Law school is just a lot. There are classes, readings, practice, outlining, networking events, social events, interviews, office hours, writing assignments, research, exam prep and…and…and…I lost my train of thought in the flood of it all. Oh. Right. Eating. Sleeping. Details, right? Anyway, some people can just float through and balance everything like a pro. Most people, though, if they don’t organize their time with some deliberation, will get way out of balance in some way or another, and this can have really unfortunate consequences.
I’ve talked about this on the Bar Exam Toolbox, but one of my favorite tasks is designing study schedules for bar studiers. As I got the hang of this, I started offering a similar service to some of our law school tutoring students, to supplement the work they are doing with their primary tutors. But you can probably do this yourself! Let’s go through some steps.
Step 1: Get a framework
Where are you going to post your schedule? Do you want a digital schedule in something like Asana or Trello or even your calendar app? Do you want a printable document that you can post next to your study area, or a handwritten calendar/planner? When I design schedules for law students, I usually put them into a text document with the document divided into weeks and the weeks divided into days. While I’m designing, I like to use printed calendars shoved into dry-erase sleeves so that I can rework the schedule as needed (note: this is probably more important for me than for you, because I do several of these and don’t want to keep printing calendars, but the dry-erase sleeves are super useful).
Step 2: Input your non-negotiables
Once you know where you’re putting your schedule and you have your document/calendar/app set up, start inputting the things that you can’t move. Class sessions. Doctor’s appointments. Due dates. Include how long each will take, and don’t forget about travel time!
Step 3: Fill in your “life” needs
What time do you need to wake up to get to classes on time? What time do you need to go to bed so that you will be sleeping enough (or as close to enough as possible)? When do you eat? Do you have family members who need you at certain times of day? Do you work out or meditate regularly? Don’t forget about grocery shopping, cleaning, and other household needs, but hold off on blocking out specific “down” time for now.
Step 4: Stop and breathe
That’s probably looking pretty crowded already, so take a minute. I hate to tell you, but the next part is actually the worst part. Are you ready? Okay.
Step 5: Make a list of the variable-but-necessary tasks
What am I talking about here? Doing your reading for class. Checking over your notes and outlining the material. Writing practice questions. Doing work for your legal research and writing class. Attending office hours. Some of these are more predictable than others. But all need some time blocked off each week. For each of these tasks, figure out roughly how long they’ll take each week, and when you prefer to do them. Keep in mind that you’ll be outlining more and have more complex legal writing assignments as the semester progresses.
Step 6: Make a list of the preferred-but-optional tasks
Things on this list might include bar review, evenings to yourself or with your family, weekend trips to visit friends, movie night with your significant other, dinner out, hair appointments. These are the things that fall under the “self-care” heading, but that also might need to give way somewhat as things get stressful. Figure out what you want on this list and how much time each would take, and then prioritize.
Step 7: Fill in your schedule
Input the necessary tasks first, but try to balance them with things that will help you maintain a good mindset. (Note: this is where the dry erase sleeves might help, as it can involve some trial and error.) If you like to do your reading for the week on the weekends, you might want to keep your evenings relatively free of law school work. By contrast, if you want to read nightly, even if it means working on law school work until bedtime, you should try to keep your weekends relatively free to recharge. Unfortunately, this looks very different for each student, so I can’t give you specifics. What I can recommend is options. Divide your time into blocks, and fill in the most important thing to do in each block of time. That might be reading for the next day’s classes or completing the LRW assignment that’s due. But what if those things are already done? Input the second and third most important things for that block of time.
Step 8: Don’t forget about exams
Exam weeks will look different! Once you get your exam schedule, take some time to redo this process, giving yourself time to prepare for each exam. Just don’t expect your class-time schedule to work equally well for exam week. And maybe prepare to drop some of the “preferred” tasks for a couple of weeks. (Sorry!)
It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with ALL THE THINGS that need to be done in law school. If you can take some time before the flood gets too bad to divide your schedule into manageable chunks, you might find that it all goes a lot more smoothly!
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.