It’s probably no surprise that I am big on organizational tools. I firmly believe that one of the biggest challenges in law school is organizing: your time, your workload, your day-to-day schedule, practically everything. And you know what? It makes a huge difference! I’ve had the pleasure of leading a few seminars for 1Ls in particular on how to organize and manage their lives in law school.
In addition, we here at the Law School Toolbox have gotten quite a few questions in the past week from law students who are looking to improve their efficiency and time management. If you have questions about how to organize your upcoming semester, here are some tools that might just change your life.
Your Very Own Personalized Calendar
I’m always amazed by how many law students either don’t have a calendar of any kind, or try to smash everything into one tiny square on their agenda or phone. Do yourself a favor and get either an electronic or paper calendar that shows you a week at a time with plenty of space for each day. Bonus points for breaking the day up in increments of hours or half hours. An important part of organizing your time is being able to see what you need to do and how long you have to do it. I encourage students to schedule everything from class reading, briefing, review, practice and memorization, to time at the gym, and even lunch breaks. Having an organized calendar can be a great way to stay on task!
Whether it’s the notes you take in class, your system for prioritizing, or your case briefs, using color is a great way to signal to yourself what all the different pieces of your to-do list or class material mean. Think about ways you can use different colors in a systematic way to help make your semester more organized. For example, as a 1L, I used to highlight things my professors in class said about the exam in purple in my notes. They were the only things I ever used this color for. This made outlining (and distinguishing between student questions and professor answers) a lot easier when looking back.
I’m also a fan of using consistent color schemes when case briefing. That way you always know at a glance where the rules are, for example, because they’re always in blue (or whatever color you choose). Color coding can be a great way to check off Professor feedback too. For example, on a Legal Writing assignment, if your Professor writes comments on your memo., highlight each comment once you go over it, talk to your Professor about it, and understand the point being made. Then, looking at your assignment, it’s easy to tell what you have covered and what still needs clarification.
Using those clear sticky notes with paper tabs on them can be a great way to speed up outlining time. My first semester in law school, I tabbed each case and wrote the case name, the overall topic area from the syllabus, and a short descriptor like “kid pulls chair” or “two forest fires” so I could remember what the case was about. When it came to outlining, this made finding the cases a lot quicker. Plus, it also gave me a roadmap for all the various points and rules I needed to commit to memory for each final exam. While you’re at it, tab your Bluebook, ALWD or other citation manual for easy reference when doing citations in your Legal Writing class.
A More Prioritized To-Do List
Every law student should have an ongoing to do list. As with calendars, though, these can quickly get overwhelming and unmanageable if you mash everything into one place (or worse, have multiple competing sticky notes or notifications set on your phone, etc.).
I encourage students to designate a place on their computer or phone or in a hard copy planner if you have one for an ongoing to-do list. There are actually some great free apps that can make this even easier. Archive, cross out, or otherwise remove finished items and rank the rest in priority order. Go ahead and number them in terms of priority (and then re-number if the priority changes). For example, if you have class reading for Con. Law, a dentist appointment, and a Legal Writing memo. due, make sure you know which one needs to happen first? Which one will take the most time? Can you frontload time on one assignment to free up time for something else? Are there hard deadlines you need to consider? Organizing your to-do list in terms of priority can really help you triage and get as much accomplished as you can in the time you have.
Keeping track of what you’re spending your time on is crucial. If you’re trying something like the circles method or other time management techniques, or even just trying to get an accurate reading on where all your time is going, try timing yourself. Pause your clock for anything you do that is not directly related to the project at hand. If you take a coffee break, space out, or answer a text, this is not real study time, so it shouldn’t factor into the time you’re counting. This might sound crazy, but it’s not that far-fetched! Imagine you’re a lawyer now and you need to track your time for billable hours. You don’t need to use six minute increments, but having a handle on how much time activities take you and what you’re spending your time on can help you (a) block out hours in your calendar more realistically and effectively, and (b) stay more organized.
Internet or Text Blocking Programs
If you have trouble staying focused, you might need to turn off your internet while you’re trying to get things done. We can waste a tremendous amount of time on things like social media, texting, even just e-mails or checking the news! We’ve talked about this before, but if you find you need some more self-control in your life, you might want to cut yourself off from these kinds of distractions—at least when you’re supposed to be studying!
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Are You Falling Victim to the Attractive Nuisance That is the Internet?
- A New Time Management Technique I’m Trying
- How the Internet Can Kill My Productivity
- 6 Must-Have iPhone and iPad Apps for Productive Law Students
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