Happy International Women’s Day!
When it comes to procrastination we have all been there, dreaming up every reason to avoid sitting down and making a start on that terrifying 2000 word assessment. Rather than bite the bullet and just do it, instead we misplace our energy and end up cleaning the whole house.
Of all undergraduate degrees, law students must cope with constant stress, pressure and tight deadlines. Not only must we read, digest, understand and apply a large volume of complex legal principles quickly but also stay across the ever-changing legal landscape and compete for the best grades – all this stress takes a toll.
The first reported study into depression in the Australian legal community revealed a high level of psychological distress and risk of depression in law students and practising lawyers when compared with Australian community norms and other tertiary student groups.
While some ongoing patterns of procrastination can be indicative of serious underlying stress management issues – where your procrastination, for example, consistently prevents you from completing your university work or where you regularly need to seek extensions of time to submit assessments – in most cases, procrastination is a healthy coping mechanism and our brain’s clever way of taking a necessary and temporary mental health break between intense study sessions.
Sometimes we may not even know that we are procrastinating. But by putting off certain tasks and convincing ourselves that we have enough time to do them later, we are actually putting ourselves under even more pressure.
This self-defeating cycle can negatively affect our lives in more ways than we care to acknowledge. Procrastination can discourage you from meeting your goals and harm your sense of self-worth. An ongoing lack of study motivation can also lead you to lose precious time working towards your career goals or mean that you miss out on exciting new opportunities.
To minimise the effects of procrastination, here are six motivational tips I have developed during my time in law school.
Make A To-Do List
For law students, having solid organisational skills is gold.
Each study unit has hundreds of cases and materials to read, summarise and apply in real world scenarios. To split your study time effectively between subjects, and reduce your mental burden about ‘what you haven’t done’ you have to be highly organised and disciplined.
I categorise my tasks into subject areas such as Torts and Contract Law. Within those subjects, tasks are broken down into sub-tasks such as making case summaries, writing notes or catching up on missed lecture audio. To help organise your ‘To Do’ list, you can download free apps like Wunderlist which make it easy to create multiple lists, set due date and reminders, add sub-tasks, attach files and add notes. If you are working with other students on a group project you can even make a collaborative list with discrete tasks that each student needs to complete. You can add or check off tasks for a particular member and leave comments for others.
If you are not a digital person, write each task on a separate post-it (different colours for different subjects) and stick it to your wall or your desk. You will feel a wave of relief wash over you every time you rip up a post-it after finishing a task.
O-riginal tip: Completing just a few tasks every day gives your brain a reward and reduces your stress as you can see that you are making progress. It also incentivises slow, consistent, methodical and reduced-stress study habits.
Set Priorities And Get It Out The Way
Even when we try to plan out our day-to-day tasks effectively, unexpected life hiccups inevitably pop up.
At times like these, it’s important to master the art of prioritisation and preparation. Focus on the most important task and avoid spending too much time on less important priorities since a lack of proper preparation may lead to poorly structured arguments or exam responses.
During exam preparation, for example, we are taught to first pinpoint and spend the most time dealing with the main critical issue in a problem question. We address less contentious issues briefly with the time remaining once all the other important legal principles have been discussed.
The same principles apply to your study life. When the opportunity to make some extra money by working an extra shift at your cafe job eats into your study time, for example, pick out and prioritise the most important subjects and tasks that you critically need to focus on this week. This could mean centring your attention around an upcoming tutorial presentation or mooting competition. You may evaluate your strengths and decide to spend more time studying for an Equity & Trusts exam over an easier elective subject as one subject area requires intense study energy, whereas the other is more intuitive for you.
O-riginal tip: Limit the possibility of procrastination by dealing with the most pressing task at hand.
Ask For Help
Balancing a healthy lifestyle with executing a strict and effective study plan is not always easy and can be very isolating. It is always okay to ask for help or advice from other students when you need it.
In spite of many recent positive inroads, like the Law Council of Australia’s national initiative to counter unconscious gender bias in the legal profession, unfortunately, in many ways, more senior legal roles are still a very much a ‘boys club’ with the contacts made on the rugby field often making or breaking legal careers.
Given the high likelihood that you will end up working with people from law school at some point in your career, why not make the most of these early opportunities to establish solid and supportive female relationships and networks by forming female study groups?
The importance of developing strong female friendships founded on collaboration over competition when working in a male-dominated field like law cannot be underestimated.
Studying alongside your peers and holding each other up during stressful times builds strong and lasting friendships that will carry you through your legal career. It also helps you to develop collaborative working skills and the ability to easily adjust to different working environments.
Plus, you get to let off some much-needed steam and balance the stress and monotony of study with some light-hearted fun, junk food and study breaks while also spending quality time with friends who really understand what you are going through.
O-riginal tip: Just like having a gym buddy keeps you motivated to exercise, having study buddies keeps you on track with your study schedule by holding you to account if you fall behind in your readings. It’s a win-win situation!
Come Up With A Deterrent Method
Coming up with some kind of negative consequence for failing to complete your set task for the day can reinforce your need to complete it.
For example, if you don’t finish writing the introduction to your essay in the next two hours, you can’t go out on Friday night.
In law school, most of us come up with our own negative consequences all the time – mostly just to avoid being over-stressed and underprepared during exam period.
The consequences you set for yourself don’t need to be serious or catastrophically impact your life or relationships – they are just meant to serve as a reminder to stay on your feet and to set aside regular chunks of time to study.
Focus On The End Result
Avoid thinking about how you feel when you first sit down to study and instead try to focus on the amazing feeling of relief, achievement and joy you will feel when you’re finally done with that annoying task. Getting rid of that gnawing feeling of worry is the daily dose of motivation you need to keep going.
All law students can relate to that feeling when you submit an assessment that is not your best work. This is often a clear sign of the aftermath of excessive procrastination.
The trick is not to dwell on what might have been. Instead treat this as a learning experience to plan better for your next assessment and to set aside more time to complete it in manageable chunks. On the other hand, some of us do our best work under pressure so, who knows, you might even get a much better mark than you expected.
O-riginal tip: Your future self will love your past self for all the groundwork you have laid.
Just Do It!
Stop bargaining with yourself about the length of time it will take you to complete an outstanding task and whether you have time to go out for coffee catch up this morning. Most importantly, never engage in self-reprimand about what you have not achieved this week.
Instead, take control, set your alarm (we recommend waking up to Dwayne Johnson gently singing you out of your deep slumber), get up at 6.00am and start making a dent in your work. Tackle your most difficult task first when your brain is still fresh. This frees you up to complete tasks that require less mental energy later in the afternoon and also to catch up with friends guilt free.
O-riginal tip: The fastest way to stop procrastinating is to just get it done!
When It Comes To Procrastination
I am aware that most of you are probably reading this article to the very end because you are engaged in an epic procrastination session. Nevertheless, hopefully, you managed to pick up some useful anti-procrastination tips along the way.
The bottom line is that if you go about your study with a positive attitude (even if you are studying Constitutional law this semester, blerg!) you can achieve anything. Recognising a bad pattern of behaviour and taking control of the situation before it escalates is the first step in preventing yourself from slacking off and developing unproductive study habits.
Are you a procrastinator or a planner? How do you motivate yourself to keep studying when you’re feeling apathetic? Let is know in the comments!