6 Ways to Reclaim Your Time & Energy While Studying for the Bar Exam (Even If You’re Working Full Time)

My mom called me while I was working on this. Breaking focus is one of my pet peeves. I regret thinking this way because I feel like I was taking her for granted.

She said she’s been worried about all the work I’m doing. There’s my “real” job and also the “website” as she calls it. She said I looked tired when I was home over the holidays. She said maybe I should put a hold on the website.

After 10 seconds of silence, I asked her… “Why?”

I’d be lying if I told you that I wasn’t offended at all by her suggestion. In my head, I was thinking I can handle it. I will handle it.

Her reason: So that my “real” job isn’t as hard on me. So that I have more TIME.

She has a point. It is a lot of work for a bunch of strangers. She wants to protect me. She doesn’t want to protect you. But they’re strangers who want my help. I feel like I’m making more of an impact at home than in the office.

I told her not to worry, that I’ll feel burdened by her worries. My girlfriend said that that’s the worst thing I could have told my mom because it will make her feel guilty. Oops! She supports me and my mission even though I spend way more time on MTYLT than her. Now she’s even coaching me on how moms think.

Protection vs. support. Pull away vs. push toward. Can you guess which one I prefer?

Call your mom if you want cookies and rainbows. But I will give you support because I want results for you, as long as you’re serious about it. If you’re not, I still will, because I like to give the benefit of the doubt. I can’t tell until later in hindsight anyway. They say INFJs are martyrs. Sounds pretty cool.

 

 

I’ve been where you are. In a way, I’m still there.

Your hair feels gross, the fridge is empty, and you’ve been scraping together whatever sleep you can. Words in front of you are jumbling together into a blurry mess, passing by like a dream and also slipping away like one despite trying so hard to remember.

In short, you feel like an anxious pile of crap because there’s so much to do with so little time to study for the bar exam and you’re feeling the pressure from the impending doomsday. The worst combination.

But it’s not just time. Time isn’t your scapegoat. “Life is short” is propaganda by people who wasted their time.

“Yeah, maybe when I have more time. I’m going to feel motivated someday. Everything happens for a reason.” Oh, okay.

You need energy. You need clarity so you can do productive work. Even if you had the “motivation,” it doesn’t mean jack unless you do something with it.

I’m seriously the LEAST energetic person you’ll ever meet. I like to think it’s because I try to make the most out of my time and energy and end up with little to spare.

My self-delusion aside, the point is that if I can find ways to juggle things, then so can you, a person who has generally been successful in life. We all have 24 hours a day.

 

6 Ways to Reclaim Your Time & Energy While Studying for the Bar Exam (Even If You’re Working Full Time)

No Time? Make Time.

– There’s actually enough time. We just choose to squander it.

It’s not your fault, though. You need to feel like you have enough time to beat this thing, but your sleeves are constantly getting tugged by things that cry for your attention.

In terms of studying, that’s things like watching lectures, memorizing everything, making flashcards. Busy work. Things you’ll forget. Paths of least resistance. This is not counting the other things that tug at your attention (discussed in the next part).

That’s all fine if you got the time. Bar prep programs may assume you have 8-10 hours a day, but what if you’re working full time and only have 4 hours? Or if you don’t want to waste time on low-value activities?

You could halve your prep-course regimen by…

  • getting rid of lectures (saving 3-4 hours right there)
  • not memorizing all day so that you “feel ready” before you attempt problems (get embarrassed instead)
  • learning by using the rules. Yes, spend some time getting to know the rules and issues, but you won’t know how to apply them on the exam unless you try to use them now and get fucked up by your own sense of stupidity

Feeling dumb is a good thing! You become aware of what you don’t know, and it’s a gauge that indicates when you’ve learned what you need to learn.

Another way is to give yourself time limits on each task. Work expands to fill the time you give it. If you go over the time you set, then move on so you don’t create more backlog.

There are ways to fit all this in 3-4 hours a day, whether you’re working on essays, MBE, or PTs…
 
Do less; learn more. Get Passer’s Playbook 2.0 (if you have it already, see, for example, the techniques in the Shortnotes and summarized in the Cheat Sheets).
 
The more you wait for the “right” time, the more you’ll have to cram. The most common regret people have is waiting too long to try something and wishing they had earlier.

It comes down to concentrating. Mental work is hard work, but it’s important work. Sitting in front of books is easy.

If you’re working, another possible workaround is to study at work: lunch time, whenever you find pockets of time, or even when you’re supposed to be working. Instead of pulling out your phone, pull out some flashcards or something.

If you track your day by the minute, you’ll see where your time is going. One way is to use the Intent browser plugin (Chrome) to see exactly how many hours per week you’re actually spending on video sites, social media, etc.

That said, increasing your “efficiency” (squandering less time) is difficult because there are many other things that are more interesting than the bar exam. Plus, when we’re tired, we succumb to those distractions more easily.

So what do you do?

 

– Be conscious about entertainment.

Your job here is to prepare adequately for the bar exam. You don’t need to spend every day watching your favorite show. You have time for an hour of Netflix but not for bar prep?

If you need to unwind with dinner and TV after a full day of studying or a long day of work, be my guest. If you’re wondering where your time is going or why you’re not getting things done, and you want to make a change, reconsider.

Human attention is the scarcest resource in the world. Protect it.

You may think a half hour or an hour won’t hurt, but it may not last just an hour. The more engaging your diversion, the more it’s going to occupy your mind even after you’re done, kill your momentum, and tire you out even more. Pick a mild or mindless activity if you can. Media is designed to engage as much of your attention as possible.

This is a type of addiction. Addictions can be undone. The more you distance yourself from entertainment, the less you think about it over time. I promise you’ll get used to it. My biggest time waster is binge watching or reading (“just one more” syndrome), so don’t even look.

If you want to relax/rest/recover, lie down. Don’t use your brain. You can get through your playlist after the bar.

If someone wanted to pay you $50,000 for a big two-month project, are you going to get distracted or make sure you get it right? Every half year you delay entrance to the bar could mean losing out on income toward your student loans, a house, wedding, etc.

I’m not saying not to do any fun activities at all! You could use the 20/10 cycle to interleave idle amusement. Just don’t allocate your time backward. Remember: Bar prep comes first, not last.

Does the 20/10 cycle contradict the first point? No, we can go slow to go fast, as long as we concentrate on important work.

 

– Limit/Delegate obligations. Do you have to take care of family, kids, dogs, etc.? Set aside a fixed amount of time to address your other obligations (like you might with a job).

Then focus on the bar. Studying for the bar is also your obligation. Perhaps it’s your TOP priority.

Or get someone else to help. Make it up to them later.

Or hire someone, or buy some useful tools. You can buy back your time. No money? I don’t know. You’re probably screwed.


Okay, so you found or made some time. That’s cool but only half the story. We’re bottlenecked not just by time, but also your level of energy. (This is especially true if you’re working at the same time.)

No Energy?

– Sleep is the #1 cure-all. It’s also the #1 predictor of your energy and focus for tomorrow.

Most of us spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, yet sleep is often the first thing we neglect. There’s only a very small percentage of the population that can operate on fewer than 6 hours of sleep a day.

It may be tempting to force an extra hour of study tonight. But losing even that much sleep is going ruin the rest of tomorrow (if not tomorrow, some other day) and cause you to end up losing more time and focus overall.

Set a bedtime and try to stick to it. I aim for 7.5 hours a day. One time I slept for 11 hours and felt as fresh as an elven arse. Anything above 9 hours is probably overkill, though.

Sleep makes up for lack of food. Sleep heals your mental and physical fatigue. No hour of sleep is wasted if you need it. It’s part of your preparation.

Working while studying? I understand the exhaustion after work. You just want to crash and relax, not study.

In that case, one way to get studying done is to study at least partly before work, when your mind is fresher. How do you get up earlier? Go to sleep earlier.

Feels good man

 

– Get CLEAR on what you need to do. Productivity (even excitement) comes from clarity. If you know exactly what the next step is, you’ll find yourself looking forward to it. As you take each step, you’ll find yourself that much more focused.

  1. One trick is to set up the next day by leaving a task incomplete. Leave a set of MBE questions half done. Leave the review of a question for tomorrow. Keep the book open on your desk. You’ll want to resolve the “cliffhanger” and see the ending. Soon, you’re in the zone.
  2. Did you make your macro-schedule yet? I like overviews that keep you from getting lost in the weeds.
  3. Passer’s Playbook 2.0 includes several sample study schedules, and gives you a week-by-week, day-by-day blueprint with detailed study strategies… or quick references for the busy (see the Accelerator Kit set of files, including the Systematic Study Blueprint, Weekly Action Plan, Sample Study Schedules, etc.).

 

– Discipline. Just do it. Sometimes you just gotta deal with it. The more you do it, the more you get used to it.

My head hurts after my employer gets its share of my soul for the day, but I still have other things to do. For instance, writing and editing emails for you every week. I think it’s important. That’s why it’s so rewarding to get messages letting me know how much I was able to help—just takes 20 seconds to make my day and keep me going. I read every email and respond to many.

“How can I make myself study today?” Study today. Pain now or regret later, you choose.

It’s not impossible. You have control over yourself. Count backward from 5, and start. Focus and motivation—the energy to continue—will follow. I talked about this to death already.

We all have those days when we can’t get anything done. Don’t beat yourself over it. If you can do one small thing that moves you forward, then that’s enough. Try your best.


These are NOT permanent sacrifices. Short-term discomfort for the lifetime privilege of calling yourself an attorney. The calculus is clear!

Your time and energy are best spent doing what you believe—and what I believe—is the best course of action for now: making this the last time you take the bar.

 

ACTION STEPS

As you may already know, just nodding along and saying “yeah, I really should…” is different from actually doing and making a change.

So here are some things you can do TODAY, right here, right now, based on what we talked about above:

  1. To save extraneous time, acknowledge and move away from paths of least resistance. Concentrate your efforts on things that help you learn. If that includes lectures, OK. I would focus on studying the material, applying it, and then getting feedback (self-evaluation). Go back to my earlier emails about the Practice + Feedback Loop (and if you’re not on the list, sign up so you don’t miss out on more email-exclusive material).
  2. Notice where else your time is actually going. Pick the biggest extraneous activity that sucks away your attention, and then put a stop to it: Cancel Netflix, turn off notifications on your phone, uninstall the same three social media apps you cycle through, put away video games, block websites (Citrus, Focus), etc.
  3. Limit or delegate your other obligations to someone else. Is bar prep an obligation and a priority for you? If it’s not a priority, then do it another time.
  4. Set a bedtime alarm on your phone, and get some damn sleep. Figure out when you need to wake up, then count backward to when you should go to sleep. Count in increments of 1.5 hours (REM cycle) then add 15 minutes for “falling asleep” time.
  5. Get clear on what you need to do. Take the time up front to outline the rest of your study regimen. Passer’s Playbook 2.0 can help with this.

So, if you’re feeling the pressure, try these ways to manage your time and energy and reduce your anxiety and overwhelm.

In fact, pick even just ONE, and let me know what you plan to do.

Brag to me about your successes. Tell me about your progress. Any progress is good progress. I want to know!

Brian

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