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Part-Time Law, Full-Time Life: Fitting it In

Yesterday I hit the four week mark of a 15-week semester. This is usually the time when my good intentions for the semester fail. My planner begins to collect dust on my now-cluttered desk, in the home office I never enter, and books are scattered across my kitchen table, which has ceased use for its intended purpose. Attempts to prepare meals for the day result in me grabbing an orange from the basket and hoping my husband will remember to go to the grocery store on his way home. Instead of retyping my notes or adding to an outline at the end of class, I return home at 9:30, eat frozen pizza, and quickly fall asleep on the couch. It is difficult to break this cycle, yet so easy to stop the productivity that comes with the start of a semester. Many students, part-time or full-time, have a similar experience. As a part-time student, the importance of efficiently managing time increases as the semester gets busier. Ms. JD bloggers have written about this on several occasions, and it is worth repeating.

Prior to the start of each semester, I turn to the Internet and am overwhelmed by the countless words of wisdom spoken by men and women whose stature in our society prompts me to repeat their words. Gathering advice from sources whose ability to concisely say what takes me an entire blog, I turned to the words of these individuals for inspiration:

1.       “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” – Antione de Saint-Exupéry

Setting a goal is easy. Many do it at the beginning of every year via resolutions, while others set weekly or daily goals in the form of tasks. My intentions for the semester usually include maintaining organization and structure in my chaos. My goals, however, are more specific. I say I will maintain an exercise schedule or use Saturday as my reading day, but I rarely have a great plan to enact these goals. It makes more sense to say “I wish I could be healthier while in law school,” because without an idea of how to enact these goals, they are useless.

2.       “A good intention, with a bad approach, often leads to poor results.” – Thomas Edison

In enacting these goals for each week, a well-considered plan is a must. For those who have been away from school for a long time, or are unaccustomed to reading 250 pages of intensive legal text each week, it can be difficult to slide into a habit of studying on a certain day, and taking a break during certain hours in the week. It is even a challenge to remember when to eat dinner – even the best intentions for a study plan or outlook on the week will falter, if the plan in place is ineffective. I start the week with a long look at my schedule and think about the time it will take me to get through an assignment, travel to and from work, or eat dinner. It seems tedious, but this method of planning reminds me to leave room before I head into a meeting with my boss or prior to class so I can decompress and prepare in the few moments leading up to these events. Without these extra five or ten minutes built around each activity, I rush from home to work to class without taking a breath and fail at most of what I set out to accomplish that day.

3.       “Somebody once said we never know what is enough until we know what’s more than enough.” – Billie Holiday

It is impossible to know during the first day of law school what plan to enact with each changing semester. I thought by the time I reached my fifth semester of school I would have everything figured out, and could do the bare minimum to get through my classes each week. I was wrong. Sometimes tasks require more thought than usual to train your brain what is enough. Sometimes you need to spend more time drafting a legal memo or on research. This practice is invaluable, because once you start billing at a firm, you will not have the luxury to take more time to determine what is enough. Practice this now. Take extra time to read, research, and write. Spend a few extra minutes in bed, or an extra hour on the weekends. Let your body and your mind tell you what is enough.

4.       “Be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” – Judy Garland

All of the advice on the Internet will not help you if you do not understand how to enact your own goals or plans. I can show you a copy of my detailed-to-the-minute weekly schedule, but it will likely drive you crazy. I add the scheduled to a family calendar app on my phone so my husband can share in the insanity of my week, but you do not need to know more. Taking my plan and advice and making it work for you, however, will allow you to reach maximum work quality.

These concepts are broad. You must work them into your own life. The ideas are simple, though, and I recommend taking some time each week giving serious thought to how you plan to get through each day. It may reduce stress and encourage you to see how you are filling your time.

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