Strong time management is the secret to success in law school. Take control of your schedule—and sanity—with these important time management tips and techniques for law students.
As a law student, your time and attention are limited, valuable resources. Time management is critical to your success now and later in your career. And while you can’t stop time, you can take control of your schedule and turbocharge your productivity in law school with effective planning.
When you learn how to organize and control how much time you spend on activities, you will accomplish more in less time. Smart time management promotes efficiency and productivity, lowers stress, and leads to short-term and long-term success.
Learning effective time-management techniques will keep your schedule (not to mention sanity) intact.
Related: Preview the course schedule for full-time law students
Create a Master Time Management Calendar
The first step in conquering time management in law school is to come up with a master calendar for the semester. You need to take a bird’s-eye view of your schedule so you can map out everything that’s on your plate in the coming weeks and allocate time accordingly.
Whether you use an electronic planner or a printed one, think in terms of your short-term/weekly schedule and long-term/monthly schedule. Include a running to-do list that captures all of your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and goals as well as important deadlines and fixed-time appointments.
To start, grab your class schedule, syllabi, and personal calendar. Block your schedule out on an hourly basis so it’s clear how much time you have for studying, reading, and assignments. Then factor in essentials like meals and sleep as well as all commitments outside of law school. Mark due dates for projects and give yourself time to complete them. Finally, take a few minutes to brainstorm anything that might’ve fallen through the cracks.
Some of the priorities you should schedule time for include:
- Class periods
- Studying (Each week schedule about three hours of studying for every hour spent in class, plus extra time around midterms and finals.)
- Briefing cases/writing
- Midterms and final exams
- Work (internships, your “day job,” part-time gigs, etc.)
- Personal obligations
- Meeting with professors/office hours
- Study group and extracurricular meetings
- Meals/meal prep
- Exercise and meditation
- Recurring and standalone appointments
- Hobby/leisure time
This list is just a starting place. You should make the master calendar your own, and you’ll probably end up tweaking it over time as you get a better feel for the demands of law school. If this is your first year in law school, add extra time to make sure you’re successful in each class. (Law School Toolbox has some great examples of using calendars and checklists
to manage your time.)
Yes, it’s going to feel a little crazy, scheduling your entire life down to the hour. And there will always be things you can’t plan for and things you forget. But time management is about empowering yourself by taking control of your schedule—mapping out your time is the cornerstone.
Figure Out What Actually Works for You
Studying before bed might be your current M.O., but if you’re not retaining anything because you’re too zonked from a long, hard day, then what’s the point?
Pay attention to when you’re most focused and effective (these tips might help) and adjust your schedule accordingly. Arrange your most taxing tasks for when you feel the freshest to maximize your time and productivity.
Establish routines to pace yourself and avoid feeling rushed or distracted. A routine also alleviates decision fatigue.
Perhaps as important, treat these routines as sacred and non-negotiable. Give yourself permission to say no when someone asks to disrupt your routine. Rushing through tasks or studying at the last minute will likely compromise your efforts. (Cramming doesn’t work in law school. Period.)
Hack Your Habits
In creating your law school routines, remember that habits are powerful. People go into autopilot far more often than they realize.
Once you have a master time management calendar, set up routines around your current habits to make them work for you. For example, if you pour yourself a cup of coffee at the same time every morning, you could build on that habit by “stacking” a daily study session on it.
Prioritize Your Health and Well-Being
Law school is stressful. The only way to survive it is by prioritizing your physical and mental health. This is a big reason why time management is so important in law school: when you block out your entire schedule, you can make time for critical wellness activities.
When planning your schedule for the semester, carve out time for exercise, sleep, meditation, and non-law school related activities, including spending quality time with people you care about and engaging in the activities and hobbies you love.
You’ll be glad you did.
Schedule about three hours of studying for every hour spent in class, plus extra time around midterms and finals.
Include Study Breaks
Build in time to walk away from your studies and recharge for a few minutes. Research shows the human brain can only focus for approximately 90 minutes and some have cited as little as 50 minutes. Take time to relax, if only for five to 10 minutes each hour.
Eliminate Distractions—Especially the Big One...
Life is full of distractions, but there’s perhaps no bigger culprit than your cell phone. Every little ping and vibration kills your concentration.
Instead of letting your phone control your life and focus, schedule email and text response times to avoid distraction. Consider setting automatic replies for your personal email. Encourage family, friends, and classmates to call only if it’s an emergency.
During periods when you are head-down focused, take your phone out of the equation by leaving it in another room and/or using a productivity app like Forest or Flipd.
Involve the People in Your Life
Good time management doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Your personal network is a big part of time management success.
Whether it’s adjusting child-rearing responsibilities with your partner, working with your boss to shift your schedule around your classes, or reminding your friends that your free time is limited (you're not ignoring them!), it’s important to keep the people in your life in the loop.
Your loved ones can provide invaluable support and keep you on track as you execute your time management goals too.
Make Every Minute Count
Even though the goal of applying all these time management tips is to map out your entire schedule, you will find yourself with chunks of unaccounted-for time: waiting in line, a delayed train, etc. Take advantage.
Law students use every minute at their disposal. For example, if you’re waiting for coffee to brew, you can answer an email or make a phone call.
In fact, a good productivity hack is the “two-minute rule”: if it takes two minutes or less, do it immediately. Those little chunks of “free” time are great opportunities to knock such items off your to-do list.
Set Realistic Goals
Define what success will look like for you at the end of the semester to create your goals. When setting those goals, make them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely.
Write your goals down to hold yourself accountable and build positive momentum as you check off completed items. Need help with planning? PracticePanther gives out their case management software for free to law students, and you can keep track of goals and create reminders. There are plenty of generic goal-tracking apps out there too, like Coach.me and Strides.
Finally, consider sharing your goals with someone (or several people, like your law school study group or even social media followers) for the public accountability.
Focus on One Thing at a Time
With so much on your plate in law school, you might be tempted to multitask—but it isn’t as productive as you may think! To really be effective, focus on one task at a time.
Switching back and forth between multiple activities is “switchtasking,” says Dave Crenshaw, author of The Myth of Multitasking. Studies show working on two things or more at the same time can increase the time it takes to complete the original task by 25 percent and introduce errors.
Law students use every minute at their disposal. In the two minutes you're waiting for coffee to brew, you can answer an email or make a phone call.
Use a Timer
A timer can motivate you to work more efficiently. When prepping for a task, estimate how much time is needed in advance. This exercise may help you recognize possible problems so you can allocate time most effectively.
Optimize Your Work Space
You're putting in all this effort to optimize your time; you owe it to yourself to optimize your space too.
Make your study space cozy, quiet, well-lit, and organized. Remove distractions, as you will spend many hours here reading dense material, outlining for classes, and working on other scheduled tasks and goals. Personalize the area to make it appealing, but not so much that it’s cluttered. Ensure your work space is a time-waster free zone.
Life happens. Your time management strategy and master calendar will likely need constant tweaking. Adjusting your schedule will maximize its effectiveness.
You’ve Got This!
Now you know how to create a successful time management plan, and you have all the tips and techniques you need to stay on track. To recap:
- Turn off your phone and avoid social media when on your laptop.
- Integrate balance in your schedule; seeing loved ones or doing something fun matters.
- Make your goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART).
- Expand your study hours, especially if this is your first year in law school.
- Make space on your schedule for frequent downtime to clear your head and relax.
- Adapt when schedule setbacks occur. They will.
- Note when you feel your best and assign your hardest work for that time period.
- Approach your scheduled tasks and goals with a positive attitude.
- Gather the materials and information you’ll need before you begin a task.
- Enjoy the satisfaction of crossing off completed items each day.
- Measure your progress nightly and update your schedule for the next day.
- Eliminate multitasking so you can work uninterrupted on priority items.
- Nip disruptive temptations with a polite but firm “no.”
- Tackle action items daily to successfully reach short- and long-term goals.
These time-management techniques will drive you toward greater productivity—and less stress—in law school. Planning and controlling your time provides a head start on accomplishing whatever you need to do.
With time management on your side, you're ready to move forward.