dealing with anki backlog

This seems to be a problem for quite a few people that i’ve talked to, so i thought i’d mention it briefly. When using anki heavily, it sometimes happens that life gets in the way and you miss your reps for a few days or even weeks. In that case, you have a whole bunch of flashcards that need review, and you get a big number at the bottom of anki that can be very intimidating to work back down to zero. Here are some things that i do to get through it.

Firstly, remember that you always have the option just to clear them all. You could go through and just hit “2” on all of them if you want, and they’ll come up later. Nobody is making you do them, just leave them. The quickest way to hate something is to make it into “work”. You need to remember that you’re choosing this, and you can choose not to do it.

If you want to do them, though, like i usually do, then there are some ways to get through it. Firstly, make sure you have the latest version of anki that has “timeboxing” features (at least version 0.9.9.6, which is what i’m using right now at the time i’m writing this). What this means is that you can force it to stop you after a certain number of minutes. I generally choose 10 minutes.

Why have it stop you? Because you want to have some really short-term end in sight all the time. If you just have 400 reviews to do, and then you do 10 or 20 of them, you’ve still hardly made a dent in the big number and it can be discouraging. So, your goal should become a time. Promise yourself that you’ll work hard for just 10 minutes, and anything after that is optional. I find this very helpful for avoiding distractions. I can always leave a distraction behind for “just 10 more minutes” of anki, because i always have the end in sight.

Frequently what happens is that i do 10 minutes, and then my urge to get distracted has dropped and i choose to do 10 more minutes. That way, i keep choosing to work on it, one step at a time. If at any point i stop, then i can feel proud that i got several 10-minute chunks done, and the huge number has actually gone down.

This way i don’t have to fixate on that big number, and in practice it will eventually go away. I really want to go and add new cards, because adding new cards is always like a reward for me somehow, but i remember that i should just work on these reviews that i need first, and then i’ll have the reward left over at the end after all the hard work. That helps keep me going too.

If i’ve left anki alone for several weeks, then doing all these “reviews” has some of that shiny-new-card excitement again too. I forgot about some of them, and i’m happy to be reminded again. But i also get a new perspective on some of the crappy ones. Never be afraid to delete cards.

There are some cards that just get you down and sap your motivation because they’re too hard. Just kill them. Gone. Nuked. Don’t let them take your motivation. If it’s an important word or phrase, you’ll always see it again somewhere anyway, so you don’t have to worry about “never seeing it again”. It’ll come up if you need it. But right now you need happiness and motivation more. Motivation and satisfaction are always the priority.

One last thing is that you can disable certain cards. If you make sure to tag your cards appropriately, you can just disable the cards that you don’t want to do right now. Perhaps you’re tired and need a break. Work on a different topic for a few days maybe, it’s ok. If you disable 3/4 of your other cards, you can focus on some of them and get caught up, and then later go back to the other ones. Divide and conquer can help because you can more easily see the end of each task.

Anyone have other tricks with motivation and anki?

2 Responses to dealing with anki backlog

  1. Keith says:

    I tried SuperMemo once for Kanji. I got back logged right away! I didn’t last long. I think the SRS programs should be rewritten to recognize when you have back logged yourself into a corner.

    • narkath says:

      Thanks for this.

      I am looking at 393 kanji right now I have to get through and right after taking it down to 340 yesterday. It did not even occur to me once that I could just hit 2 all the way through and then start afresh the next day.

      Also I keep forgetting that I need to keep the fun in the studying else I might kill it.

      Thumbs up.

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