I abided by these two books, and had a satisfactory result:
How to be a Straight A Student by Cal Newport. It's not free, so I had to get creative in getting access.
10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less). It's a free book by the productivity/college blogger and YouTuber Thomas Frank.
It's just a shame that I discovered this later in college. They would have helped tone down the anxiety associated with wanting to earn good grades. Now I send this to everyone I know who is starting with college.
It's late, and I kind of skimmed, but here are some thoughts.
If you are getting overwhelmed by a backlog, you need to either learn to ignore it (set a daily limit and consider it a success when you finish them), or prevent the backlog from happening by setting appropriate intervals or controlling how many "new" cards you start at a time.
I can't imagine typing in vocab items. It's probably slowing you down by a factor of 10, and just isn't worth it.
Anki is not ideal for learning facts for the first time, and is not designed for it. It might very well be better to start with paper flashcards or a two column list to familiarize yourself with new words, and only use Anki for getting them into long-term memory. Personally, I don't mind "failing" new cards repeatedly, so I skipped that step sometimes.
> Once you get to a certain point (around 100 cards), start filtering well-known, older cards into an "infrequent practice" deck which you only review every three days. Sooner or later the infrequent practice deck will probably spawn a "very infrequent practice" deck, but I haven't gotten to this point yet.
This is spaced repetition. What Anki does is optimizing this process to minimize the number of repetitions per item over the long term, which becomes vital as the size of your deck grows.
Nope, no way. You can't keep track of thousands of paper cards. You can't travel with them. You can't search for a card by its content. You can't label them and fish up a set of related cards instantly. You can't reformat them instantly.
Basically, there are good and bad ways to use Anki, and these issues have been discussed to death on the internet. Not only that, but there are probably differences in preferences with things like language learning and SRS, and some things that work well for some people just won't for others. There's enough here to suggest that you are probably causing yourself unnecessary problems with Anki. I can speak from experience that I've had times when Anki worked extremely well for me and times when it didn't, and the distinguishing factor was that in the latter I was over-complicating things or overwhelming myself unnecessarily.
Sidenote: a while back I had a little box from White Rabbit Press with colored dividers. The idea was to use it for simple spaced repetition of small batches of their Kanji flashcards. Another thing some people like are ring-bound mini vocab cards, though those are not good for spaced repetition.
Personally, I'd keep using simple lists if that works for you. In fact, if you create your lists as a spreadsheet, you can print them to learn, and then export as a CSV file to get them into Anki. You can even shuffle and reprint them if you feel like you need an extra "learning" round.
Final thought: I cannot take the paper notes vs laptop thing seriously. This requires a lot of explaining, but the gist of it is:
Notes from my own experience (mostly from CS, not math, but hopefully transferrable):
If you want work in physics, a PhD is usually a prerequisite. Go for it. You can finish your undergrad in 4-5 years and your PhD in 5 if you hustle. Keep in mind that you don't pay for a PhD program in physics. The school actually pays you to teach. That's how it is at major research universities, anyway. And many PhD candidates actually start families during this time. You'll just have to suck it up financially for a bit.
So yes, it is completely possible. However, you mentioned "a wife to support." If she is relying solely on your income, then that won't fly. I'm not here to question your relationship arrangement, but fuck that. lol. She should understand and get a job to help out, if she isn't already. And if she is working, great!
Other than that, I suggest that if you do make the decision to go forth, you do it with a fervent commitment to excellence in the discipline. You need to get after it and not fuck around. I mean, have fun and be lighthearted in your study, but be focused. You also need to aim high. Do not sell yourself short. You aim for a MIT PhD or CalTech, whatever. You do what has to be done. Maintain a disciplined and balanced lifestyle and be honest with yourself. Prioritize sleep, study, and exercise. Have a good diet and social life.
I recommend the following books by Cal Newport:
How to Become a Straight-A Student
How to Win At College
You have a lot of doubt and it shows. You need to erase that, make a commitment, and just get after it. You won't be happy otherwise. The work you do will be work, and it will take patience and perseverance. But you will be pursuing what you really want. Waking up every morning will be easy when that's the case. Don't settle.
I also strongly recommend Cal Newport's book "How to Become a Straight-A Student" (https://www.amazon.com/How-Become-Straight-Student-Unconvent...). I've read a lot of books on studying in college, but I think this one really is one of the best way to study.