Do you consider yourself a procrastinator? I think most of us at one time or another procrastinate, although some of us are better at managing this than others. Law students often struggle with procrastination, especially when it comes to working on a large, time-consuming project or paper, completing outlines, or taking practice exams.
There may be many reasons that you are procrastinating. You may dread the work you need to do. For example, you may really hate writing briefs for your Legal Research and Writing class. You may feel unsure about how to get started on that Constitutional Law outline, which you see as a really daunting task. Or you may feel unprepared, that there is no way you can take a practice exam today because you don’t know any law yet. While these items stay on your to-do list, your days are filled with other tasks. (I recognize that you are not just sitting around watching TV all day.) Perhaps you are responding to emails, working on cover letters, attending club meetings, reading for class, reading supplements, and so on. It isn’t that you aren’t working; it is that you aren’t making progress on the larger projects that you need to get done.
I will be honest: I am guilty of this at times. It is so much easier to manage smaller tasks than it is to start big ones. I can spend the entire day answering emails, teaching, reviewing social media, reading other blog posts, you name it.
So if we all struggle with this, what can we do? How do we get these important projects done?
On a flight recently I was reading a book called Body of Work by Pamela Slim. For several reasons, this is an excellent book but one of the many chapters I found interesting was how to actually create work (Chapter 6). I was reading the author’s description of her busy day, while not allowing herself any time to work on her long-term projects. It started to sound incredibly familiar and I paid close attention to how she overcomes such roadblocks.
First, she doesn’t define what is described above as procrastination, necessarily. Instead, she describes it as “resistance.” And she gives some suggestions on how to overcome it.
1. When you are not motivated, remind yourself why the task is important.
I think this is a great thing for law students to do. The challenging projects in law school, including papers, outlines, practice exams, are incredibly important. But you need to define for yourself why it is critical to work on these on a regular basis. How are these projects going to help you reach your goals, both short term—grades—and long term—employment or legal knowledge? I would even recommend that you write down these goals, since writing things down always seems to give them more power. Also you can review them periodically when you might be asking yourself, “Why am I spending my Saturday doing this?”
2. If you are not making progress, try changing up your pattern.
If the way you are approaching your project isn’t working for you, it is time to change it up. Brainstorm a new approach. One suggestion: Break the task or project into smaller little bits. Set mini-goals for yourself. Or get a change of scenery! Work from a new location, even just a new part of the library, a new coffee shop or different work space. Some people can even use motivational music to inspire them. Do you have a motivational playlist you can use to get yourself pumped up for a new task? This may sound crazy, but both Alison and I had playlists we used to listen to before taking a law school exam. The key to all of this is to change up your patterns so you no longer feel stuck.
3. There is no perfect time to start something, so start now.
I think we all fall victim to this one every now and then—today isn’t the right day to start a project or work on that outline because you (a) don’t have enough time or (b) don’t have all the materials or (c) it is too pretty outside—you can take it from there. But instead of trying to find the perfect time to start, just start. You may be surprised how easy it is to come back to something once you have started it.
4. Removing distractions and focusing while you work.
I have read a lot of advice about productivity and creative work and this is one piece of advice that comes up over and over again. To get things done you must set aside time without distractions. Sure, it is frustrating to be off-line for a while, but balance that with how good it will feel to actually get your task done. I will be honest: This is something I continue to struggle with and have reaffirmed that I am going to take more seriously.
Okay, so are you ready to commit to beating procrastination and getting your projects done. Approaching the final weeks of the semester with a new and improved work perspective will help you get ready for exam success. And do check out Slim’s book when you have time, because there is a lot of great stuff in there.
Anyone have tips to share on fighting procrastination?
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