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 free time 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.
In short, you feel like a steaming pile of anxiety 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.
We like to tell people we “don’t have time” or that “time is the most valuable resource” or that “life is short~” (even though we love to procrastinate).
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. We all have 24 hours a day.
I’m the LEAST energetic person you’ll ever meet. If I can find ways to juggle things, then so can you, a person who has generally been successful in life.
6 Ways to Reclaim Your Time & Energy While Studying for the Bar Exam (Even If You’re Working Full Time)
3 rules if you don’t have TIME to study
RULE 1. Make time. There’s actually enough time. We just choose to squander it.
It’s not your fault. 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? Or if you have family obligations? Or you have a life elsewhere?
You could halve your prep-course regimen by…
- Getting rid of lectures (instantly 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 there’s something to learn.
Another way is to give yourself time limits for the day, or even on each task. Work expands to fill the time you give it. If you go over the time you set, then finish up and move on so you don’t create more backlog.
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.
There are many solutions.
That said, increasing your “efficiency” (squandering less time) is difficult because, YES, 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?
RULE 2. 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-long Netflix break but not for bar prep?
If you need to unwind with dinner and 20 minutes of watching TV after a full day of studying, go ahead. If you’re wondering where your time is going or why you’re not getting things done, consider whether too much of your time is being spent elsewhere.
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.
If you want to relax/rest/recover, lie down. Don’t use your brain. Sure, check your phone for a bit. Just be aware that one simple act of turning on your phone or TV can cascade into a black hole of time suck (“just one more” syndrome).
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.
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.
What, you “need balance”?
I’m not saying not to do any fun activities at all! Remember: Bar prep comes first, not last. Julius Caesar burned his own boats to instill total commitment in his soldiers.
RULE 3. Limit or delegate obligations.
If you want to reclaim your time, offload things to other people so you can focus on the bar. Studying for the bar is a personal obligation. Perhaps it’s your top priority.
Do you have to take care of family, kids, dogs, groceries, laundry, etc.? Set aside a fixed amount of time to address these other obligations (like you might with a job).
For things beyond this fixed time, ask someone else. Sometimes you have friends or family or significant others who can help. Make it up to them later.
Sometimes you’ll have to hire someone. Or buy some useful study tools. You can buy back your time.
No money? No friends? I don’t know. You’re probably screwed. See RULE 1.
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.)
3 rules if you don’t have ENERGY to study
RULE 4. 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.
RULE 5. 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.
RULE 6. Discipline. Just do it.
Sometimes you just gotta deal with it. The more you do it, the more you get used to it.
DON’T GLOSS OVER: The more you do it, the more you get used to it.
I just came back from work at 7 PM after a phone interview with a patent examiner, a 1.1-hour phone call, a 1.7-hour meeting, and leaving two voicemails. Talking drains me. My arm hurts. I ate dinner. Now I’m writing this. My girlfriend called me over a crackly connection. I’m back to writing this. I’m editing it the day after.
What about you? This is your duty. WHEN YOU’RE TOO TIRED FOR DIVERSIONS IS WHEN YOU ACTUALLY FEEL THE MOST FOCUS AND MOMENTUM TO WORK.
My head hurts after my employer gets its share of my soul for the day, but I still have things to do. So do you.
“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. But never look the other way and say, “Oh well.”
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.
If not now, when?
Pick ONE of the above. Commit to it.
Just nodding along and saying “yeah, I really should…” is different from actually doing and making a change.
Or if you REALLY want to make a change…
If you want to learn more about becoming more productive, focused, and optimistic in your bar preparation, check out Mental Engines, my actionable course on managing your overwhelm, stress, and unproductivity while studying for the bar exam.
You CAN incorporate balance into your studies—for example, a structured and measured cycle of alternating between work and something you enjoy to let you keep moving ahead and avoid burnout. That’s just one way to avoid stress that I teach inside Mental Engines.
What else do you get?
- 8 modules of lessons (full details here) — you can pick and choose which modules to go through since you’re busy
- 3+ hours of audio (with text transcripts)
- Checklists and worksheets
- Short email series over 30 days to keep you on track (this alone is worth the admission price)
- 30-day refund policy