Figuring out how to manage your time in law school can be one of the hardest adjustments to make as a law student, especially during 1L year. If you’re coming straight from college, you will likely be working much harder than you worked in undergrad. If you’re coming from the working world, then you’ll have to get used to having work hanging over your head again. Luckily, there are lots of tips for figuring out how to budget your time, when to start outlining for exams, and how to avoid procrastinating.
But there is another important component to successful time management, in addition to figuring out how to fit in preparation for classes and exams: you also need to fit in time to relax! It might initially feel more overwhelming than stress-reducing to schedule time off when your to-do list for school is endless, but your mind and your body, and very likely your grades, will thank you.
You’ll need to spend most of your day, including time on weekends, preparing for and attending class, writing papers, and studying for exams. But it is also necessary to be proactive about backing off in order to avoid burnout. If you force yourself to keep working even though you’re too tired to actually focus, you won’t study productively or truly rest, and that time will be wasted. If instead you know when to step away from work and come back to it later, you’ll actually be able to get more done in a shorter amount of time.
Although there will be pressure from your classmates to feel like you need to work constantly, there are ways to avoid getting swept up in the frenzy of law school. Here is a guide for getting that well-deserved, and necessary, rest:
Step 1: Carve out the time
At the beginning of a new semester, or even a new week, really think about how you want to structure your free time in a way that will work for you. Do you want to take an hour or two completely for yourself every day? Or, would you enjoy your time off more if you push through and continue working after class in the evenings so that you can reward yourself with a full day on Saturday or Sunday away from your books? Structuring your breaks and setting aside time to take them will allow you to feel like you earned the time off, and you will end up more refreshed than if you had procrastinated work instead of being intentional about the time. You’ll feel like the break is a reward instead of something to feel guilty about. Anticipating the time off can also make studying easier in the moment because you’ll have something fun to look forward to after the studying is done.
Step 2: Find ways to rejuvenate
What do you like to do to relax? Do you enjoy being around other people when you’re on your time off, or is it more relaxing to do a solo activity? It can feel isolating to read and write and memorize rules all the time, so meeting up with friends for a meal can be a good way to counterbalance those monastic study sessions. Calling a friend outside of school might help you unwind and regain some perspective about life outside of school (just make sure you don’t talk about school the whole time!) Or maybe you prefer to unwind on your own, at your own pace. In that case, schedule a bike ride or time to watch TV. If you want something in between, where you are around other people but don’t have to keep up a conversation, an exercise class in a group can be a good break. It can be a great way to get out of your study space and into a social activity, but where you can also do your own thing.
Step 3: Schedule your activities
After you determine what kind of breaks will help you feel refreshed, go ahead and actually schedule them. You don’t want to end up feeling overbooked or overly regimented, so prototype your plan first. Pick a week early in the semester and figure out when you want to take your time off, and schedule something during that time. Don’t forget to actually set aside the time off. A good way to do this is using the circle method (this one is so simple and works well!)
If you stick to your plans and really take those breaks, you will avoid burnout and keep up a life outside of studying as well. Studying itself will become easier too because you’ll have breaks to look forward to. And when you’re on a break, hopefully you won’t feel like you have work hanging over your head because scheduled break time is distinct from scheduled work time. We all need to take time off, and figuring out a way to make taking breaks work for you is a skill that will serve you well throughout law school, while studying for the bar, and when you begin practicing as a lawyer.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.