Whether studying for the bar exam or just working a normal day, getting more done in less time is a coveted skill. We want to be productive. But despite our best self-imposed guilt trips, we lose focus, chronically checking email or facebook, playing Words With Friends, or watching funny cat videos on youtube (or maybe that’s just me). Why can’t we “just do it?”
The three biggest productivity drains I notice from my students are:
1. They are not practiced at holding attention on a task,
2. The task causes thoughts or emotions they don’t like, and
3. Their mind and body are fatigued.
A few simple changes in your mindset and daily schedule can improve your productivity instantly.
You are not practiced at holding your attention on a single task.
Even in our spare time we’re usually either on the computer, smart phone, ipad, ipod, tv or some combination, jumping from task to task. You may have problems focusing because you’re simply not used to it.
Most people have unrealistic expectations about how long they can rationally focus and then punish themselves when they fall off the wagon. To be more productive, set yourself up to succeed. How long can you reasonably focus on one task, uninterrupted? 25 – 60 minutes is the average, with 60 minutes being quite high for most people.
Schedule your study or work time in blocks of uninterrupted time, with short breaks in between, and use a timer. For example, study in four segments of 25 minutes, and one 60 min practice test, with breaks in the middle ranging from 5 – 30 min. During uninterrupted time, turn off everything. No email, no texts, no facebook. Gradually increase your time blocks, increasing the time you can focus. This practice will improve your focus and mental discipline.
Doing the task causes thoughts or emotions you don’t like.
Your memory stores emotions next to the thing they are related to. If you feel frustrated or unconfident about the exam, when you try to study, you may feel frustrated and unconfident, even if you don’t notice.
Our natural reaction to unpleasant emotions is to flee. In the moment you decided to check email instead of study, the feelings associated with studying were more painful than the feelings associated with email. You were moving down the path of least pain. If you are in this cycle you will probably continue to bounce around, choosing other tasks until the pain of not studying becomes more than the pain of studying, usually because of self-guilt or shame.
To break the cycle, first stop fleeing the emotion. Instead of avoiding the task you feel bad about, figure out why you feel bad and fix it. If you feel unconfident about essays because you tend to run out of time, get strategic advice from a tutor and practice under timed conditions until you are blue in the face. If you feel overwhelmed because you miss MBEs about Torts, seek extra Torts help and do Torts MBE’s repeatedly.
Then link new feelings to the task. As you fall asleep at night, picture in detail the way you want to feel when you do the task, study, or take the test. By imagining it, you are training your mind to link positive feelings with the exam.
In Part II of this series I will discuss strategies for minimizing the third productivity drain – mental fatigue.
Want to learn more mental tools to rock the bar exam? Lauren Fire is the founder of the Mind Over Bar Course, an innovative course that focuses only on the mental challenges of the bar exam. The course teaches in-the-moment practices you can use to improve your study productivity instantly.