Dead Time: How to squeeze more hours out of your day

I remember being young and being a little perplexed anytime I heard adults saying, “there aren’t enough hours in the day.” Only more recently in life have I really started to understand just how right they were. The older I get the more I really feel like there is so much I want to achieve, not just in life, but on a daily basis. Every day before I know it, it seems like the day’s over and it’s time to go to bed. It would be so handy to have the Time Turner that Hermione uses in order to attend classes run simultaneously at Hogwarts (oh and save Sirius Black and Buckbeck from certain death).

Unfortunately, time travel into the past isn’t currently possible so instead it leaves us with having to make the most of the time we do have. This is where Dead Time comes in. What is Dead Time? Dead Time is any time during your day where you already do one activity, but could be doing a second activity at the same time. In French the saying is “Faire d’une pierre deux coups” (lit. to strike twice with one stone) or in English “To kill two birds with one stone”. Overlapping language-learning with other activities that you already have to do each day is a simple and effective way of squeezing more hours out of your day.

Here are some examples of utilising your Dead Time:

  • You have to drive 30 minutes to and from work each day. Instead of sitting in silence or listening to music or the radio in your native language, listen to a podcast/audiobook/mp3/learning materials/etc. in the language you’re learning.
  • You spend 2 hours cleaning the house each weekend on Saturday. Again, instead of doing this in silence or with the radio or TV on, listen to material from the language you’re learning.
  • Waiting at the bus stop, airport, train station? Read a book or listen to a podcast whilst you wait.
  • You run or train at the gym each day. Do it listening to a podcast, the radio, etc.
  • Walking to a friend’s house/the shops/the beach. Hell pretty much anytime you are traveling somewhere long or short, and you’re alone. Put something in your ears.
  • Your work involves mindless repetitive tasks on your own (for me I work in a genetics lab a lot on my own). Put something in your ears!

There’re endless examples you could list here, and I’m sure you’ll have some in mind after reading this. Everyone’s day is different, but I’d bet money on the fact that somewhere in your day there is currently some valuable Dead Time that isn’t being used as productively as it could be, if at all.

I often manage to listen to 1-2 hours of French audio material a day without changing my routine and having to set aside specific time to sit down for 1-2 hours and listen to it. Frankly, I don’t have time for that! So you can see it doesn’t require any serious change to your daily routine. You can see it adds up quickly too. I manage to get 7-14 hours more French time in a week, and since beginning to do this a few months ago my listening comprehension has taken off!

Everyone has a phone or mp3 player onto which they can put audio files, and materials are easily found online, a lot of podcasts are 100% free on iTunes. You can buy audiobooks and language learning content to put on your mp3 players too. YouTube has all sorts of content at different levels in countless languages, and you can convert YouTube videos to mp3 using these kinds of sites.

It actually becomes quite addictive seeing just how many extra hours you can squeeze out of your day. Like finding extra change under the cushions on your couch. When you learn where to look for Dead Time and then start using it wisely to learn languages (or whatever else you’re interested in) you see how quickly the extra time stacks up and pays off! So go and kill two birds with one stone, figuratively, as I don’t condone violence against birds, and let me know how you go!

Where are some other places you can find Dead Time in your day? Let me know in the comments below!


Shout out to Johan from Français Authentique where I first heard someone specifically name this concept ‘temps mort’ / Dead Time.

TL;DR – Dead Time, in the sense of language learning, is any time during the day where you’re doing something mundane where you could otherwise be practicing your target language at the same time. I.e. listening to audio in your language whilst driving to work, cleaning the house, exercising, etc. It builds up and pays off quickly, and without you having to set aside more spare time for language learning during the day.


Author: Pete Smissen

I'm a PhD student with an ever developing passion for learning foreign languages. I started this blog to flesh out and share my thoughts and ideas on how to go about learning foreign languages to fluency. I am more interested in concept based approaches that each individual can tailor to their own personal living situation, interests, attention span, etc.

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