Are you wondering if you should schedule breaks in law school? Most competitive law students do not take time for regularly-scheduled breaks. This is not to say that they study 24/7 and never take any time off – they simply do not incorporate regular breaks into their schedules.
In law school, most of my friends were pretty competitive (like me) and because they wanted to succeed, they tried to work as many hours as they could seven days a week. Some even felt guilty any time they had a family function, outing, or illness that cut down on precious study time.
A few of my friends, however, made it a point to schedule some time off. One took Saturday mornings off. She would wake up late, take her time eating breakfast and drinking coffee, and not start studying until the afternoon. Another took every Thursday night off to go out to eat with his parents an have a drink with friends. I was the only person I knew in law school that purposely scheduled one full day (Sunday) off of studying every week. I took every Sunday off from the first day of law school to the day I took the bar exam. It didn’t matter if I had a final or paper due on Monday, I never spent time on Sunday preparing for it.
Why did I do this? It was a routine that I started in undergrad. It was one that I really enjoyed and found very helpful (for reasons I will discuss below).
What would I do on Sunday instead of studying? I would go to church, eat a big brunch (of waffles, frozen yogurt, and glorious omelets) with my sisters, volunteer, and just relax. No matter what I did, I avoided my law school friends and my law school books, and I tried to avoid thinking about law school. I went to bed early on Sunday (very early – like 8:00 or 9:00 PM) and woke up feeling great, energetic, and ready for the week on Monday.
Do I recommend that everyone take one full day off a week? Not necessarily. Do I recommend scheduling some time off? Definitely. Below I will discuss the costs and benefits of following a 6-day work week schedule. I will also explain how you can wisely integrate breaks into your weekly routine even if you do not want to take a full day off every week.
Costs and Benefits of Taking One Full Day off Per Week
Costs of Taking One Full Day Off Per Week:
Cost #1: Time: Time is a major cost. In order to do well in law school, you must put in the hours. Of course, to do well, you must do more than just work long hours (you must also work efficiently!). However, working long hours is vital if you want to absorb all of the information you need to absorb. There is no shortcut. So to sacrifice one full day a week for a break cuts out a good amount of time that you could spend checking items off of your to-do list. You have to make up for this time by working longer hours and working efficiently the rest of the week.
Cost #2: Stress. The amount of stress you feel from taking time off will depend on your personality. Sometimes it really is hard to take a break and, paradoxically, it seems more mentally stressful to take a break than to just sit down and study. I remember wondering a few times throughout law school: “What is the point of scheduling a break that is meant to be relaxing if all it does is stress me out?”
There are three ways to combat this kind of stress. The first is to remind yourself of the benefits of taking breaks (discussed below). The second is to start small. If you are not used to taking breaks, do not schedule a full day a week. Start with a quarter day or half day and stick to it. Lastly, if you really can’t stop thinking about what you need to get done, take a break from your break and write a to-do list of everything you need to get done and when you plan on doing it over the week. (It is wise to do this the day before your break if possible – this is discussed below).
Benefits of Taking One Full Day Off Per Week:
Scheduling time off for a break has several benefits. Indeed I am not the only one who sees the benefits of a six day workweek. Here are the benefits I discovered during law school:
Benefit # 1: It helped me to focus. Having one full day off each week kept me very efficient during the week. I am sure I would have not been so focused during the week (or on Saturday for that matter) if I used Sunday as a day to fall back on. Instead, every week I made weekly goals for myself and I was determined to spend my time well throughout the week so I could take a well-deserved break on Sunday. Thus, rather than decreasing my productivity, a forced break actually seemed to increase it.
Benefit #2: It gave me something to look forward to. I loved Sundays. They easily became my favorite day of the week. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get up early to study allowed me to stay out late on Saturday (when I wasn’t exhausted from studying all day). It also allowed me to sleep in on Sunday and ease into the day with a cup of coffee and a non-law-related book.
Benefit #3: It kept me sane. I had a dedicated time to see family and friends, eat good food, relax, and remember that there is a life outside of law school. Sometimes it is easy for law students to lose focus and forget that not everything revolves around law school. (Note: students, like me, who went right from undergrad to law school without a break – the “K-JD path” – are especially prone to this). Having some time away from the law (and law students and casebooks) can help you maintain your sanity.
Benefit #4: It helped me approach work with a new mindset and it helped prevent burnout. Taking breaks has numerous other benefits which I simply sum up as a “new mindset.” Taking breaks increases your creativity. It helps you come up with new ideas (having trouble thinking of a winning argument for moot court? You might think of it during your break!) It even helps you to remember information (Can’t remember how UCC 2-207 is supposed to work? You might find it much easier to recall after your break). Why is this? While you rest, your brain is filing away information you learned over the week. It also increases your energy and passion for your work and helps you to avoid burnout. Students who devote their every waking minute to law school burn out quickly in law school. It helps you to be well-rounded and have a life outside of law school.
How to Schedule Breaks in Law School
If you are wondering how to schedule breaks in law school, here is a step-by-step approach to integrating study breaks into your workweek:
1. Decide when and how long your break will be. Do you need to take a full day off every week? If it sounds appealing, work your way up to it. No matter how long you think your weekly break should be, start small if you are not used to taking regularly-scheduled breaks. Schedule a quarter day break or a half day break. Be flexible with how you schedule your breaks. If something is not working, change it. You can tweak your break from week-to-week by adding time or deleting time, or starting it earlier or later (I have been out of law school for four years and I still take a full day off every week – sometimes more than a full day – but I find that during my “busy season” of work my break runs from 6:00 PM on Saturday night to 6:00 PM Sunday night rather than all day Sunday. Flexibility is key).
2. Make it a true break. Stay away from your law school books, law school outlines, and law school campus. If possible, also stay away from law students! Schedule time to relax, hang out with family, exercise, volunteer, whatever. Make sure you have some time to just “do nothing.”
3. At some point before you start your break, make a to-do list. As mentioned above, making a to-do list can ease any guilt you might feel about not working. I used to spend an hour every Saturday making a list of what I planned on doing the following Monday through Saturday. I would write out exactly what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. Each week, I would follow my to-do list religiously. Having a to-do list allows you to feel less anxious during your break because you know you have a plan of attack to accomplish everything you need to accomplish.
4. Make an effort to notice how the break is affecting you and reassess. Do you feel more rested? Energetic? Do you notice yourself working more efficiently? Do you want to lengthen or shorten your break the following week? It is important to really pay attention to this especially when you begin to integrate breaks into your schedule. Paying attention to how breaks affect you will also give you the motivation to continue to honor your scheduled time off.
As you begin to schedule breaks, you will likely notice that taking time off requires that you work really hard on your non-break time. The longer your break is, the more efficient you will have to be on your non-break time: you cannot afford to lollygag around. But you will also likely notice that taking a break will make it easier to keep focused and not be so distracted. You will be more refreshed and rejuvinated when you study and you will get more done. It may seem paradoxical, but breaks and efficiency truly do go hand-in-hand.
If you have any questions how to schedule breaks in law school – or if you have any of your own tips, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments below or contact us using the contact form on our website.
Ms. Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number 1 law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law students and the bar exam. She also offers a Law School Preparatory Course for students interested in learning the skills necessary to achieve a high GPA in law school.