Struggling to Get on a Schedule? Self-Parent!

Struggling to Get on a Schedule? Self-Parent!This week we’re welcoming guest writer Whitney Weatherly to talk about getting yourself on a schedule.

OK, bear with me here. I’m personally a parent of human children, but I’m pretty sure pet-parents (and former babysitters, etc.) will also get where I’m coming from. When my kids were little, I realized that our lives would be an absolute nightmare if we didn’t come to some sort of consensus on basic boundaries and a schedule. Meal times, activity times, and especially time for sleeping. All of this ramped up even more when they needed to learn some sort of new skill. New skills are exhausting, and kids resist big time if there’s no consistency.

I’m not saying there was never any flexibility, of course! Things happen, and the schedule varies. If it varies long enough (like when they started school), then we need a new schedule. And figuring out what that schedule should be always took some trial and error until we got the right balance of sleep time, “work” time, and down time for our particular family.

Well, one of the hardest things about starting law school is getting yourself on an effective schedule. There’s always so much to do, and it all feels thankless and never-ending. But, take it from a mom, it is possible! You just need to play your own parent, and give yourself some boundaries (with consequences!), some rewards, and some grace.

Setting Boundaries

A lot of setting boundaries has to do with deciding what you should make time for always, sometimes, or rarely-if-ever. Basically, take a look at the tasks you try to accomplish in a week and prioritize them. Something like “attend class” is probably going to be in the “always” category, while your school’s weekly trivia night might need to be something that happens every other week. Or that’s on the schedule weekly, but you’ll skip if you aren’t caught up on your work (consequence).

Personally, I always need to do scheduling fairly literally. I would suggest getting out an actual calendar, planner, or even a blank document file and making a list of the things you need to do. Put in the “must do” things first, and see if you get a basic framework for your day-to-day schedule. Some things like “read for class” are also in the “must do” category, but the timing is flexible, so immediately after those tasks would be a great place to put “reward” activities (next section). Also, don’t forget that it’s really NOT all about law school! You also MUST get your basic needs met. Figure out meal times, including time to shop and cook, sleeping hours, and time to just be a person.

I know. It’s a lot. And unfortunately, I can’t be super specific, because everyone needs a different balance of work, play, sleep, and chill. But as you develop a schedule, you’ll be able to figure out what type of boundaries you need to set for yourself when it comes to saying yes or especially no to various activities.

Setting Rewards

This is where it can get really fun, as long as you get past any negative connotations of bribery. What motivates you? What kind of budget do you have for rewards? (If you’re like most law students, it’s not very big!)

Rewards don’t have to be huge. Think of one of the most feared ordeals in a parent’s life: potty-training. What’s the classic reward system? M&Ms. Sometimes stickers. I know. You’re not a toddler. But I have known many full-grown adults to be very motivated by small pieces of chocolate. (Really. Before law school I worked as an assistant to a lawyer, and I kept a drawer full of chocolates to hand out at key moments.)

How would a reward system work? If you’re food-motivated and are struggling to finish the reading, start by picking your favorite treat. If it isn’t already small (like M&Ms), break it up into bite-sized pieces. Depending on your willpower and the treat you selected, set intervals at which you’ll get a bite. You get one bite per page, case, or assignment finished. I would suggest starting with pages or cases, and then spacing out the rewards as you move through the semester (every other page, every other case, etc., until you’re only taking a bite after you finish the assigned reading). You can do a similar thing with outlining, practice questions, or LRW assignments.

What if food rewards won’t do it for you? There are lots of options. After you finish your reading you can have a mini dance party. Reward yourself with 5 minutes of your favorite show (time it!) after each case. Treat yourself to a video call with your best friend when you finish your memo. Again, pay attention to what motivates you, and have fun trying different options.

And if all else fails? Don’t turn up your nose at a sticker chart! Buy fun, cheap stickers online. Draw a grid, and set parameters. Determine what activities get you stickers (reading, showing up on time to class, outlining, practicing, etc.) and what rewards you’ll get after you hit a certain number of stickers. Maybe after you get 30 stickers, you and your friends will stream a movie together or you get to order takeout from your favorite restaurant. If you do this, I strongly encourage you to display your chart proudly. (Even have a competition with friends, perhaps? First one to 50 buys coffee?). Just have fun with it! Remember: law school is made better with whimsy.

Allowing Grace

Just like parenting, your time as a law student will be full of mistakes. Try not to be too hard on yourself when you slip up! If you raid your treat stash instead of using it as rewards or fall behind on your reading or whatever, stop, breathe, and adjust your system, hopefully with lots of support from the people in your life. The key is to find something that works for you.


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About Whitney Weatherly

Whitney started her post-graduate education at the University of Mary Washington, earning a Master’s in Education. She soon decided to change course, and went to the College of William & Mary School of Law. At William & Mary, she was an Articles Editor for the Journal of Women and the Law and a Teaching Assistant for the Legal Skills program. Through the Legal Skills program, she was able to provide mentorship for first and second year law students, as well as instruction in legal writing and client contact. In 2010, she graduated Order of the Coif and was admitted to the bar in Maryland. She is a tutor for the Start Law School Right program, where she combines her legal and educational background to help others grasp fundamental legal concepts. Whitney is also a tutor for the Law School Toolbox and the Bar Exam Toolbox.


  1. Saying “no” makes a huge difference. I know it helped me in law school. You have to prioritize.

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