Saturday, February 1, 2014

Grumble, Grumble, Sigh, Sigh

It has been a hard month for some law students.  The reasons vary, but the effect is the same.  The weather has been bitter cold and cloudy many days.  Their grades were not what they expected after all their hard work last semester.  They are worrying about whether there will be a summer clerking position or employment upon graduation for them.  The excitement of a new academic year last fall has faded into same old, same old.  Third-year students see the bar exam looming ahead.

Motivation is dropping right now for many students.  What they dislike about law school seems magnified.  Students need to refocus their thoughts away from the negative in order to jumpstart their motivation.  Here are some suggestions to turn around one's focus and get back the motivation:

  • Remind yourself of why you came to law school.  What is your ultimate goal?  To serve a specific client population?  To provide services to underserved populations?  To impact the policy behind the law through government employment?  To become a judge, firm partner, attorney general, in-house counsel?  To hang out your own shingle?  By reminding yourself of the end goal, you are better able to get through the process to get there.
  • Remind yourself what you like about the study of law.  Do you find certain courses especially interesting?  Do you like the critical thinking needed to see both sides of an issue?  Do you enjoy the pro bono or clinic opportunities to take what you learn and apply it?  Do you like the research and writing aspects?  By remembering that not everything about law study is negative, you can refocus your energies.
  • Get yourself organized with a structured study schedule.  Take the guess work out of what you should be doing.  If you use only a "to do" list for the day, it drains your motivation.  Human nature is to waste time because we say, "I have all day to get these things done." If your day is structured in a routine schedule, you do not decide what to do but instead know it is Tuesday at 3 p.m. and this is where you do class prep for Tax or it is Friday at 11 a.m. and this is where you outline PR.  Supplement your structured schedule with your "to do" list to decide what specific tasks to complete for that designated time block.
  • For paper or assignment deadlines, set an artificial deadline two days earlier and work toward that deadline.  On a monthly calendar, put down the deadlines (real and artificial) and then lay out the tasks to complete each day to meet the deadline.  The artificial deadline allows you some cushion for final edits, a printing disaster, or other problems.  Consistently working on a larger project over more days, allows the tasks to be less daunting.
  • Break down tasks into small pieces to provide motivation.  Your 40-page reading assignment in Criminal Law becomes eight 5-page blocks.  It is easier to get motivated to read 5 pages than 40 pages.  You get that small task crossed off quickly which motivates you to go on to the next 5 pages.  And, if your motivation is really low, tell yourself you will just read 1 page.  It is hard to convince yourself that you cannot read 1 page!  The getting started is the problem - you will likely continue beyond the 1 page.
  • Realize that, if you get your work done rather than procrastinate, you will feel so much better.  Instead of feeling guilty about what you should be doing or feeling stressed that you should have started something sooner, you will be able to enjoy down time after completing tasks and will be less stressed because you distributed your work rather than waiting until the last minute.
  • Avoid people who suck you into low motivation and procrastination.  If you hang out with other law students who are moaning and groaning and avoiding their work, it will be contagious.  Instead seek out students who exhibit positive mindsets and get their work done in a timely fashion.

We all get down in the dumps and falter on motivation at times.  The secret is to stop the cycle quickly rather than letting it become a downward spiral.  Talk to someone if you are unable to get yourself motivated again.  Do not just let it continue until you are overwhelmed.  (Amy Jarmon)        

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