s also an extremely fun and rewarding challenge that can unlock the full potential of what a country has to offer.

I’m currently two months in to learning Portuguese (the European variety, not the more popular Brazilian one).

By far, the hardest part of learning a new language is the sheer amount of new words you have to learn. Studies show that up to 75% of day-to-day English (and other languages presumably) can be spoken if you know the most common 1000 words. Beyond that, languages tend to have tens of thousands of words. But even still, a meagre goal of learning and memorising 1000 new words is a lot!


Enter The Flashcard

How do you actually memorise 1000 words? If you have a photographic memory, you could just spend an afternoon reading them in a dictionary and be on your way. Sadly, I’m not one of those people. For the rest of us, there’s the popular tool called flashcards.

You may have used something like this in school. For learning a language you’ve got the English word on one side and target language word (Portuguese for me) on the other side.

For example, one side would have “water” and when you flip it, it says “água”. Normally you’d have a deck of these cards and go through them one by one to test yourself on the translation, then flip the card over and see if you were correct.



Anki is an app that takes flashcards a step further by taking them digital.

Not only that, but according to neuroscience there’s actually an optimal way of showing yourself the flashcards to let you learn as much as possible in a given time. Instead of reviewing the whole deck everyday (who’s got time to look at thousands of cards every day??), you review the ones that you’re just about to forget.

This method is called spaced repetition. Used and loved by many language learners, medical students and other students of all kinds around the world. Including me.

Ever tried to learn a word and then forgotten it 0.2 seconds later? No worries. Anki automatically shows you words that you’ve forgotten more frequently. The more times you review a card, the further it gets pushed into your long term memory until eventually you can remember the word for good.

Our time is limited. Contrary to popular belief, learning a language as an adult is not only a possible endeavour, it’s actually easier than when you’re a kid. You have more discipline and context to learn from. The challenge is that as an adult you usually have a full-time job, family, social life, fitness regime, Netflix etc that are all competing for your time. We don’t get to go to school and study a new language for 8 hours a day like kids do.

That’s why I use Anki. With my limited time, it lets me memorise as many new words as possible for the time that I give myself to study. Meaning that I can learn more words in a limited block of time per day.


Reasons I love Anki

There are other flashcard apps out there, but I found Anki pretty early on in my journey and have stuck to it for these reasons:

    • Syncs my flashcards and progress to all my devices: I can study on laptop at home and easily pick it back up if I have a few spare minutes when I’m out and about.
    • Super flexible flashcards: I can add many types of media including pictures, audio, hints etc.
    • Simple, lightweight app that runs fast
    • Works offline: these days there are many great alternatives, but usually they need an internet connection. Which means not only do they take time to load a deck, I can’t use it while on a flight or in a tunnel.
    • One time fee, no subscription. It’s actually totally free if you only use the desktop version, but I’ve paid for the iOS app. At the time of writing it’s $24.99, it seems bit pricey for an iOS app, but it only costs as much as a few months of competing flashcard app subscriptions like Memrise. For me it has paid for itself many times over.



Like I said at the beginning on this post, learning a language isn’t just about learning new words. While Anki is great for learning vocabulary, it can also be used to learn grammar, pronunciation and other aspects of a language.

But while this is all great, I do have to drop a note of caution: you can’t learn a language using only Anki. This is only one tool in the arsenal of learning a language. While it’s a great tool that makes up the bulk of my practice time, you can’t expect to rely on only one tool to learn a language.

After all, learning a language is all about speaking to people. Real people.

That’s why I also do face-to-face lessons online (through iTalki) with a native Portuguese teacher (a lovely lady named Joana). With my teacher I get valuable conversation practice and some more regular structured lessons. For the days where I don’t have a lesson, I’m using Anki to commit to memory all of the new words we learned in our lesson.

I’ve used Anki pretty extensively at this point: to learn a decent amount of Mandarin and Khmer (the Cambodian language) before this Portuguese journey. It’s stuck with me more than any other tool and that’s why I always recommend it. In a future post I’ll be going over some of my favourite tips for using Anki for language learning.