Caroline Reppert ’17 interned at the National Women’s Law Center, Washington, D.C.

Since graduating from Hamilton, I’ve been taking some time off from academia to study for the LSAT.  Having been in a competitive academic for all but my infant years, it is extraordinarily refreshing to take a step back and experience life without school looming over my head 24/7. That said, working on a long-term project in an unstructured environment has presented its own set of challenges.  Whether you’re working on a project from a home office or studying for the LSAT yourself, here are some things I’ve learned along the way.  

1. Have separate work and living spaces

I know it’s tempting to curl up on the couch with your laptop and a cup of tea, but more than likely, Netflix will magically appear and you’ll watch an episode (or three) of your favorite show instead of checking off items on your to-do list.  To avoid such a situation, designate a work-space so that you know when you sit down, you are there to work, not to relax.  Whether this be your kitchen table or a local coffee shop, set aside a space that isn’t your couch or bed to get work done.  From my experience, this will also help you keep a normal work schedule and deter you from working at odd hours and on weekends.

2. Don’t settle, even if that means extra time and effort

I first took the LSAT in September and could have used my scores from that test to apply to law school.  But when I was preparing, I had consistently done better on practice tests.  So instead of settling for my first score and avoiding another round of studying, I decided to retake the test this December.  While it would have been significantly easier to just accept my first score, I knew that I was capable of more.  Not settling can be particularly difficult in an unstructured environment, where you don’t have a professor or boss telling you to keep pushing.  But know what you are capable of and don’t be afraid to keep pushing until you reach that.  You are already dedicated a significant amount of time and energy to whatever project you are working on, so don’t give in early just for the sake of having that project done and over-with.   

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3. Listen to your body

While this is a topic that has been the subject of a lot recent conversations, it is particularly important to keep in mind when you are working on a long-term project in an unstructured environment.  It may be tempting to procrastinate and then work 24/7 in the run-up to your deadline, but this will do both your physical and mental health no favors.  Instead, work a little each day, but reserve the right to take a break when your body tells you it needs one.  If your usual cup (or two) of coffee isn’t doing the trick and you are starting to feel a cold coming on, take the afternoon off and get some rest.  If you are constantly distracted and can’t bare the sight of your project for another moment, take the evening to grab dinner with some friends and start fresh the next morning.  While it’s important to work hard throughout the process (not just at the end), make sure you are listening to your body and its needs both to ensure you stay healthy and to avoid burnout.

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