At this point in the semester, it can feel like everything is piling up and little is being accomplished. I often talk with law students who feel overwhelmed, wondering how they will ever get everything done. The stress of your studies can feel paralyzing. If nothing changes, it’s possible to fall behind to a point where there’s not enough time to catch back up.
In reality, things are not hopeless though – there are strategies that can put you back in control of your academic work. Here are five tips for managing that mid-semester time crunch:
First, evaluate what must be done. It’s hard to come up with a plan unless you know what the plan must include. Pull out some paper and create a list. Be comprehensive and methodical. Go through each class, noting anything that you are behind on, upcoming assignments, and topics that still need to be outlined. Don’t stop with your classes, however. Are you involved in any co-curricular or extracurricular activities? Add those things to the list. Evaluate other obligations you have (outside of law school) before the end of the semester, and jot them down as well. Don’t panic if the list gets really long, as the following tips will help you manage the list.
Second, rank each task on your list in terms of priority. Use these four categories (or something similar): (a) this task must be completed; (b) this task is important, and should be completed; (c) in an ideal world, this item would be completed; and (d) I’d like to complete this item, but it isn’t really a priority. Have a hard time deciding between two categories? Don’t sweat it – assign a combo label to that item (for example, a/b or b/c). What you should start realizing is that not everything on your list fits in the highest category. In fact, there are likely tasks on the list that aren’t important after all!
Third, assign a deadline for each task on your list. When you look at a long list, it can seem overwhelming at first, but as you assign deadlines you will realize that not everything needs to be done at the same time. Notice a cluster of tasks that do have similar due dates? Your awareness of that potential conflict now will help you manage those tasks better.
Fourth, break down large projects into a series of smaller, more manageable tasks. This tip helps in two different ways. First, it is easier to understand what must be done to complete a big project, thus budgeting enough time for its completion, if you have thought about the steps involved in that process. Second, a big project (such as outlining for an entire course) can seem overwhelming, but the smaller tasks feel much more manageable.
Finally, create a task calendar for the rest of the semester. Start by dividing the tasks by month. Then divide the tasks for each month into tasks for each week of that month. At the beginning of each week, allocate the tasks by day. Generally, pull one to three tasks from the list for each day (in addition to regular class prep), depending on how much time you have that day to work on the task list and the size of the tasks involved. Have too many items on the task list to be completed that week? Consider the priority ranking I discussed in Tip #2 – allocate the highest priority items first, then work your way through the rankings. Sometimes you will realize that something on the list really isn’t important after all, and it can be removed.
As you complete the tasks on your list, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. In fact, it can help you build momentum to power through the harder things on the list! Taking this approach can ensure that you complete the things that are most important to your personal life, academic success, and professional goals. And if you develop a good system to manage projects now, you can take that with you into your life as a lawyer after graduation.