As a law student, you will be expected to do a number of different things: attend classes or lectures, prepare work for discussion in tutorials, seminars or classes, and write essays. Often you will be given several of these tasks at once.
Clearly you cannot do them all at the same time. You will have to plan carefully, working out how much time is available in total, identifying what you need to do, how long it takes and when you are going to do it, so that you can complete all the tasks before the deadline.
To help plan your time, buy a hard-copy diary or use the calendar function on your mobile phone. To be effective, your diary/phone calendar needs to contain a complete record of what you have to do.
You need to carry it with you and add new appointments as you make them. You could start by putting in all your academic commitments – lectures, tutorials/seminars, deadlines for coursework and so on. Then you can add other commitments as they come up.
Make a list of all the things you have to do. There will probably be more things on your list than you have time to do, so you will have to prioritise the list, deciding what you need to do very soon, and what you can do later.
Think about the best order in which to do things. Make a list of those things that you must do, like attending compulsory classes, and other tasks which have to be completed by a particular deadline, such as preparation for essays or tutorials. Next, make a list of other tasks that are important, such as getting a repair kit for your bike. The next list can be for the things you would like to do fairly soon, such as going round to see friends.
Finally, there are a number of things that you would like to do at some point when you have the time, such as writing to your brother; these can go last on your list. Use the lists you make to keep track of your progress, crossing out the things that you have completed, and highlighting things that still need to be done.
HIDDEN TIME CONSTRAINTS
Your time management can be upset by the arrangements made by your institution. It is all very well planning to do lots of research for an essay during the vacation, but not if the library is going to be closed for three weeks. Equally, you may come across the problem of ‘bunched deadlines’, where several of the courses you are doing require assessed work to be handed in on the same day. You can alleviate these problems by finding out about the library, computers and other support services well in advance and by asking tutors to give you assignments in good time, but you may not be able to overcome such difficulties completely. If you are used to planning your time, however, you will be able to deal with the resulting pressure on your time much better than someone who has given no thought to such problems.
Create a physical space where you can be undisturbed, where you can have all the things you need conveniently to hand and where you can read and take notes comfortably. Organise your notes and your course materials for each course that you study – use different coloured folders or ring-binders for each one. Think about the best times for you to work – in the mornings, or in the evenings?
Although you will often be working to deadlines imposed by your tutors, it will be up to you to organise your time around those deadlines. Be realistic about how much time you need to get aside in order to complete your essays or tutorial preparation. It is counterproductive to set yourself a deadline that you cannot possibly hope to meet. Many activities will take longer than you think; for instance, some law students are surprised how long it takes them to do the research for an essay!
When you are planning your time, you need to be realistic about your own strengths and weaknesses too. If you are the sort of person who can stay in and write your essay on a
Saturday afternoon when all your friends are going out together, that’s fine. On the other hand, if you are the sort of person who cannot wake up before midday, it is unrealistic to plan to write your essay at 8.30 in the morning.
If you do not allow yourself sufficient time to do something, you may start to feel depressed and frustrated. If your schedule is realistic, you will gain satisfaction from knowing that you have achieved what you set out to do. Of course, everyone underestimates the time they need sometimes, but you should try to avoid this happening to you too often.
Don’t leave things to the last minute. This especially applies to preparation for tutorials and seminars, and the research you will need to do for assignments. If you leave things to the last minute, you may well find that most of the books and articles you need to use have already been borrowed by other students. You can sometimes rescue the situation by finding the information you need elsewhere, but it takes a lot of thought, time and energy.
KEEP A SENSE OF PROPORTION
Don’t try to study for long periods of time without a break. You will find that making a coffee, going for a brief stroll or reading a newspaper for ten minutes in between periods of study helps you relax and enables you to extend your total period of study. Similarly, plan to have some time off each week. The aim of organising your time is to allow you to plan your academic work to the best of your ability, but also to have some time left over and do all the other things you want to do, including to enjoy yourself and to relax.