Need to Get More Done in Law School? Try The Circles.

CirclesIf you’re like me, you have a lot of days where you feel like you were working all day long, but you don’t really get much accomplished.

I find this happens for two reasons:

  • I’m not sure what I should be working on
  • I spend time doing things that feel like work, but aren’t actually productive.

Luckily, I came across a deceptively simple, but extremely powerful, technique that helps with both of these problems: The Circles.

I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you, because it’s so simple. But I will, because it’s so powerful!

How to Implement The Circles

When you really need to get things done, get out a piece of paper. This paper represents your plan of attack for the next day. Think about what you need to do and how long you think each task will take. Double that number.

Now draw a circle for each hour you’re planning to work. For example, say I need to read 20 pages for Con Law, prepare for a Crim Law study group meeting, and review a pleading in my pro bono case. I think the first two tasks will take about an hour each and the final one will take half an hour. Two and a half times two is five, so I draw five circles on my paper.

Each circle gets a label: two for Con Law, two for Crim Law, and one for pro bono.

Now add circles for any other activities that are important to you. I add one circle labeled “Gym” and another labeled “Watch TV with roommates.”

When you get up the next morning, pull out your paper. You’re holding your plan for the day. Your goal, before going to sleep, is to color in all the circles. Simple, right?

The Secret Cheat!

It gets better, because there’s a way to cheat: If you work for 50 minutes consistently on any given task, you can color in that entire circle. If, however, you take breaks, check your email, jump onto Facebook, etc., you have to subtract out that time and do the full 60 minutes.

Maybe I’m nuts, but the desire to color in the whole circle after only working 50 minutes was ridiculously motivating! Every time I did it, it was like I’d won at life, complete with a mental fistbump and a little shot of adrenaline.

Advantages of The Circles

The Circles might sound silly, but I think you’ll find the technique is powerful. You’ve prioritized in advance, it’s clear what you’re actually spending time on, and you rapidly realize if you’re consistently underestimating how long things will take (if you complete your circles and your tasks aren’t finished, you know your expectations are unrealistic).

As an added bonus, you can hold onto your old papers with their beautifully colored in circles (seriously, try this with some quality colored pencils and your enjoyment level will soar!) and flip through them when you’re having one of those “I haven’t done enough work and I’m going to flunk out of school” moments. It’s strangely calming to see evidence to the contrary.

You’ve worked hard, and you’ve got The Circles to prove it!

Read on:

More time management tips of awesomeness:

  1. The Circles
  2. The Units
  3. The Buzzer

Return to Surviving Law School 101.

Did you try The Circles? Love it/hate it? Let me know in the comments!

Image by evobrained via stock.xchng.


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  1. I almost can’t wait to start SR year at my undergrad, just to try this!! It looks like it will be perfect with my OCD/Type A self!

    • Ha! If you’re this excited about the idea, you’re going to love it. Best of luck!

      • For me, I am a visual person. If you were to draw these circles out to see the exact process that you are teaching, it would solidify in my mind exactly what you are inculcating.

        Thank you.

  2. Can you elaborate on this technique a little more?? It sound cool, but why do we use 2 circles???

    • One circle per hour of work!

      • If it’s one circle per hour of work, is the extra circle just for security? The doubling of time/circles doesn’t make sense.

        Say I think my civ pro reading is going to take me an hour. What you’re saying is I draw two circles for that one hour of work. But then you’re saying each circle represents an hour??

        I think I’m confused. But I really want to try this so maybe you can explain.

        • Sorry for the confusion! If you think you have one hour of Civ Pro work to do, you’d just allocate one hour to that.

        • Seems the confusion is this: there are really no “extra” circles. You’re doubling estimated time and assigning circles for each hour in your total estimate.

          If the task takes an hour, you double that estimate and give it two hours, or two circles (to buy yourself time, in case you miss your mark for any reason).

          You draw the two circles, and if you actually finish in the one hour (or in 50 minutes) you color that hour, and – voila! – you have an open, uncolored hour left to do something else (or absolutely nothing) with.

  3. What do you do if you’ve underestimated the time it will take to complete one of your tasks? If you’ve been working diligently for the entire 50 minutes but the task isn’t done, do you get to color in the circle, or do you have to keep working until the task is completed?

    • You stop! At that point, you probably need a mental break anyway. And part of the beauty of this technique is that it helps you eventually estimate more realistically how long tasks will take. 😉

    • You could also keep your momentum by coloring in the whole circle representing the completed 50 minutes and drawing a new circle before starting the next 50 minutes of diligent work, and another and another until you’re done.

      Added benefit: you’ll have a record of how much you’ve worked, and a reliable benchmark for future planning. Just a suggestion.

  4. What a great idea! Thank you.


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