Here at Northwestern Law, we just finished finals yesterday. It was definitely a grueling process, but I think things ultimately turned out pretty well. And even though we only finished yesterday, I’ve already been reflecting a bit on my first semester.
One thing I’ve learned in the past three months is that the first year of law school is a lot about discipline. Students spend most of the day in class and evenings in the library or other study space reading and prepping for class. But this past semester there came a point for all of us where increased discipline didn’t help–cases were too long, material got harder, our energy levels were low.
The same was true when I worked in the consulting world before school. The further anyone made it up the career ladder, the more demanding the work became. While in some cases, people can cope by being more resourceful and persuasive–which was usually my strategy–most people cope by putting in longer hours. At law school, this translates into spending more time studying and less time on other activities–exercising, friendships, and relationships. Over at Kellogg things aren’t much different, except that student schedules are jam-packed, just with networking events, socials, and team projects rather than case books.
Here at Northwestern Law, older students talk a lot about studying smart rather than hard, in hopes to get some of that time back. For some that means not actually studying until the end of the semester; for others it means reading every day to avoid pileups during the semester; for others it means not preparing for in-class discussions but instead studying for the final from day one. People spend a lot of time strategizing about how they can optimize time.
Based on my experience in my first semester of law school, I think there is similar value to strategizing about your energy level. For example, thinking about how you use social sites like Facebook, email, and g-chat might help control your mental energy or concentration levels while you’re working. Taking part in activities that have meaning or give you a sense of purpose can also affect your energy, though prioritizing which activities qualify is can be a difficult process. Additionally, getting involved in activities relatd to your future career goals can give you quite a bit of energy, since these tend to be the things that you are passionate it about. And it goes without saying that investing time in friendships and relationships can be either a drain or refill to your energy, usually the latter. For me, I spent a lot of time thinking about all three of these during the first semester, as I met a lot of new friends here at school and as I put quite a bit of time thinking about professional activities. Conversely, I didn’t spend much time thinking about technology, though I know quite a few people who did. Overall, I think my strategy worked out pretty well. Although I had my ups and downs in energy like everyone else, and was not at my best during mid-term week, I was able to maintain pretty high energy levels all semester and peaked right at the end of the year.
In a 2006 study, a group of Fortune 500 companies underwent a test where part of the group underwent self-management and energy management training. The study compared the results of the test group of companies against a control group of companies that did not. Using company-specific financial metrics (such as revenue, employee productivity, relationship management) to compare the two groups, the study showed that the organizations that invested more time in these activities were more profitable over time.
Personally, I like to think track and field runners as a good example of this concept, where top runners are not only aggressive in their training routines but also focused on managing their energy level. Through a long season of running hundreds of a miles, runners must eat the right foods, consume the right number of calories, keep stress levels reduced, and get a lot of rest right before competitions, all in addition to getting faster and eventually peaking at the end of the year.
Similarly, I think both students and professionals might be better off by spending a bit more time managing their energy levels.