Thriving in law school: procrastination and what to do about it
Are you a procrastinator? If so, you will find that procrastinating does not serve you well in law school. There is an enormous amount of reading to be done, papers to be written, and endless fascinating activities in which you may want to take part. So, if you can, try to cut down on your procrastinating. In particular, if you have a paper to be written, don't wait until the day before. The tasks you will be asked to do are too new and too unfamiliar - you won't be able to produce credible work at the last minute.
Nor will it help you to leave your reading to the end. Cramming for exams in law school doesn't work. Why? Well, primarily because each case you read in a particular area of the law builds on the reading that came before. If you don't get the basics, you will be playing catch up the whole semester or quarter.
Here are some ways to decrease procrastination:
- Make a list of everything you have to do - don't make any attempt to prioritize your list right now, just get everything down on paper
- Write, for your use only, a promise to yourself about what you plan to do
- Set your goals - which tasks you plan to do and by when - be as realistic as you can
- Estimate how long you think each task will take - then double your estimate!
- For each task, break it down to its component parts. For example, rather than, "write my substantive law memo," break the task down to:
- Read the memo assignment
- Ask my TA or instructor any questions I have about the assignment
- Check my planner - set aside time to go to the library to do research
- Go to the library and begin research
- Ask a librarian if I need help
- Check for relevant statutes
- Check for relevant cases
- Read the cases that seem relevant
- Save any cases I need to have at home to read again
- Make sure my cases are still good (i.e. current) law
- Based on the law found, draft an outline of the memo, etc.
Although it may seem that breaking the task down this way makes it seem like there is much more work to do, it is often actually more helpful because you can see your progress and cross off tasks as you have completed them.
- Make sure each task is a meaningful one; if you think it's pointless, you'll have a harder time doing it
- Cross off tasks you know you're never going to do (and don't have to be done)
- Reward yourself whenever you've accomplished one of your goals
- Give yourself something you'd like - an hour off, a walk, a t.v. show or movie, etc.
- At the end of whatever your reward is, start the next task you've planned
You have probably noticed that the causes of procrastination are not addressed here. There is a great deal of research on its causes, as well as a great deal of writing on how to handle procrastination. Here we have simply tried to give you some concrete ways of dealing with the problem.
If you find that procrastination is interfering with accomplishing your goals, you may benefit from professional counseling, which you can obtain for free at the Northeastern University Health and Counseling Services. If you want to explore whether or not this might be a useful option for you, you can call the UHCS at (617) 373-2722 or speak with Melinda Drew, Director of the Academic Success Program.