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The Minimalist Law Student

Modern desk and chair

Say ‘minimalist’ and you’ll probably imagine stark, monochrome rooms, sparsely inhabited by pensive artistic types dressed entirely in black, with silent ‘long-black’ fuelled rages against materialism.

In contrast, a more relaxed pair of guys, US pair Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (aka ‘The Minimalists’) are part of a new wave of modern minimalists whose lifestyle movement is forming ripples, if not making waves in our non-stop, saturated culture.

As a law student it’s fair to say that I am a notoriously bad multi-tasker. In one semester my attention is often divided between that one really awesome elective, the no choice core subjects and the unit from my arts degree. The study of law is often supplemented with a part time job, volunteering, competitions and internships. I often feel like a doting mother bird, faced with a nest of hungry chicks all crying out for my limited time and attention.

For me the minimalist lifestyle offers some insightful and practical tips that have helped to refocus and refine my study habits. Inspired by essays featured on The Minimalists, here are some tips on becoming a minimalist law student…

Phase one: The Mind

The study of law almost guarantees one thing – that you will be busy. Or at the very least that you will feel the pressure to be ‘busy’ and fill your CV with a litany of extra-curricular activities. One common misconception is that being busy equals being productive. This is even clearer when you focus on the differences between being ‘busy’ as opposed to being ‘focused’, and arguably it is the latter that often proves to be more productive.

This became clear for me last year when I definitely bit off more than I could chew. I was under the illusion that more units, more volunteering and an additional research project were what I needed to enrich my studies, keep me ‘busy’ and prove my productivity. I found myself very organised, very involved, but poorly focused. In the end I dropped a unit, scaled back and decided that focusing intently and well on just a few things was better than feeling busy. It definitely paid off and I had one of the best semesters to date. In being more selective and committing to less I realised that I was not being lazy, just more focused.

Phase two: Matter

One night during study week last year I found myself sitting at the coffee table surrounded by books, watching TV, studying on my laptop and browsing iview on my phone. The reason for the coffee table was that my desk was already overflowing with past exam papers, readers and notes. I’m definitely not a naturally messy person at all, but I noticed that when I study I felt like I needed to have everything and anything that could be relevant or useful around me and within arm’s reach. Applying this habit to the study of several distinct subjects simultaneously and it’s unsurprising that the cumulative effect was chaotic. Sitting at the coffee table, I realised that I had hardly touched the ‘relevant’ material and that despite what I believed, it was not actually adding any value to my study.

A simple minimalist method I used for managing the abundant study materials was to remove absolutely everything from my workspace (stationery, books, calendars, files, etc) and once cleared, only reintroduce things as and when I needed them. At the end of the process I found myself at a minimally covered desk, with a clear head, more capacity to focus and with less opportunity to be distracted.

If, like me, you have found yourself caught in the ‘busy-trap’ or have trouble concentrating in your study space, give minimalism a go!

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