Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Wisely stewarding our precious 168 hours a week is a key to thriving in law school and in life. Ideally we should create realistic schedules that cover both short-term and long-term projects, giving ourselves appropriate intermediate deadlines and devoting the planned amount of time to the activities we have identified. Dennis Tonsing's 1000 Days to the Bar gives a very detailed, helpful, and realistic approach for doing this in the chapter on time management. Both his text and sample schedule emphasize that weekly attention to outlining, flow charts, and practice hypos is as important as preparing for class. I regularly recommend this chapter and its approach to my students.
Alas, scheduling in this manner doesn't work for everyone. (No system does.) When I talk with students about scheduling, many proclaim, "Schedules don't work for me; I make a daily "to-do" list." But the standard "to-do" list tends to be an undifferentiated mishmash of immediate needs that usually neglects long-term projects. Those who rely on daily lists rather than a weekly schedule are often focused on class preparation to the exclusion of systematic course review and exam preparation.
Most of us have seen or used a priority matrix (sometimes called an "Eisenhower decision matrix") that divides tasks into quartiles (important and urgent, important and not urgent, not important but urgent, and not important and not urgent). People tend to react strongly to these: they find them either incredibly useful or highly annoying. I fall into the latter camp; so do most of the list-makers among my students. How, then, to focus them on long-term goals?
Inspired by a blog post by Anita Dhake, a former big firm lawyer who retired in her thirties to travel and write, I started using a resolutions chart. Anita titled her post "The most valuable habit I ever adopted," and I'm finding this is true for me as well. Indeed, I have two resolutions charts now -- one for building good habits at home and one for building good habits at work. The resolution chart supplements the planner or to-do chart and provides an affirming method of building good habits and tracking progress toward long-term goals.
Here's the method (cribbed from Anita's happy original post): Start a spreadsheet. Across the top, write five or so resolutions that will make your life better by adopting the habits every day (or every work/school day). These can be a mixture of super-simple and more challenging. Students might include "Check syllabus assignments" (super-easy) and "Write answer to 10+ minute hypo" (more challenging and more subject to procrastination). My work resolutions chart currently includes "Check in library books" (super-easy, but something I often forget to do) and "Grade homework" (more challenging and much more subject to procrastination). Put in a row for every day of the month. Print out your sheet.
Look at your resolution chart daily to remind yourself of the habits you are trying to establish. Then, before bedtime, or leaving school or the office, take out your resolutions chart. Give yourself a gold star or a smiley face (or something similar that makes you happy) for every resolution that you accomplished. Accomplishing the easy goals helps you build your confidence; accomplishing a harder goal helps you to establish great habits. On days that you don't do the resolution, give yourself a number: a 1 the first time, a 2 the second time, and so on. This helps keep you honest! At the end of the month, score yourself. If you missed three days, you still get an A. Missing up to 6 days garners a B and 7-9 days gives you a C. Miss more than 9 days? -- you'll go on probation with a D. Don't feel bad about your "grade" -- celebrate your accomplishments and be honest about your challenges. And that in itself is a great accomplishment. (Nancy Luebbert)