It’s a common problem, lack of willpower.
There are probably ways to juice your willpower, but I’ve got an easier suggestion:
Rely less on willpower, and more on systems.
How I Use Systems to Compensate for Laziness
The reality is that I’m one of the laziest people around. But I get a lot done. How? By coming up with clever systems, rather than relying on what I know I “should” do for motivation.
I’ll give you some examples:
- Taking out the trash. I hate taking out the trash, which has to be done every Tuesday night. For months, I’d forget to take it out on time, then berate myself for being an idiot (an idiot with a trash-filled garage). Finally, one day, a really obvious solution occurred to me…why not just put a standing appointment in my Google calendar every week to take out the trash? I did, and I’ve never once forgotten since. Every Tuesday night at 8:00, I get an email saying “Take out the trash.” And I do. Problem solved.
- Going to the gym. I’m still working on parts of this one, but I do make it to the gym at least once every week. Why? Because I have a standing appointment with a trainer. I’d like to go more, but once is better than nothing. (The few times I’ve pre-scheduled yoga classes on my calendar, I’ve made it maybe 50% of the time. Not perfect, but better than the 0% I’d go just relying on willpower.)
- Eating reasonably healthy food. This one is two-fold. Many years ago, I became a pescaterian, which automatically eliminates tons of junk from my daily eating options. But, more importantly, I get fruits and vegetables delivered twice a month to my house. Sure, some willpower is required to cook and eat them, but it’s way easier when they’re sitting in the fridge looking sad if they don’t get consumed!
How You Can Apply This Idea to Your Life
If you’re in law school, it’s a given that you have a ton of stuff to do. And it’s also a reality that much of what you spend time on isn’t really the most critical stuff.
For example, if I asked whether reading for class or taking practice exams was more important for your 1L grades, what would you say?
- Most students would (correctly) say taking practice exams was the best way to improve your 1L performance.
- But, those same students — if they were being totally honest — would have to say they prioritized reading for class over taking practice exams.
Why is this happening? Because there’s more urgency around reading for class. No one wants to be unprepared, etc. (And, for the record, I think you should do your reading, within reason.)
If you rely strictly on willpower, it’s probably going to be exhausted by the time you finish your reading. You’re not going to have anything left for the tasks that are actually most important.
So, systematize your work. Get out your calendar right now and block off a reasonable amount of time for your reading. Commit to doing your reading in those time blocks, and don’t do it any other time. (If you’re not finishing your reading, the blocks need to be longer, so adjust them.)
Look at the rest of your week. Where do you have some chunks of unscheduled time? Pick at least two chunks of three hours each, and make a standing appointment (with a reminder!) for “Deep Work.” This is when you focus on outlines, practice exams, etc. You know, the real work of being a great law student.
As you go through the semester, drop the storyline that you’re lazy and just need to work harder. Instead, physically adjust your calendar to add more Deep Work chunks. Even if you have to cut back on other tasks, go from two to three chunks a week. Then four, and even more as exams approach and your classwork tapers off.
Note that what you’re really doing here is establishing a system. If you commit to it, there’s no issue of willpower. When you get the email to do Deep Work, you do it. There’s no decision to be made.
Sure, it sounds like kind of a drag (who wants their calendar to tell them what to do?). But it’s actually liberating. (Remember Odysseus and the sirens? Yeah, this isn’t a new concept. If it’s good enough for the ancient Greeks, it’s good enough for you.)
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And check out these helpful posts:
- How to Tackle Procrastination & Get the Law School Grades You Want
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