Although law students have a knack for legal things, our real talent is procrastination. We put things off until tomorrow, and if we can avoid doing something altogether, even better.
A little bit of procrastination is normal but when you’re consistently trying to do your class readings in the tutorial you should’ve prepared for earlier, maybe it’s time to change your habits.
Here are a few tips for beating procrastination…
Consider why you Procrastinate
Some people say that the thing you do when you procrastinate is the thing you should do for your career. That sounds good, but I’m yet to find a job that requires me to spend my working day watching funny videos and giggling at memes.
If your procrastinatory ways are stopping you achieving the things you need to get done, it could be a good idea to consider the cause. If it’s a particular subject that you consistently put off, it may be a sign that your interests lie elsewhere. Consider the subjects that you’ve really enjoyed and try to enroll in more like it.
If you’re interested in the work but can’t seem to find the motivation to do it, it could be that other factors in your life are behind it. Consider the stresses and distractions you’re experiencing and see what you can do to address these.
Stop Being a Perfectionist
I know this is probably like asking a law student to only own one colour of highlighter, but over-planning and over-finessing are a real procrastination problem.
Organisation is a good thing, but the process of ‘getting organised’ is a great way to put off the work that gets done when you’re actually organised. You know what I mean: spending hours creating the perfect, colour-coded study timetable instead of actually studying, or constantly writing comprehensive to do lists that rarely get shorter.
Plus, perfectionist planning can make a project seem overly complicated and intimidating, which means you’ll put it off for longer. It’s like that episode of How I Met Your Mother when Ted tried to start his own architecture firm. He spent so much time designing the office letterhead and organising the corporate retreat that he never got around to calling potential clients.
Perfectionism also means that law students will often spend a long time perfecting one assignment, while other equally important assessments are neglected. It’s important to know when the law of diminishing marks has kicked in and accept that the work you have done is good enough, and move on to your other assignments.
When it comes to procrastination, everyone has a weakness. Work out what yours is and try to limit its impact. There are some great concentration apps available that track how you really use your time there, or that block your favourite procrastination websites.
Stay on Track
Commit to a realistic daily to-do list and use your favourite procrastination tasks as a reward for doing those boring yet essential things. Be sure to grab a timer to make sure that your ‘reward time’ doesn’t take over.
Another option for staying on task is to get a study buddy (one who is more disciplined than you), or you could make some sort of grand announcement on Facebook/Twitter that you’ll have finished your notes by the end of the day. Sometimes having an audience means you’re more likely to get that pesky case summary done.
Worst Things First
Certain tasks are put off for so long that they seem impossible and become entrenched on your to do list, but when necessity forces you to complete it, you realise how simple it actually was. Sound familiar?
Another way to beat procrastination is to start the day with the trickiest, least-appealing job. When that’s completed the rest of the day’s tasks will be way more appealing (and you’ll feel pretty good too).
As a friend once put it to me: “It’s okay to have a ‘too hard’ basket, but don’t let it get too full.” The worst things first approach is a great way to avoid things on your to do list becoming stale.
Set Deadlines and Focus
Deadlines are the procrastinator’s friend; if it weren’t for due dates, nothing would get done. Create some artificial deadlines and try to get that dreaded essay referencing done in the set time period.
When I have a tight deadline to meet, it’s easier to focus. I’m not a massive fan of cleaning the house, so I do a regular ‘hour of power’ and try to get everything done in that time. You end up focusing on being efficient, rather than on how much you detest the job in front of you.
Just Start Already!
No matter what it is, starting is the hardest part, but once you’re into it, it’s not that bad. The longer you leave something (even if it’s just a tiny job) the bigger and more complex it will seem.
Don’t make the mistake of planning to start at 3:00pm, because you know exactly how that will pan out: “Oops! It’s 3:03pm now… I’ll start studying at 4pm.”
No more excuses, just start already!
FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 19 November 2012.
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