• Nick

How to Stay on Point


So you're back to the law student grind, forced into another year of textbook serfdom. Or maybe you have just begun your illustrious student career? Did you come back to a new law building, or get there in a new car? The whole world has changed since the end of 2011... but have you?

Before we really get back into the sticky notes, case notes, practice notes, and footnotes, we should prepare ourselves for a year of harder work, more difficult law, and even less comprehensible judgments. If you have difficulties staying sharp and on point during semester, here are a few methods which have worked for me.

Do 100 Push Ups

If you ever feel like you're not tired enough to sleep, or that you don't really have a reason to wake up at any particular time of morning/afternoon unless there's a lecture, then consider a program like this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or maybe even this. Consider tracking your progress on this. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

But why would a law student ever do something like that? There is at least one good reason, and a few bad ones. Firstly, law students tend to have brains-on-legs syndrome. That is to say, they tend to become a bit obsessed with intellectual/academic pursuits to the expense of any other, and then get confused as to why they are constantly tired and perhaps a bit malnourished. More importantly, it adds regularity, goal setting, and achievement to each day, and these things are essential to staying on point. Learning to tackle a problem methodically is part of the battle against procrastination, and there's very little that's more methodical than a specified number of push-ups every day.

Plus everybody loves the gun show ;)

Do something else, only consistently!

Winston Churchill once put to us that “continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.” As such, even if you're not a fan of physical exertion, you should find something else to do. To be perfectly honest, the activity itself is irrelevant; it's all about the consistency. Perhaps do nanowrimo, or vow to learn a new chord, or a new song, on that musical instrument you love but never have time for. Call or visit your significant other at least three times a week at specific, pre-planned times. Don't have a significant other? Date a new person every month/week until you do. Even activities that are time-wasting by nature, such as playing Call of Duty or reading dissenting judgments, can be turned into a micromanaged process.

Oh, and you should pick things that you are actually going to do. I doubt that includes reading over last semester's textbooks for a point of law you weren't clear on. If you were that motivated then you wouldn't need this post, would you?

Keep a Diary

I have noticed that those with distinct and undeniable professionalism will almost always have a diary. For them, it constitutes a way to keep one's memory fresh, to organise their day, and as a kind of evidence that certain meetings occurred and were attended (or, if you're a director of News Ltd., that certain meetings may have happened, but that you can't remember anything about it).

For us, it may serve as a kind of inspiration to do more things. After all, one day people are going to ask you why there are so many empty pages in it, and you don't want to tell them that you did nothing for a month. Furthermore, keeping a diary develops one's sense of strategy and timing. After you have developed your ability to be consistent, keeping a diary applies that consistency over longer periods of time. Once perfected, it should be as though your diary dictates what will happen in the future, not the other way around.

Study in Different Environments

Machiavelli wrote that one must avoid being contemptible at all costs, for people lose respect for you and will not recognise your authority. Contempt is a powerful and complicated emotion, which manifests itself in a variety of ways - especially when avoiding consistent and consistently dreary work. The idea that reading can be done at any time, or that the detail isn't as important as the big picture, or any other permutation of "sitting down with this textbook isn't as important as that other thing I could be doing" is dangerous, and promotes contempt for the very idea of staying on point.

The way I combat this is to study in different environments and contexts. Saying to yourself that you're going to the beach to read, or going for coffee to negotiate ideas with a group, or to visit a lecturer about your assignment, is vastly different to your daily rehearsal of the casebook shuffle. We should be doing this anyway, in order to promote your law degree as an integrated part of your life, not an isolated obstacle which we have to deal with during the “best years of our lives."

Don't Tell People About Your Plans (or Maybe Do)

Guilt is another powerful and complicated emotion which can be understood and utilised for better or worse results. So, what happens when you don't go for drinks in order to study, but spend the whole time reading Tolstoy instead (what, is this just me?)

Do you suppose that telling everybody that you're going to study makes it more or less likely that you will do so? In my discussions with law students as to why they have blown me off for the sake of study, they almost invariably have not been as productive as they had hoped. Of course, the anecdotal nature of this observation means that your mileage may vary, but it is useful to consider whether or not this strategy helps you to study, or just adds to the pressure and thus to the problem. As such, the best note to take home from this advice is to consider whether or not adding a social element to your personal organisation and problem-solving strategy is a good idea.

Know Thyself

I hope that some of these suggestions are helpful, and don't come off as preachy or overbearing. The centrepiece of all these suggestions is to get on top of things in a way that is suitable to your own personality, and incorporates staying on point in your studies with keeping your lifestyle as intact as possible. This needs a bit of quality introspection to figure out what makes you tick, what makes you stumble, and how you can use these things for the better.

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