Article written by Arran Robertson, University of Edinburgh LLB graduate and current LLM Comparative and European Private Law student.
Perhaps the most fundamental skill needed to reach your full potential is strong time management. As law students we often find ourselves faced with extensive reading lists, demanding extra-curricular activities, getting entangled in competitive application cycles, undertaking part time work or placements and on top of it all desperately trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.
It goes without saying that all of this can add up, and the pressure can really get to you if you let it. In my experience one of the best things you can do is invest time into thinking about your time management and productivity. A bit of self-reflection can really go a long way. It might seem obvious to some, but I have found most people have room to tweak how they approach and organise their daily tasks and commitments. There are a lot of possible benefits – you could buy yourself some much needed personal time, fit in a new hobby or commitment you like the look of, or it might simply help you feel a bit less stress. There is no single right answer, or cookie cutter approach that will work best for everyone but below you can find some tips that will hopefully help you reflect on and start to improve your time management.
Being proactive can help you expend less time, energy, and effort in the long run. Being prepared, planning things out and solving problems before they get any bigger can make the tasks and responsibilities you have feel significantly less daunting. Letting things pile up may sound tempting at the time, but even small tasks like sending off an email or sorting out your calendar can really add up. Ticking these kinds of tasks off early, ideally as soon as you have time, can help make it seem like you have much less on your plate. Afterall why face a mountain tomorrow when you can deal with a molehill today?
When it comes to having a system or developing a routine everyone is different. Ask yourself if you have a system in place to help you organise your commitments, or a routine that helps you get through them, then most importantly ask yourself are these working? If your instinct is that they are not working, or they work but not as well as you would like them to then do not be afraid to try new things and change things up. This could be anything from shaking up your schedule, to trying out new productivity techniques. This doesn’t need to be complicated – it could be as simple as deciding to start using a checklist or organising your calendar a bit better. Regularly asking these kinds of questions and having a willingness to critique your approach to time management can go a long way. Taking small steps to experiment with and improve your time management system really adds up over time – the road to better time management is often a marathon not a sprint.
When you’re planning your routine out it is important to leave space for down time. Overscheduling yourself, or setting unreasonable expectations is only going to cause you to burn out and negatively impact your well-being. Often you find you can produce higher quality work and be more productive when you allow yourself this time. It is important to consider this, as it is common to underestimate how tired you will be after a long day, and you might be tempted to try and pile in more tasks in the evening. Sometimes this might be necessary – but try to limit this to when you are truly pressed for time.
Try to be conscious of your bad habits, particularly the distracting ones. We all succumb to distraction every now and then, but we can take steps to eliminate the temptation. We have already talked about being proactive, another benefit of this is it can help you feel less distracted. Often you are less productive when you have a lot of different tasks and priorities floating about in your head – so ticking of the smaller stuff can help you feel more focused and productive when you have to deal with bigger things. Keeping your workspace organised and tidy is another way to help you stay focused, if you are anything like me then a cluttered workspace is only going to cause you stress and distraction. The environment you work in can have a big impact on your focus and overall state of mind. Everyone gets distracted by different things, there are classic examples like phones and social media, but really the important thing is just to try and actively recognise what distracts you. Spend time becoming aware of the distractions in your life and then ask yourself how can I make this less distracting? If you cannot eliminate a distraction completely it is still worth working toward minimising it as much as possible!
At the end of the day everyone has different commitments, and everyone has their own quirks, unique personalities and needs. If you want to continuously improve your time management ability, then you ought to regularly reflect on your approach to time management. Incorporate these kinds of reflective practices into your regular routine. Keep what works and replace what doesn’t. There are so many resources, apps and other tools out there that can help so don’t be afraid to give them a try. The most important thing you can do is to keep searching for the solution that will help you reach your goals and allow you to maximise your potential.