Time management is one of the biggest challenges for all students, and it’s even greater for students who have families, homes, and jobs. Law school is demanding enough for a single student who lives in a dorm on campus. Imagine it for a 35-year-old single parent who owns a home, works full-time, and commutes to school to take classes three nights a week. If you face these sorts of demands, how will you manage your time in law school? Here are some suggestions.
The Big Picture
The major concept here is delayed gratification. You want to be a lawyer, but to get there you – and your family – will have to make sacrifices in order to attain a later reward. Law school is an investment in your family’s future. If you can get all interested parties to understand this, your time in law school will go more smoothly.
Get your family and friends on board. If you are married, if you are a parent, if you are a young adult whose friends and/or parents expect to see you every weekend, you will need to have a frank discussion about your (lack of) availability. Schedule breaks with family and friends, and remind them not to expect to see you at other times. Promise to invite them to a party when you graduate.
Fortunately, law school does not generate emergencies the way life and work do. Take advantage of this predictability. At the start of the semester, establish a master calendar with all known law school information: class schedule, exam schedule, and assignment due dates. Then add all known work obligations, such as deadlines, important meetings, and scheduled business trips. Finally, note all known family, home and personal obligations, such as birthdays, holidays, and children’s school events.
Once you’ve made your master calendar, fill in the details. When will you not be at work or in class? That’s your study time, and it’s likely to consume most of your weekends.
In addition to study time, schedule breaks and fun. Maybe you’ll study every Saturday morning, take a break for lunch, study all afternoon, and then spend the evening with your family or friends. Keep in mind, however, that this is the stuff that will have to be sacrificed if you fall behind in your schoolwork due to an illness or a car breakdown. Schedule fun, but keep this time flexible.
Either Put It Off or Put It On Someone Else
Schedule all nonessential events during breaks from law school: winter break, spring break, summer. This applies to routine medical and dental check-ups for yourself and any dependents, routine car maintenance, and, if you own a home, routine maintenance tasks. On a higher level, this is not a good time start a new job, move to a new home, or expand your family. If it can wait, let it.
Reduce all nonessential commitments. When your child’s school asks you to be class parent, politely decline. Now is not the time to chair a committee or organize a fundraiser. The same goes for nonessential work commitments.
Get help. Now is the time to offload time-consuming tasks such as housekeeping and yard maintenance. You may enlist members of your household or relatives who live nearby, or you may want to hire help if you can afford to do so. Alternatively, accept the fact that some things just won’t get done during the semester.
Go off-site for weekend studying. If home is too distracting, especially on the weekends, schedule study time at a library (law or otherwise).
Set up an off-limits study space. If you can study at home, establish a study space that is off-limits to everyone else. Enforce the rule that you can’t be disturbed (unless there is a dire emergency) when you’re in that space. Ideally, this will be a room with a door that you can keep closed. Tell your family that you’ll emerge at a specified time.
Block all distractions. Silence your cellphone, ignore your email, log out of Facebook, use all the discipline you can muster to stay off the Internet during your designated study time. Remember, you can reward yourself when you take a study break.
Study at “off hours.” If you have a family, exploit the time when they’re not home – or not awake – to study. If you’re a morning person, get up an hour or two earlier than usual and get some work in before the kids get up. Or maybe you’d prefer to study at night, after everyone has gone to bed. These may seem like painful options, but they may be your best opportunity for distraction-free studying at home.
With the support of your family and friends, careful planning, reduction of non-law-school time commitments, and effective studying, you will survive law school.
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