Picture it: You’re stuck in your apartment. Bar study is wearing on and on. You’re feeling bored and yet simultaneously overwhelmed. You can’t go socialize due to Coronavirus restrictions. You’re running out of money, time and patience. Worse yet, you suddenly get the urge to throw all the time you don’t have into a new project.
If you really need to buckle down and study, you might find yourself having thoughts like these:
- Hmm…. I wonder if I should paint an accent wall?
- Were these door frames always so dusty? I should clean them.
- Maybe, if I got X supplies, I could do Y project!
- Wow, I really need to Marie Kondo the crap out of my closet!
- You know what sounds good? Homemade cookies!
Why does this happen? Because bar study is, let’s face it, pretty awful sometimes—especially during a global pandemic when the exam is slated to be online. You’re probably looking for a distraction (even if it’s on an unconscious level). So, how do you avoid falling prey to these sorts of stall tactics?
Here are some tips to keep in mind next time you find yourself clicking “next episode” on Ratched instead of studying:
1. Figure Out Why the Distractions Look So Tempting
When one of my bar students admits to watching hours upon hours of Netflix instead of studying, it’s usually for reasons that fall into two identifiable categories. Either, (1) they’re burned out from overwork and starting to mentally rebel, or (2) they’re underworked—scared to face facts and jump into giving studying their best effort.
Which one are you? Not sure? Here are the symptoms:
Camp 1 – The Burnout
- You’ve been studying really hard without taking many breaks
- Your sleep schedule may be off, perhaps you’re turning nocturnal
- You wake up and are already exhausted first thing in the morning
- You can’t remember your last day off
- You consider healthy habits of normal human hygiene, such as showering, to be your “mental break time”
Camp 2 – The Procrastinator
- Deep down, you don’t think you’re capable of passing, perhaps you’ve failed before
- You feel guilty about the breaks you do take
- You spend time on “busy work” like formatting outlines or highlighting rules rather than actual memorization
- You have a hard time getting started in the morning
- You wonder if failing due to a lack of effort is preferable to failing because you’re “not smart enough” despite trying hard
- You engage in self-sabotaging behavior
Once you understand which camp you fall into, it should be fairly obvious what route to take. If you’re not working enough, re-commit and get started. If you’re verging on burnout, take a break and get your mental faculties in check before proceeding.
2. Set Time Limits on Engrossing Activities Like TV
Every bar student needs to take study breaks. It’s actually helpful to give yourself a chance to deal with anxiety as it comes up, let your brain take a rest, and get your eyes off your screen. However, unchecked breaks can lead to a lot of wasted time.
Ask yourself what your time-sucking vices are. Netflix? Reddit? Twitter? The flaming dumpster fire that is the daily news? Figure out which media sources (or other activities) you find particularly binge-worthy, and give yourself a hard limit.
- Does this activity make me feel refreshed and relaxed?
- Is this a productive use of my break time?
- Am I capable of cutting myself off when it’s time to go back to work?
If you answered “No” to any of these, consider doing something different on your break time. Maybe a quick stretch or meditation from a free app. Limit anything that makes you feel even more run-down or negative.
On that note, your phone probably has settings capabilities where you can limit time spent in particular apps. That might be a good place to start. It can be really eye-opening and surprising to check your phone stats and see where you’ve spent hours of your day when you were “studying.” Again, moderation and discipline are key.
3. Follow a Daily Calendar Down to the Quarter Hour
If you try to put in full study days without a plan, it’s probably going to backfire. Why? For the same reason stated above. Bar study sucks. And I say that in the most loving and professional way possible. But, I’ve been there. On its best days, it’s mind-numbingly boring. On its worst, it’s completely demoralizing. Most people would rather do almost anything else. How do you fix this? Know where you’re supposed to be and what you need to be doing at any given moment of the day. Sounds a bit insane, right? Hear me out.
I’m not saying you need to start your practice essays at 9am sharp every morning, but I do think you would benefit from having your day mapped out. If you want a sample of what I’m talking about, you can check out this post.
Knowing when your next break is going to be or whether you’re supposed to crank out a PT or MBEs this afternoon can (a) give you less anxiety about the unknown/decision making, and (b) make it harder to avoid tasks you don’t like doing—like timed essays.
Bar study is all about being accountable to yourself. No one else is going to suffer if you slack off. Just you. It’s all about you and how you choose to spend your time.
4. Stay on Task with the Circles Method
I’ve lauded the “circles” method before. If you’ve worked with me, you’ve probably heard me mention it at least once. It’s simple. It’s awesome. It works. That’s all.
5. Use Rewards
A personal trainer friend of mine tells me you should never use food-related rewards for a job well done. As far as I’m concerned, this doesn’t apply to bar study. So, if promising yourself some sour patch kids or a rice crispy treat would really help you get through the next essay, why not? Again, moderation.
Over the years as a bar tutor, I’ve had students try all kinds of different rewards. It really depends on you. What do you find motivating?
- A sum of money set aside toward a big-ticket purchase you’d like to make?
- Points you can add up toward buying whatever is in your online shopping cart?
- A dessert or treat at the end of the day?
- Something as simple as a gold star sticker on your calendar each day?
- Adding minutes or points toward an activity you’d enjoy doing?
- A virtual happy hour or picnic with friends? (thanks, Coronavirus)
- Your favorite take-out/delivery dinner
- An uninterrupted TV show or movie (watch concurrently with friends on Skype/Zoom if you’re feeling especially social—again, thanks Coronavirus)
If none of this sounds like your cup of tea, try a negative “reward.” If you don’t do two timed essays today without using your notes, this clever company will take your hard-earned money and donate it to the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good or another horrible charity of your choice.
I know studying for the bar during COVID-19 is tough. I understand that preparing for an online exam can be even more anxiety-provoking than usual. You should take breaks, but be conscious of how you’re spending your time, and aware that distractions can significantly cut your productivity. When in doubt, make a plan for your time and just do your best day by day. Every new day is a new chance to stick to your goals and study as productively as possible. You can do it!