For law students, trying to keep up with classes, prepare for exams, finish papers, apply for jobs, and still maintain some semblance of a life is — well — a lot! Not to mention Thanksgiving’s coming early this year, which just adds even more pressure.
I don’t have a magic wand I can wave to make everything easier, but I do have some hard-won suggestions (which I have to remind myself of on a daily basis lately).
Tips for Taming a Too-Busy Schedule
- Don’t expect to remember everything. When your schedule is jam-packed, it’s not feasible to think you’ll remember everything. (I’m terrible at this. I nearly forgot about an event I was supposed to organize just today!) So get serious about the systems that will remind you of things. For me, it’s a Google calendar that sends reminders for every event. I cannot tell you how many times this system has saved me from missing a critical activity. Sure, I try to look at my calendar every night and every morning, but the reality is I often get a reminder a few minutes before something starts and say, “Oh, crap! I need to get on that call right now.” (Pro tip: Schedule your reminders far enough in advance to get where you need to go.)
- Make sure you have a way to get in touch with anyone you’re meeting, in real time. Is it best to be on time? Absolutely. Is that always feasible when you’re over-booked? No. So make sure you can reach the person who might be waiting on you, and let them know in advance (if at all possible) that you’re running late. This is a situation where you’ve just got to own it. If you’re late, convey that information as soon as you can, apologize, and grovel. Pretending you’re going to be on time and leaving your friend waiting with no idea where you are does no one any favors! Send a text.
- Decide what can slide. We all want to be perfectly put together at all times, with a spotless house, an hour of exercise, and a home-cooked, healthy dinner daily. Let’s get real. Sometimes something’s gotta give. Right now, I have no clean socks, I forgot to take out the trash for the weekly pickup, and my food options are bread, cheese, and a bunch of vegetables that are going bad because I haven’t had time to cook them. Oh well. What can you do?!?
- Automate everything else. Some things (bills, eating, etc.) you’re eventually going to have to deal with. So automate anything you can. Do you really need to be writing that check? Automated bill pay! Wasting time going to the grocery store and/or wasting money eating out? Look into getting groceries delivered. (The only reason I even have vegetables in the house is because they get delivered automatically every other week, a habit I acquired in law school.) If you want to eat healthier food, make sure it shows up routinely. Sure, some might go bad, but you’ll eat most of it! (And when you do take the time to cook, cook for leftovers. The freezer is your new best friend.) You can even automate what you wear (see, e.g., Steve Jobs). Save your limited brain power for something that matters!
- Get a Google Voice number, and use it. Why is Google Voice so handy? Two reasons. One, it allows you to have a single number that rings on multiple phones (your cell and a landline, for example), so no one knows where you actually are. (Very handy for those times when someone’s calling you at a particular time and you get stuck at a friend’s house with no cell phone coverage — just reroute your calls to their working phone. Much more professional than having to send a different number at the last minute.) Two, it transcribes your voicemail. Instead of answering the phone, or interrupting your day to listen to pointless voicemail messages, just read the transcription that gets emailed or texted to you. One glance generally tells you whether this is something you need to bother with immediately. 90% of the time, in my experience, the answer is no.
- Be present. The temptation when you’re super busy is to be thinking about everything else you need to do, independent of what you’re actually doing. This approach is ultimately counterproductive. If you’re sitting in class worrying about your memo, you’re not making progress on the memo (should have just skipped class for that), and you’re not getting anything out of class, so you’ll have to spend time later trying to learn what you missed. Lose-lose situation. How can you avoid this trap? By committing to whatever you decide to do, and staying focused and present. If you opt to skip class to finish the memo, do it. And don’t waste time feeling guilty. Likewise, if you decide to go to class, pay attention. It’ll save you time later.
- Don’t forget to laugh (but you don’t have to pretend everything is okay, either). Every now and then, in the midst of the turmoil of all of our busy lives, you just have to pause a moment and laugh. Really, most of what we’re all worrying about is kind of absurd in the grand scheme of things. But, on the other hand, it’s critical not to just pretend everything is okay. Laughing at the absurdity of it all is one thing. Pretending it’s not absurd is a different ballgame!
- And, finally, the best advice I ever got: Never leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight. This sounds totally ridiculous, but I encourage you to try it. Always, always do the dishes before you go to sleep. It really doesn’t take that long, and there’s something uniquely demoralizing about waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes. (Similarly, Gretchen Rubin says that the single thing that consistently makes people happier is making their bed in the morning. Ultimately, it’s the little things.)
And finally, one more parting thought: This too shall pass. Whatever’s going on won’t be going on forever. And, believe it or not, one day you might look back fondly at the craziness of these law school exam days — through the gauzy haze of memory, when those late nights cramming with your friends seem actually quite fun. Even if right now, they’re anything but…
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Best of luck!
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