Procrastinating for the Bar Exam with Frodo Baggins

ringsWe are pleased to welcome Jeff Curl to the Bar Exam Toolbox blog. Jeff shares his experience with procrastination while studying for the bar exam and offers tips to ensure procrastination is more like relaxation. Previously he was an apprentice grader for the California bar exam, and now works as an attorney  practicing bankruptcy law at JC Law Group PCWelcome, Jeff! 

Procrastination presents a fine line at times between truly avoiding what needs to be done, and preserving your sanity.

My choice in procrastination when I studied for the California bar exam? First, I am a slight neat freak, so I had a downright sterile living environment when I studied for the bar. Just a little more Windex here and bleach there, and you could have performed open heart surgery on my kitchen table with no risk of staph infection.

Second, I watched Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring about 20 times.

I mean the extended version, including cast and directing commentaries. This beast is 228 minutes. Here’s the best part: the first time I saw Lord of the Rings in the theater I hated the movie. So I watched something I initially hated, over and over, to the tune of 76 hours, or 4,560 minutes. I suggest this is anecdotal evidence that studying for the bar does make you crazy.

How do I know when procrastination is actually procrastination, and crossing a line? When I feel guilty. I studied hard for the bar and after I had put in my study time, listening to the directors and writers explain Sam and Frodo’s motivations relaxed me (don’t ask my why because I don’t know). I had times when I just stopped in the middle of a frustrating practice PT and put that crack pipe of a DVD in the player and watched some Hobbit on Orc violence. But then I would feel bad and stop. Watching it as a reward, however, was fine.

Sure, I could have studied 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and studied “prison style.” But I know myself. I would have burned out and been less bearable than I already was. And studying is personal to a large extent. Your studying alchemy is probably different that most. Procrastination for one person may be necessary for another person to preserve her sanity.

Just keep tabs on the guilt meter when not studying to test whether you are entering into true procrastination territory that is interfering with your studying for the bar.

If you are a confirmed procrastinator, try these different methods for overcoming this.

  • Accountability. Having a third party hold you accountable is a very powerful motivator. This can be a study buddy, getting a tutor or taking some type of course. There is something about being judged that can break a nasty procrastination habit.
  • Fear. You probably already have enough, but for those of you tuned out, get in touch with the reality of no job prospects, outrageous student loans coming due, and not seeing your name on the pass list. If this suggestion made you cry, I’m sorry. Really.
  • Distractions. Whatever your chosen distraction is, get rid of it. If it is your phone, turn the thing off and leave it at home when you go the library. If it is something that you cannot leave in a drawer — such as a spouse — confess your procrastination and ask them to call you out when you stumble. They will understand, and you will love them even more when this trial in your life is over.
  • Mindfulness. No, you don’t have to sit in the lotus position, rub crystals and think about nothing. Mindfulness is about using meditation to be present and direct your intentions. Neuroscience has shown that mindfulness practice improves executive functions in the brain. Use it to focus your studies, calm your nerves and break bad habits like procrastination.
  • Timer. On those days where you’d rather sit in a dentist chair and have your tooth drilled than study, set a timer. Set it for a time that you can tolerate comfortably. It can be five minutes or 50. Commit yourself to studying for that period of time and reward yourself. This will help make studying a habit – something you do, everyday.

And yes, I appreciate that you procrastinated long enough to read this to the end. Now get back to work!

Jeff Curl was an apprentice grader for the CA bar exam. He practices bankruptcy law with his wife Jeena Cho at JC Law Group PC

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  1. Love this post! I can relate. Well, maybe not to use of Hobbit on Orc violence as a faulty motivational tool, but to the spic and span house any time there’s a deadline looming. Thank you for your sense of humor and dead-on advice!

    And, um… did a Hobbit actually wrangle an Orc, ever? Seems dubious, given the size difference, but I can’t remember. Maybe I should watch it again.

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