Setting Yourself Up for Success in Law SchoolClick to Open
- Routines Are Good: Using Your “Routine” to Help You Meet Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
Get yourself used to a routine that will work for you and help you succeed in law school. You probably already have several routines that have become commonplace to you. Ordering pizza for dinner and watching Netflix on a Friday night are routines. Game Night on Wednesday with friends is a routine. Going to the gym is a routine. There is nothing wrong with routine as long as your routine is full of best practices for getting you through law school.
This way you can stay on top of due dates and you will not scramble to finish something last-minute. Your routine will also help you pace yourself. Rushing to finish a chapter a few minutes before class is not productive. Neither is reading half the casebook a week into the course. By planning ahead and sticking to a routine, you will fill your study schedule with goals to carry out that day, that week, and that month. By sticking to those goals you will manage your time efficiently and cut your stress. You will find that you will have plenty of time to let your inner Elle Woods loose.
- Where You Study
First, examine if the study space you have is working for you. Questions to ask yourself now:
• Do you have a study space that works for you? Relatively quiet, lacking distractions, comfortable, familiar.
• Do you tend to get distracted during your studying? Do you check your phone, look up when people walk by, check Facebook
If your study space isn’t working for you, find one that does work. If people are constantly walking by and talking to you, you need to find a new space or put a “tent” sign up telling people that you enjoy talking to them AFTER you get your work done.
- Managing External & Internal Distractions
Second, examine if you are getting distracted during studies. Distractions can be external (other people or things) or internal (your own thoughts wandering). Eliminate external distractions first. Put your cell phone somewhere away from you where you can’t see it or feel it. Studies have shown that people who have their cell phones on them (even if they are turned off) are much more likely to be distracted than people who do not have their cell phones. Second, do not have Facebook or other social media open on your laptop. Turn off the notifications on your laptop.
If you’re experiencing internal distractions – sometimes our minds wander as we study or finding yourself struggling with putting off studying, try the “pomodoro” technique. Using the “pomodoro” technique is a useful tool to help you maintain your focus through an afternoon or evening of studying. The technique is to focus intently on studying something for 25 minutes. Set a timer for 25 minutes (Of course you may need your phone for this; there are some apps to help you keep this time: Be Focused automatically times your study times in 25 minute increments.) After 25 minutes, you take a 5 minute break. After four of these, you take 15 or 20 minute break. And by break, I mean break. You don’t think of your work. You take a walk, rest, relax. Do this until you get done what you need to get done.
If you’re really struggling with Procrastination, do something for five minutes at a time. Usually, that will help you realize that it isn’t so bad after all. Break things down into much smaller, bite-sized tasks and that will help a lot with the “fear” of conquering a larger project.
In addition, periodically changing where you study is good for learning. So if you find yourself losing focus in your current study space, find a new one and change things up a bit.
- When You Study (setting up a “routine”)
First, take out a calendar and block out the class hours and sleep hours. Remember you need at least 7-8 hours for sleep. Then, take a look at your syllabi. Put into your calendar any dates for quizzes, midterms or due dates for memos or research assignments in Legal Practice.
Now, ask yourself when you are most alert and when you focus best during the day. For example, if you work best in the morning, review your class schedule to see how many mornings you have to study. Work study time into those mornings. Because law school does require a lot of reading, you will very likely need to use time in the evenings for studying. But pay attention to when you are at your best and do the most challenging tasks during those times. Do the less challenging tasks when you know you will be most fatigued.
- Set Priorities According to Your Goals
First, consistently remind yourself why you are here. Write down right now in a prominent place the answer to this question:
Why Did I Apply to Law School? Why Am I Here?
Keep the answer to that question front and center during your time here. I had a former student who told me she looks at this every morning before she sets out to law school. Place it somewhere so that you can periodically remind yourself of the “prize” at the end of all this. There will be days when you will wonder why you’re here. Remind yourself regularly about your dreams and long-term goals as a lawyer.
Second, you want to spend the majority of your time during the week on projects and tasks that are consistent with your important goals. You also want to block out space in your calendar for free time and hobbies. Setting priorities and using your time wisely requires that you plan ahead. Use one night or morning a week to review or set your schedule for the week.
- Study Time (some tips)
My recommendation is to study for one hour or so at a time. Then get up and take a five minute break. Listen to some music, take a walk, grab a coffee, or make yourself a snack. Studies have shown that people who study in one hour increments (or a bit more) and take regular short breaks are much more productive than people who study for several hours at a time with no break. For these breaks, your priority is to relax for a short time and get back to your work. Talking to a friend or scrolling through Instagram can open yourself to distractions. Suddenly, you’re making weekend plans or worrying about what someone posted on their feed. You reserve these activities for your free time.
In addition, after you’ve studied for three hours (taking these short, five minute breaks), give yourself a longer break of at least a half hour.
- Don’t Forget About Your Health
One thing to keep in mind is your mental and emotional health and well-being. You will spend long hours sitting in class, sitting in the library studying, sitting in a coffee shop reading, and so on. A successful time management plan cannot forget to include room for fun. Law school does not bring an end to your social life. Your success in law school will depend on your health. It does not matter how great your study schedule is if you are stressed. You must make time to keep yourself healthy and happy.
Schedule regular study breaks and a few hours each week of “off time.” A stressed mind and body simply do not function well. You won’t keep information or process it as effectively. Your study schedule should also leave room for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, a balanced diet, and exercise.
Plan a diet built around brain foods. Consider incorporating more fish (specifically salmon & tuna), wholegrains, leafy vegetables, avocado, blueberries, nuts and seeds into your diet. These foods are healthy and packed with important nutrients. They will help increase your focus, memory, and energy.
In addition, please make an appointment with Prof. Thompson or Dean Lalli or the counseling center if you need additional support. We are here to help!
Tips & Planner SuggestionsClick to Open
Here are some time management tips:
Spend some time answering the following questions for yourself to be on the path to law school time management success.
1.) Examine your study habits and time management.
Do you have a study space that works for you? Relatively quiet, lacking distractions, comfortable, familiar.
Do you tend to get distracted during your studying? Do you check your phone, look up when people walk by, check Facebook, etc. . .
First, examine if the study space you have is working for you. If it isn’t, find one that does work. If people are constantly walking by and talking to you, you need to find a new space or put a “tent” sign up telling people that you enjoy talking to them AFTER you get your work done.
Second, examine if you are getting distracted during studies. Distractions can be external (other people or things) or internal (your own thoughts wandering). Try to eliminate external (versus internal – your thoughts) distractions first.
External Distractions - Cell phones and social media on the computer are notorious distractors. For your cell phone, if possible, put it somewhere away from you where you can’t see it or feel it while you study. Studies have shown that people who have their cell phones on them (even if they are turned off) are much more likely to be distracted than people who do not have their cell phones. Second, do not have Facebook or other social media open on your laptop. And turn off the notifications on your laptop and your phone if it is near you. You can put your phone on airplane mode for this.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not perfect in implementing your schedule. First, it’s natural to want to socialize and get to know your classmates. If, however, you find yourself falling into a habit of procrastinating or consistently distracted by others where you’re studying, you’ll need to do something about it. You could find a different study space, like reserving a study room on a regular basis or visiting the university library. Or you could put up a polite, but firm ‘tent’ sign on your desk when you’re studying so people know that “I’m studying now. I’ll be able to talk later when I take a well-deserved break.”
2.) How much time do you have?
In the world of time management, knowledge truly is power. The first step in getting control over your time is to determine exactly how much of it you have.
Find a calendaring tool or planner that works for you. I have links to some examples below:
I use Planner pad because it gives me space to plan my weeks. I have students who use Panda Planner and Day Designer. Pick the planner that works for you.
You can also download templates from Word and customize a weekly or monthly schedule for yourself. Once you have decided on a calendaring tool, input all of your classes and any other “non-negotiable” things, such as doctor’s appointments, part-time jobs, or child-care related activities, that happen at a fixed time each week.
Next, block off time for class preparation. As you implement this step, I highly suggest utilizing what I call the “two-day buffer.” To do this, you will block off 3-4 hour chunks of study time per class meeting on your calendar. (I will explain later how you might “chunk” this time.) The trick is to schedule your prep time at least 2 days before the class actually meets. In my experience, this greatly reduces stress for students as they are no longer staying up until 2:00 a.m. trying to finish the reading for their 9:00 a.m. class.
Finally, out of the remaining time, block off two distinct times for (1) extra-curricular activities and (2) personal tasks. Personal tasks include doing chores, running errands, and other “life” stuff. All of the remaining time is your free time (that involves neither schoolwork nor grocery shopping and laundry). I also suggest allocating about a half hour of time on Friday afternoons to plan for the upcoming week. It is so much easier to enjoy your free time during the weekend if you are not worrying that you are forgetting to do something.
What do you need to do with your time?
Now that you have a complete picture of exactly how much time you have available, you need to figure out the most productive way to spend it. First, set your goals. Spend a few minutes thinking about what “success” will look like to you at the end of this year or semester. It is much easier to reach a goal if you are intentional about achieving it.
Next, create prioritized to-do lists to help you reach those goals. Again, Word templates has some nice to do lists. For law students, I suggest having three separate to-do lists: (1) Academic, (2) Extra Curricular (internships, student organizations, etc), and (3) Personal. The first step in creating a prioritized to-do list is to sit down and do what I call a “brain dump.” This entails getting out a blank sheet of paper or opening a blank document on your computer and getting everything that has been on your mind out of your head. In this step, don’t worry about what list it belongs on or how important the task is, if it comes to your head, then write it down.
Next, categorize all the tasks into one of the three lists mentioned above. Once you have all of the tasks categorized, you must prioritize them. Do this by determining which tasks are most important or most time-sensitive in helping you reach your goals, and write them in order in a list. By creating these prioritized to-do lists, you will know exactly what you need to do when you reach each of the particular time blocks you scheduled.
How can you be more productive with the time that you have?
The only way this new plan will work is if you actually implement it and stick to it. Here are three tips for increasing productivity and maximizing time:
1 - Again, Minimize distractions
Internal distractions – sometimes our minds wander as we study. To help with that, take frequent breaks. Using the “pomodoro” technique is a useful tool to help you maintain your focus through an afternoon or evening of studying. The technique is to focus intently on studying something for 25 minutes. Set a timer for 25 minutes (Of course you may need your phone for this; there are some apps to help you keep this time: Be Focused automatically times your study times in 25 minute increments. After each 25-minute study session, you take a 5 minute break. After four of these, you take 15 or 20 minute break. And by break, we mean break. You don’t think of your work. You take a walk, rest, relax. Let your brain rest. Study in this fashion until you get done what you need to get done.
2 - The 5- minute rule
The hardest part of any task is getting started. I recently said that if I spent half as much time doing things as I spend worrying about doing them, I would be the most productive person in the world. When I start to get overwhelmed with the number of things I have to do, I occasionally do none of them. This is not an effective time management tactic at all! To prevent this from happening, I have implemented the “5 minute rule.” When I am starting to get filled up with dread about doing a certain task or activity, I commit to doing it for 5 minutes. I even set a timer for five minutes because it makes me feel better. If after 5 minutes, I still truly do not want to do it, I stop. (I’ll find another time when I’m up to it soon or I’ll seek help to find out where to start.) However, 90% of the time after 5 minutes, I realize the task is not so bad, and I am happy to be working through it now instead of procrastinating until later.
3 - Set up an accountability system
The easiest person in the world to disappoint is yourself. So, if you are the only person who knows about your goals, you are far less likely to reach them. I highly recommend sharing your goals and plans to reach them with an accountability partner. Ideally, the person you choose will be someone whose opinions and advice you respect as well as someone who will give you open and honest feedback. You don’t want someone who will completely tear you down if you come up short, but you also don’t want someone who will accept all of your excuses and dismiss your lack of effort.
There is no getting around the fact that law school is stressful, and there will always be more tasks than time complete them. However, implementing these strategies will help you stay on track, get more done, and still be able to enjoy your life every so often. Here’s to your most productive semester yet!