Productivity for nurturers: my [so far, so good] system for overcoming procrastination

I wasn’t always such a procrastinator.

Sure, I’d put off school projects from time to time, but I got enough pleasure out of doing a really good job that I’d usually get to work on them right away.  I liked having time to revise things.  I liked working hard.  It seemed worth it.

I dealt with the usual senior-itis, in both high school and college.  And then I worked a couple of assistant-level jobs where I, for the first time in my life, didn’t feel like the hard work was worth it.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t mesh well with some of my supervisors.  My go-get-’em approach, combined with a few errors of the “you don’t know what you don’t know” variety, made me gun shy.  I didn’t want to try and be wrong and get yelled at, again.  So I started putting things off.  It was extremely stressful.  Not only did I have to deal with the stress of being undertrained or having a boss with unrealistic expectations, I had to deal with the stress of procrastinating.  But, like most issues that involve feeling hurt, it wasn’t a rational decision.

I brought that baggage with me to law school.  I was very much “once bitten, twice shy.”   The instant I felt like I wasn’t understanding a topic as quickly as my peers, I resigned myself to being a second-rate student.  If I didn’t try my hardest, the [relative] failure felt easier to bear.  Don’t get me wrong, I graduated with honors.  I was in Law Review, and the Editor-in-Chief of a specialty journal.  I competed in moot courts.  I did well.  But I think I could have done better, if I had more confidence.

I graduated from Law School nearly two years ago.  Sheesh, that’s a long time ago.  Due to a variety of circumstances, I’m still not working.  I finished the second part of my dual degree (a Master’s in Urban Planning), I studied for and passed the New York Bar.  I waited for Alan to finish his Ph.D., and then moved with him to Connecticut, where I would need to take another bar exam.  That exam is in 10 days, and if/when I pass, I will finally be able to work as a lawyer!

And just this week, I seem to have found a work-around for my now-chronic procrastination.  The only way I can reliably get my house clean is to go on vacation.  I will work and work and work to have the house clean when I return.  I want to come home to a clean kitchen, an empty sink, a freshly made bed with clean sheets, swept floors–the works.  Inviting people over will motivate me somewhat, but going away will make the house sparkle.

Earlier this week Alan came down with a cold.  He almost certainly caught it when he was flying back from spending a week in San Francisco for a conference.  I felt the beginning of the sickness, and decided to take care of future me.  I did all the laundry and put it away, cleaned the kitchen, cleaned out the fridge, made sure I had some prepared food ready to go, gathered the appropriate over-the-counter medications, and filled the electric tea kettle.  I did this for the first time last year, when a similar pattern befell our home: Alan got sick, gave me the cold, but that time he had to leave for the long weekend to go on a job interview.  I knew I’d be home alone, and I wanted to make sure I was taken care of the only way I could: the just-coming-down-with-a-cold me took care of the full-blown-sick-me, through some ordinary time travel.

As I marveled on my ability to get the house so clean, even as I was feeling ill, I saw the connection between my pre-vacation and pre-illness behaviors.  Taking care of myself in the future prevents procrastination!

I also observed this, to a smaller extent, in a few habits I’ve recently developed.  I’ve been setting out outfits the night before, making it a no-brainer to get dressed for the gym, or for the day.  I’ve also become a devoted fan of mise en place, the practice of preparing and measuring out all the ingredients for a recipe before starting any cooking.  Both of these habits make it nicer for future-Eliza to do something easily.

So here I am, 10 days before the bar exam.  And I’ve decided to think of poor Eliza, on Tuesday, one week before the bar exam.  She’ll be stressed and tired.  What can I do for her?  I can review all the outlines in my bar preparation materials, take notes, and transfer them to one 4″x6″ card per subject.  She can carry them around for quick review.  I can read and review all the exam procedures, print off maps to the venue, and get that all set, so she doesn’t have to worry about last minute stressors.  I can also write out a flexible review schedule for the last week of studying.  In addition, I can look over some meal plans, and sign up for some classes at the gym.

I have been more productive today than I’ve been in years with this realization.  I’m definitely in the beginning stages of figuring this all out.  Perhaps I’ll take some time every week to ask myself: what can I do this week to make things easier/better for me, one week from now?  It’s not that different than deciding what I’d like to get done in the following week, in theory.  But in practice, personalizing it, empathizing with who I will be ____________ [when I get back from vacation, when I am in the throes of this cold, when I am a week out from the bar exam, when I’m looking back on this week] makes all the difference.



New House + Catching Up + CT Bar Exam

Hi all–

As you can probably tell from the photos, we’ve moved into the new house.  Things are still very much in process.  There are boxes in at least half of the rooms, and so, so much wallpaper to remove.

The CT Bar exam is in less than two weeks, and I have been having the hardest time studying.  On the one hand, studying has been great.  Every time I sit down to write a practice essay, my answers are more or less the same as the sample answer.  Which is wonderful!  Except it invariably prompts me to say: “I know this stuff!” and then close my books for a week or two.  I keep hoping that as the deadline approaches I will feel more motivation (panic!), but I don’t.  I really thought two weeks would scare me.  But it hasn’t.  So it looks like I need to just do it, not to wait for inspiration to strike.

On that note, this will be a short post.  I will keep linking to my instagram pictures.  I think it helps keep the blog up to date without taking a lot of time or energy.  Expect to continue to see a few pictures a week.  After the bar, I’ll try to write more about the house and other fun projects and activities we try out.

Take care!

the other side

One week ago I was on the subway in Buffalo, headed for day two of the Bar Exam.  My days were long:

5:45-wake up

6:10-drive to Buffalo

7:20-arrive at UB South Campus, walk to subway station

7:30-catch train downtown

7:55-arrive downtown, stand in line at the convention center

8:35-finally get to the door, go through security

8:45-get to my seat

9:00-start the morning session of the exam


1:45-start the afternoon session of the exam

4:45-travel home the same way: subway, drive

6:15-finally arrive home

The exam was grueling.  Monday was the New York day: 5 essays from a possible 20 subject areas (most essays test more than one area), 50 multiple choice questions highlighting New York distinctions from the common law, and one Multistate Performance Test.  The MPT is legal practice question.  You are given an assignment by a fictitious senior attorney along with some facts (affidavits, police reports) and law (statutes, precedent cases), and you must complete the task according to the law given, not your own knowledge.

Tuesday was the Multistate Bar Examination, which is given in almost every state* and covers the common law in six subjects: 1. constitutional law, 2. criminal law and procedure, 3. contracts, 4. torts, 5. real property, and 6. evidence.  It is a 200 question multiple choice test with 100 questions in the morning and 100 in the afternoon.  Each question is a short fact pattern (1-5 paragraphs) followed by a legal question.  The answers are almost always split into two “yes, because—” and two “no, because—” answers.  So you not only need to know which way the law goes, but why.  In practicing for the bar I would [too] often get the right answer but for the wrong reason, which is still wrong :/

Here is an example of an MBE question**:

Five years ago, a residential parcel of land was conveyed by warranty deed to a man and a woman “as joint tenants with right of survivorship.” The language of the deed was sufficient to create a common law joint tenancy with right of survivorship, which is unmodified by statute. The deed was promptly and properly recorded.

Three years ago, the man and the woman married each other. Last year, they divorced. The final divorce decree did not contain a specific provision concerning the legal title to the land. Subsequently, the man died intestate, leaving his nephew as his sole heir.

Who owns the land?

(A) The woman alone, because of the divorce.

(B) The woman alone, because she survived the man.

(C) The woman and the nephew, because of the doctrine of estoppel by deed.

(D) The woman and the nephew, because unmarried individuals cannot hold title as joint tenants with right of survivorship.

I had practiced hundreds of MBE questions, but rarely worked through 200 in a day, so I was pretty exhausted by the end of the second day.  Around question 172 I was having a hard time concentrating.  The last 28 questions felt as hard as the first 100!
Thursday I slept in until 11:00, and then promptly got sick.  I wasn’t surprised—that sort of rigorous activity tends to lower my immune system, and I’m vulnerable to even the weakest germs.  But by Thursday night I was keeping food down and feeling better, but still tired.
Friday I slept in, but only until 9:30.  Then I helped Alan get some last minute camping supplies, and dropped him off to go camping with some guys from church in the Adirondacks for the weekend.
photo credit: Joshua Hoiland
While Alan was roughing it, I joined my parents at my grandmother’s cottage on Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  It was a quiet, relaxing weekend, which I so needed.My sister-in-law is at the cottage now, with my four month old niece.  I was hoping Alan and I could drive down for a day this week, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to.  Alan’s preparing for a conference that will be held at the University of Rochester in a few weeks.  He has to complete his work soon, because we’re headed to Utah next week to visit his parents and do some hiking!

It’s weird to be on the other side of the bar.  Law school was such a big “thing,” and it seems unreal that it’s just over.  When people congratulated me on graduating from law school, I told them all the same thing: graduating from law school is the most anti-climactic thing ever.  As soon as you graduate, you start studying for this huge exam.  If you can’t pass the bar exam, graduating from law school doesn’t mean much.***

So now I feel the weight of having graduated from law school AND taken the bar exam.  It’s pretty cool.****

*except Louisiana, which is based on a civil law system, and Washington state

**The answer is (B).  This is a fairly simple question: you have to know that joint tenancies include “survivorship,” which means that if one joint tenant dies, his share in the property goes to the other owner(s), not to his heirs.  The stuff about marriage and divorce are just distracters.

***There are jobs for people with law degrees who haven’t passed the bar, but it’s not quite the same.

****It’ll be cooler if I pass and don’t have to take the exam again in February!



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the final countdown

The NY Bar exam is next Tuesday.  A week from tomorrow.  Seven days from now.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.  Last week I felt like there was no way I could possibly pass.  Now I feel like I can pass, but I still don’t feel super-confident.

There’s a lot to know.  I’ve been studying a lot.  There’s still a lot I don’t know.   I’m in high gear these days, and procrastination tendencies are low.  The stress encourages productivity, which is a good thing.

Keep me in your prayers next Tuesday (July 24) and Wednesday (July 25): for safe travels to Buffalo, that no small details (pencils, bathroom breaks) would distract me, that the things I studied would be fresh in my mind, that I would feel calm and collected, and that I would do well.

Many thanks :)




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summer 2012

This summer I am studying for the New York Bar and Alan is running experiments. I graduated from law school a month ago. Alan is working to finish his PhD by December.

Posts have been light: this last semester was a bear for me. I tried to do April’s 30 Days of Biking, but weather and scheduling made it pretty inconvenient. I love the Public bike that Alan bought me as a graduation present. It is the white mixte you see in my biking pics.

Speaking of pictures, I upgraded my iPod touch to a 4th generation, which has a camera. I have been enjoying instagram. It’s very convenient to click a quick pic and upload it to the blog. I make no promises about posts this summer (passing the bar is my #1 priority!!), but I will likely continue to post pictures of bike rides, my vegetable garden, special events, and, of course, the cats.



Did you find a typo in the post?  Let me know here.