Teachers Make Good Law Students:  Distractions & Energy

"I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship." — Louisa May Alcott 

One of the objectives of a law student is to navigate the way through the many perils of law school.  This includes a tight schedule full of long lectures, hours of study time, obligations from work, responsibilities with family, networking, and social time with friends. By the end of the week, a busy student is left feeling a bit dazed, confused, and definitely drained.  It may not always be easy to keep your focus and sustain your energy.  Just take one day at a time, and a little bit of planning can lead to smooth sailing!

“D”: DISTRACTIONS – Foster the Good & Eliminate the Bad

With the increase of technology, there’s been much scholarly debate and research on the subject of distractions and attention span. [1]  As an elementary school teacher, my general rule of thumb was that the average student has an attention span equivalent to his or her chronological age.  For example, children who are 10 years old will probably only pay attention for about 10 minutes before their minds start to wander.  In order to have an effective classroom, teachers need to keep the students engaged in the learning experience and this often requires changing the activity near the point of when attention spans start wavering.  Without the break, the information is likely to never reach the student. 

The adult student faces the same challenges.  The best way to pay attention is to be actively engaged by participating in class discussions, writing notes, or highlighting important text.  If you are prone to look out the window or get distracted by classmates surfing the web, choose a seat that is close to your professor.  However, since law school can sometimes require the student to just listen to a professor lecture for 90 minutes (or for even longer stretches of time), it is difficult to stay actively engaged.  Law professors are unlikely to break out into “brain break” exercises, but the self-aware law student can do a few simple things to stay focused.  As an adult, you may need to do a different activity every 20 – 30 minutes throughout the lecture.  How is this possible when a good student is supposed to be clinging on to every word that comes out of the professor’s mouth?  Don’t worry!  Give yourself a quick “brain break” and you’ll return refreshed and ready to keep going.  I don’t propose that you grab your smartphone to feed your social media addiction or start shopping online.  No, these are not necessarily good distractions because students often have difficulty pulling themselves away from these activities to come back to the lecture.  Instead, try one of these clever tricks:

1) Bring a bottle of water to class.  Every time you feel yourself drifting, take a sip.  Whether you are thirsty or not, drink some water.  This small movement tricks your brain into thinking that you are doing a different activity.  Not only that, but keeping your body hydrated is good for your brain. [2] 

2) Pop a peppermint candy in your mouth.  It’s a sneaky way to activate your other senses.  Or, if you don’t want to eat candy, put on some peppermint scented hand lotion.  You can make your own with unscented lotion mixed with a few drops of peppermint essential oil.  Peppermint has often been used to increase concentration and memory. [3]

3) Stretch.  If your professor allows for it, stand up and take a walk.  If not, do some stretches in your seat.  Do anything to move around a bit.  For example, try a neck roll:  while sitting up straight in good posture, drop your head down so your chin barely touches your chest and roll your head slowly from side to side while taking in long, slow breaths. [4]


Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, before one need is met, the next cannot be accomplished. [5]  One of the challenges that face elementary school teachers is the child who arrives to school half-asleep and hungry making it impossible for the child to focus on schoolwork.  Law students can be gluttons for punishment and will often deprive themselves of meals or good sleep because of time restraints.  There’s usually too much work to do, deadlines piling up, and stress keeping you restless when it’s time to sleep.  Of course, it’s not always possible to get a full night’s sleep, but you can be aware of energy zappers such as binge-watching TV, staying out all night with friends, or just spending hours playing the latest game on an app.  Most of this is common sense, but it’s always good to have a reminder.  To stay energized, keep in mind the following:

1) Sleep well.  As soon as the semester starts (or even before), get into a good routine where you can get at least 7.5 - 8 hours of sleep.  With proper sleep, you will begin the day with a fresh start. [6]

2) Nourish your body.  Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but sometimes there’s no time to eat or you may not be hungry in the morning.  You could always have a quick healthy snack such as a piece of fruit or yogurt.  “To go” packs are perfect for law students on the move.  Bring healthy snacks such as almonds or even a granola bar with you to keep from feeling deprived, hungry, and reaching for unhealthy fast food.  This will give you more energy and help you focus on what matters. [7]

3) Stay active.  Exercise may give you energy, but how do you exercise when you have no energy to even get up and go?  Another big dilemma as a law student is how to find the time to get exercise in?  One approach to sneak it in is to go for a power walk in the middle of the day.  Ten minutes around the block is better than nothing!  Plus, this is a great way to take a break during study time. If you commute to school on public transportation, you can get off a few stops early and walk the rest of the way to school.  One friend told me that she only takes the stairs at school.  Talk about getting your heart racing especially when you have your heavy casebooks with you!  Some swear by yoga, others have started interval training, and still others have signed up to run marathons.  Find what works for you, but make sure it’s something you enjoy or you’ll be more prone to blow it off.  The more exercise you get in, the more energized you will feel. [8]


[1] Thiruppathi, S.  (2014, May 24).  Decreasing attention span – Ours is lower than that of a goldfish!  Retrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from Wow Education Rewards:

[2] Schwecherl, L.  (2014, Dec. 29).  12 Unexpected Reasons to Drink More Water This New Year.  Retrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from Greatist:

[3] Stype, S.  (n.d.).  Uplifting The Senses With PeppermintRetrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from SelfGrowth:

[4] Vassar, G.  (2014, Sep. 18).  Movement as a Brain-Break to Increase Attention Span.  Retrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from Lakeside Connect:

[5] Burleson, S. E. and Thoron, A. C.  (2014, Apr.).  Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Its Relation to Learning and Achievement.  Retrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from EDIS: 

[6] Shaw, G.  (n.d.).  Sleep Through the Decades:  How sleep changes with age, once you're an adult.  Retrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from WebMD:

[7] Rubin, R.  (2014, Sep. 2).  Is Breakfast Really Your Most Important Meal?  Retrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from WebMD:

[8] Bouchez, C.  (n.d.).  Exercise for Energy: Workouts That Work:  Want to fight fatigue? Here's what kind of exercise -- and how much -- is best.  Retrieved Jan. 31, 2015, from WebMD:

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