3 Lessons From Quarantine I’m Taking to Law School

3 Lessons From Quarantine I’m Taking to Law SchoolThis week we hear from guest writer Cathlyn Melvin to discuss what she’s learned from her time so far in quarantine and what she will be taking the law school as a lesson from that time.

We’re more than halfway through 2020, and I think we can all agree on at least one thing: this has been a year of creative solutions, building new systems, and forming new habits.

After a couple of weeks quarantined alone during Second Winter (Chicago’s third of 11 seasons, which comes just before “Spring of Deception”), I knew I’d need to make some major adjustments to my initial quarantine schedule. (For clarification, my initial quarantine schedule included a lot of snacks. And not much else.)

With a few weeks of experimentation, I finally found a groove that allowed me to tackle tasks and complete projects that had been languishing earlier. Now I’m preparing to start my first year of law school, and there are a few lessons I’ve learned in quarantine that I’ll be taking along with me when I move across the country this fall.

Plan in advance

Each weekend, I evaluate what my next 7-10 days will look like: what events I’ve agreed to, what projects I have due, and what personal tasks I need to complete. Making the effort to assess my commitments and responsibilities ahead of time allows me to schedule dedicated time for them and saves me from decision fatigue: I don’t have to decide what to do moment-by-moment each day; I schedule it all at once and follow that plan.

Create a tasklist

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I sometimes need to remind myself to do simple things like eat vegetables, exercise, meditate, and leave the house. I keep a generic list of those everyday items that I can refer to if I start to flounder.

And a to-do list

This is a little different from my tasklist. While my tasklist reminds me of the things I have to do every day, no matter what, my to-do list is a running catalog of all of the projects that come up (send Glenn a birthday card, follow up on Tisha’s email, clean out the refrigerator). If I don’t write it down, it gets lost in the shuffle, so I keep all of my “to-do’s” in one place. You can use a memo on your phone, a Trello board, or an old-fashioned piece of paper (just don’t lose it!).

Schedule it out

For the first few weeks of quarantine, I really struggled to get things done. Eventually, I learned that if I blocked out parts of my day for specific tasks, my calendar would provide external cues to guide me throughout my day, and I was more likely to accomplish whatever I had set out to do. With a visual reminder that from 3pm until 4pm I was supposed to read a book, schedule-blocking forced me to either follow that instruction or to deliberately make a new choice. This method provided me an easy-to-follow path and resulted in higher productivity and lower stress: all of my decisions had already been made. (Thanks, past me!)

Spend time outside

In law school, we can all use a bit of free and simple stress relief, right?

Luckily for us, studies show that spending as little as 15-20 minutes a day outside can improve mental health, decrease stress, and lower blood pressure.

Additionally, exposure to sunlight during the day increases the level of melatonin in our systems and helps to regulate our sleep at night. (I probably don’t need to tell you that sleep is important for your law school success.)

I’ve taken a walk outside almost every day since March (it’s on my daily tasklist). Sometimes I really, really do not want to leave the house, but I’ve never regretted it afterward. Even when it was windy and snowing, or when the sky was grey with clouds and the sidewalks grey with dirty ice-slush, a walk outside made me feel less anxious, more focused, and generally better.

It can be hard to get outside when you feel chained to your desk, so here are a few ideas to help you incorporate some fresh air and Vitamin D into your day:

  • In the twenty minutes between classes, find a patch of grass or pavement to relax on
  • Change up your studying by taking your work outside now and then
  • Walk or bike to class
  • When it’s time to call your mom or your significant other or your friend back home, step outside to have your call
  • On a ten-minute break from studying, head out for a walk instead of opening TikTok
  • If you schedule time for exercise (psst—you should), find a way to do it outside: go for a run, take an outdoor fitness class, or use a playground for some creative conditioning

Even if it’s rainy or windy or it’s cold enough that your eyelashes can freeze together, bundle up and get out there. It’s good for you.

Practice “The Slight Edge”

The Slight Edge is a philosophy that basically says you make progress through your small daily decisions, chipping away at something little by little. And conversely, you also backslide via your small daily decisions, falling away from your goals little by little. Big changes happen over time, not overnight.

The Slight Edge philosophy is a weapon against overwhelm.

While you’re feeling underwater because of something, you might be tempted to think, well, I can’t get outside for 20 minutes, so I’ll just skip it for today.

But consider the small steps you can take:

  • Can you take a 5-minute walk instead of a 20-minute one?
  • Can you read on your balcony for a few minutes to get some sunshine?
  • Can you walk an outdoor path from one class to the next, instead of the indoor hallway?

It’s easy to fall for an all-or-nothing approach to life. If we can’t make an ideal meal, we might decide to order $20 takeout (instead of settling for whatever we can pull together for free from our kitchen). If we can’t get to yoga class, we might forgo exercise altogether for the day, instead of stretching for 15 minutes in our living room.

Practicing those small daily decisions, and choosing the best option you can, can make a big difference over time and help us maintain—or improve—our mental, physical, and financial health.

It’s been an interesting few months, to say the least, and it’s likely to continue keeping us on our toes. I’m hopeful that these lessons from quarantine can help me—and you—stay productive, healthy, and on the right path as the school year begins, no matter what else 2020 throws our way.


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About Cathlyn Melvin

Before beginning law school in Fall 2020, Cathlyn worked as an actor, educator, and writer in Chicago and around the US. Now freelancing her way through school, Cathlyn loves reading memoirs, editing essays, baking cheesecakes, and petting cats.

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