This week we welcome back guest writer Alexandra Muskat to talk about coming up with a system for time management that works for you!
I have a unique love affair with time management and multitasking. It started as a child and crescendoed as an adult when I became a nanny to a high level executive’s three rambunctious, adorable, intelligent boys. There is nothing quite like figuring out how to juggle graduate school courses (I had a stint attempting an MLA in Gothic Literature), working on your own novel, and meeting the needs of a two year old who constantly attempted dangerous trapeze acts.
It was during that time that I figured out how to manage my days in blocks of time, and I took that efficiency method into law school and bar exam prep. Having your time blocked out, or following any of the time efficiency methods below, gives you structure and allows you to not feel overwhelmed, which in turn, helps you get more done.
1. Bullet Journaling
This is probably my favorite method of all. I learned this time keeping tool during my second semester of law school and still revert back to it when I have a big project. (I recently found out that my father has been doing this method nearly my entire life, and it’s how he successfully ran his company and made it to every one of my karate tournaments as a kid.)
In this method, all you need is a journal and a pen. On the first page, you tick down the dates of the month, putting beside each one an important event, due date, etc. On the second page, I usually put my goals for the month – sometimes they were as simple as, “drink two glasses of water everyday,” or as difficult as “make $xx this month.” Then, on the third page, I’d start my daily tasks. I’d allocate space for each day that week, and fill in the things I had to get done and specified the days I would be doing them. Then I’d fill in other events, and adjust as the week went along. Each task had a box beside them, which I would check off as I completed it. If I didn’t finish a task that day, I simply made a note (usually an arrow beside the check box) and moved it over to the next day.
This simple method helped me stay organized through all my finals and my bar exam preps. And it can be easily jazzed up or adapted to what you need specifically. There are so many ideas on Pinterest and Instagram, spend a minute checking them out and then try this method for yourself.
2. Pomodoro Method
The Pomodoro Method requires you to set a clock, or a timer, and work for a specific amount of time with a designated break time. The first semester of law school, I used this method to get into the role of studying for long periods of time at once. For myself, I started with the suggested 25:5 ratio. That is, I worked for 25 minutes and then took a five minute break. And I did this for hours, never feeling overwhelmed and ticking off tasks more efficiently. Over time, I stretched the 25 minutes to 45, with 10 minute breaks, and then during my bar preps, I was able to stretch the studying window to one and a half hours, or two (ultimately three for the MBE).
This method allows you to think you’re only working for a set amount of time and whatever you get done in that time is what you do, but really, it breaks up your entire study period and allows you to get more tasks done.
3. War of Art
I read this book the summer before law school and was impressed with how well it explained “Resistance.” As someone who has been working on the same novel for 12 years, I am a keen observer, and sometimes victim of Resistance. Resistance is that little voice in your head that tells you to put off the important thing and do something else. For my writing, it’s the reason I turn in most of my articles within an hour of the deadline (sorry guys!). In the last few weeks though, I’ve been trying to find the resolve to not let Resistance win.
The War of Art tells you that to evade Resistance’s efforts to destroy your productivity, you should allocate a particular time – generally in the beginning of your work period – to get the biggest thing you have to do, done. In law school, or bar prep, this was always the reading for me. So I would wake up early, and get that out of the way so the rest of studying could commence, and I knew I was on top of my daily assignments and would be able to follow along in class easily.
4. 1-3-5 Rule
An alternative method is the 1-3-5 Rule. This rule is super simple: (1) write down one big thing you have to get done that day (or week), (2) three medium things, and then (3) five small tasks. Start with the biggest, and, when it’s done, move on to the medium, then the small. If you’ve had an irregular day (maybe something came up last minute) pair down the list to two or three medium things and get cracking.
5. 7 Minute Life
Another new-to-me method is the 7 Minute Life method which asks its users to spend 7 minutes in the morning planning your day, and 7 minutes in the evening reviewing it and planning for the next. Setting aside these minutes to plan and review will allow you determine when you have the time to study, and how to allocate that time.
The gist of many time management methods is just to figure out what your biggest project is and to run at it straight on, instead of hiding from it. I know for myself, time management is the key to getting me through most days without feeling so overwhelmed I want to hide from my work. On the days when I didn’t plan and tried to wing it, I inevitably forgot a book, or talked through my study session and found myself unprepared the following day. It doesn’t matter what time management system you use, and it doesn’t even matter which one you stick with (I have used those top three over and over at different times in the last ten years), but having one in place will allow you to complete tasks quicker and more efficiently, and keep you from panicking over all the work required in law school or bar prep. Plus, it’s fun to tick those boxes off, isn’t it?