Law school presents law students with a number of incredible intellectual challenges. You have to memorize a great quantity of information in various substantive areas of law in a relatively short time. You have to learn to use a lot of arcane technical jargon correctly. You have to master a new system of legal proof that is just as complicated as the system of geometrical proofs you learned in high school. The only difference is that you will get substantially less support in learning how to do a legal proof than you did when you were learning how to do a geometrical proof.
The best way for law students to meet and overcome these challenges is to engage in “Deep Work.” Deep Work is the ability to focus exclusively for a long period of time on one particular intellectual task without distractions. Engaging in deep work means working with total uninterrupted concentration on whatever you are doing. It is the opposite of multi-tasking. Students who engage in deep work will be able to more quickly master complex information and produce superior results in less time.
Unfortunately, the way we live our lives in modern society often prevents us from engaging in deep work. We are used to being connected to others 24/7. We feel the need to constantly check or update our various social media accounts. A beep from our smartphone or computer compels us to check out the latest text or email. Below are five techniques that will help you implement deep work into your law school lives:
1. Avoid Multi-Tasking
Multi-tasking is the enemy of deep work and the greatest obstacle to your success in law school. Numerous academic studies have shown that multi-tasking decreases your efficiency while increasing your stress level. This occurs because the human brain actually cannot multi-task. Instead, it switches its focus as rapidly as it can between tasks, which leads to exhaustion, decreased performance and higher levels of stress. Replacing multi-tasking with deep work will increase your ability to master complex information and reduce your stress.
2. Incorporate Deep Work Into Your Calendar
Enter specific times that you will engage in deep work into your calendar. Need to prepare for an upcoming class? Block out a specific amount of time in your calendar to accomplish that task. Also block out times in your calendar for summarizing your notes and outlining after class, doing practice exams, and whatever else is necessary for you to learn the black letter law and perform well on law school exams.
You can also use your calendar to minimize distractions that are the enemy of deep work. Enter a maximum of two times per day that you will check non law school related email and/or social media accounts. Allocate no more than 15 minutes to this task. Even if your law professor or law school communicates with you through social media, create set times that you will check these accounts, so that you ensure that you will have enough time to engage in undistracted deep work.
3. Prevent Interruptions
Disappear. Make it clear to everyone that you are unavailable during certain times. Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door to your room. Even better, find a place to study where you are unlikely to see any of your friends or fellow law students. How about the architecture or medical school library? Or a regular public library that is near your law school? Or a classroom that is always empty at a particular time?
Use an autoresponder for email. You can say something like “I am unavailable now but will get back to you as soon as I can.” Don’t get back to anyone until the time you designated in your calendar to check email arrives.
Turn off anything that rings, beeps, or vibrates. Turn off your smartphone. Close email and social media apps on your computer. Turn off the radio and television!
4. Close Or Minimize Social Media Accounts
By far the biggest temptations that will distract you from deep work are your social media accounts. It’s normal to be curious about what your friends and family are doing, and to want to keep them apprised of what you are doing. But consider this: will it improve your grades on law school exams if you know that your friend just discovered the best pizza parlor anywhere, or if you read a tweet about an upcoming wine tasting?
The best way to minimize the temptation of social media accounts is to close as many of them as possible. Of course, if your law professors or law school uses social media to communicate with you, then you need to follow those accounts. You can preserve your deep work time by only checking these social media accounts during the time you schedule in your calendar.
5. Evaluate The Usefulness Of Study Groups And Other Meetings
Some law students thrive in study groups and get a lot out of them. Other law students do better if they study alone. Do not participate in a study group just because you think you should. Consider whether you are learning things in the study group that you would not have learned on your own. If so, then the study group is worthwhile. If not, leave the study group and spend the time in deep work on your own.
If you incorporate the five techniques described above into your daily law school life, you should find yourself with plenty of time for deep work, and the superior results that it can deliver.
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