Law school success requires consistent preparation, frequent review, and self-discipline. In other words, it requires you to be the antithesis of a procrastinator. If you’ve ever found yourself creating an outline two days before the final or furiously typing out your legal writing assignment the night before it’s due, you might be in need of some procrastination rehab. Some of the following strategies might seem extreme, but drastic action is often necessary to be jolted out of bad habits. Don’t worry, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Don’t worry, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Create a schedule (actually, several of them that are really detailed).
Overcoming procrastination requires you to become fanatical about keeping track of the tasks you need to complete on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Figure out the scheduling system that will work best for – whether it be a handwritten planner, an outlook calendar, or an app – and fill it in with anything and everything that needs to get done. Put your long term deadlines on your monthly calendar, and then make a separate weekly schedule that sets out the routine tasks you need to complete each week. I also like to create a daily schedule or to-do list first thing in the morning (with my biggest priorities at the top) that I can cross off throughout the day. It’s immensely satisfying to check things off the list as you get them done.
These schedules should be extremely detailed and should include both your academic assignments and your other obligations. Be sure to set clear deadlines for each task you need to complete. For example, if you want to have an updated outline for each class completed by the end of the week, write that down every Friday on your weekly calendar. If you want to start working on your legal writing assignment two weeks before the due date, put that start date on your monthly calendar. Be realistic about the time it will take you to complete each task and be sure to schedule in some down time.
Hold yourself accountable (or get someone else to do it for you).
Creating a schedule is important, but it will only take you so far if you don’t have the self-discipline to stick to it. To overcome procrastination, you must also put a system in place to hold yourself accountable to your deadlines and goals. Some students find success if they create a clear incentive/disincentive scheme (e.g. shopping trip for completing a task, cleaning the house for not). I like to set automatic reminders on my outlook calendar or phone for anything and everything (e.g. start drafting lesson plan for class, complete review of practice essays by end of day, take dog to vet, and so on). For those who really struggle with procrastination, I believe the most effective technique is to send your schedule and goals to someone else and have them check on your progress. You might plan to meet somewhere for a study session or they might just email you to make sure you really are outlining each week, but knowing that someone else is depending on you to show up or get something done is a great motivator.
Break it down.
One of the most effective strategies for overcoming procrastination and improving your productivity is to break your time and your tasks down as much as possible. Even the most diligent and disciplined law student will have trouble concentrating for four hours straight. Instead of scheduling marathon study blocks, break your day down into 30 or 45 minute segments. Switch things up throughout the day so you’re not stuck on the same boring task for hours on end. Similarly, if you’ve got a long writing project due, break it up into shorter tasks that can you complete over the course of several days. Maybe you do a short outline on day one, then a more detailed outline on day two, then you just work on the first five pages, and so on. Breaking your day and your big tasks up into discrete subparts makes them less intimidating and less likely to get postponed until a later date.
Delete distractions and don’t deviate.
Habitual procrastinators tend to be easily distracted when it is time to study or focus on a difficult task. If you are truly committed to overcoming procrastination you must remove any trigger distractions. That might mean deleting all social media and gaming apps from your cell phone (or, gasp, leaving your phone somewhere else while you study), it might mean studying at the library so that you are not tempted to turn on the television, or it might mean studying away from the law school so that you are not constantly interrupted by friends walking by. Get rid of whatever you personally use as an excuse to avoid working on a difficult or boring task.
I also encourage students to stick to their schedule even if they struggle to be productive. In other words, if you’ve scheduled two hours to study at the library, go to the library even if you don’t feel like it. Force yourself to sit there until the two hours are done. If you’ve committed to staying at school until your reading is done for the day, don’t leave the building until you’ve finished. If you force yourself to stick with your schedule you will eventually get something done. As you get used to your routine, your focus will improve and you will get more productive. Lastly, don’t overcommit to student organizations and extracurricular activities. Yes, networking is important, but so is getting good grades and passing the Bar Exam. Pick one or two activities you really enjoy and use your newfound free time to study.
Procrastination is a tough habit to break, but with enough commitment and accountability, you can overcome your procrastination tendencies and release the diligent, responsible law student hiding inside you!
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