The pre-med’s guide to time management
Exams, homework, research, volunteering, shadowing , MCAT.. There are so many things that you are supposed to be doing as a premed! How will you ever be able to have time to do all that? And on top of that be able to go out with your friends and still maintain a social life? The answer to that is, you must master the art of making the most out of your time. Time management.
I’m sure that you would love to go out and see that new movie with all of your friends, go kick the soccer ball around, play videogames with your buddies, or whatever it is you like to do much more than sit inside and study. Part of becoming a doctor means that you will have to make sacrifices in order to make your dream a reality. If becoming a doctor was that easy, then everyone would do it! So try to take pride and enjoy the fact that you are going to have to work really hard to become a doctor! It is the hard work and dedication required that makes it so rewarding to get into medical school.
With that being said, you will definitely have to learn how to manage your time well! Juggling exams, extracurriculars, MCAT, and everything else you want to do is no easy task! But it can definitely be done. For all of you who are worried that you won’t have time to do anything, that is simply not true! You will have time to do what you want to do and STILL make good grades and all the things you need to do to get into medical school.
Time management is a skill that transcends just being a pre-med, it actually is something which will improve your entire life and be essential to your career as a physician. Time management is all about utilizing your time efficiently and planning things out ahead. Alright lets get on to the guide!
Before we start there are a few things you must abide by in order to be successful with time management:
– You must stick to your planned schedule
– You must be honest with yourself about how much time certain activities will take you
It is crucial that you must stick to the schedule you plan, this sounds obvious. But lots of people will plan out a schedule and then when they get new plans they will change it. So this means that when your friend asks you if you want to hangout on saturday, and you have already planned a few things you should try to work that around your schedule and not make your schedule fit their plans. If you are able to move what you planned to a new day and it won’t impede your ability to get it done. Then that is fine. But more often then not, it is better to stick with your plan and commit to it. Hanging out with friends or something more fun should not have priority over getting the things you need done completed. It is always better to finish what you need to do FIRST, that way you can enjoy whatever it is you want to do. Nothing is worse than trying to have fun but knowing you should be doing something else. So when in doubt do what needs to be done before other things.
Another essential component to being able to manage your time well is to simply be honest with yourself about how much time it will take you to do certain things. We all like to think that we can study for that exam in one hour long session, but most often we will need to commit more time to our studies than that if we want to make an A. So when making your schedule and trying to manage your time, give yourself an honest evaluation of how long you will need. Remember, you are trying to help yourself! So there is no shame in taking an extra hour or two to get it done properly.
Now that we got that out of the way let me share with you some important tips for managing your time:
– Prioritize your most urgent and important activities
– Sleep is important!
– Put in scheduled time for relaxing and healthy activities
– Have a note on your computer that has all your homework and school information on it
– Split studying up into multiple short sessions instead of one long session
– Always make sure that leave yourself extra time to work with
– Don’t run yourself too thin
Prioritization: This seems like an obvious point, but it is one that alot of people don’t do properly. Often we are so busy with so many different assignments and things to do its difficult to know which one we should give attention to. Should we first get the quick and easy assignments out of the way and then do that long paper? The answer is not always so simple. My experience has been that I do better when I first get the quick and easy assignments done first. This lets me not have to worry about them when I’m trying to do my big assignments. By having done the quick assignments first, I can focus my full attention on my more important assignments. But if it is last minute and you only have time for one assignement, you will always choose the one that’s more important. So when it comes to managing your time, it is important to consider what has priority over something else. Priority is based on how important it is, when it is due (or when the exam is), and how long it will take you to do it. The more important, the sooner it is, and the longer it takes all increase its priority.
Sleep: This is something alot of people don’t talk about when giving advice on time management. I think this is a really important factor that is often never given any consideration. Sleep is so crucial to your success in making good grades that you cannot afford to not consider it. As a premed you will often find yourself doing anything for more sleep! And honestly sleep is my biggest complaint about being a premed, not having enough sleep makes life much more difficult. Getting more sleep can actually make the difference between making a B or an A in a class. So it is critical to consider it when making your plans. Always plan your schedules around sleep, ensuring that you get enough sleep to be at your best. When making your schedule, give yourself enough time for sleep. This is the most important activity you can put into yours schedule.
Plan out relax time and healthy activities: While this might not seem necessary for a premed, it actually makes a HUGE difference. You will be studying for exams, doing homework, volunteering, etc.. which basically means you will be burnt out! This can have serious effects on your health. You will be mentally exhausted from everything, so you need to give your mind time to cool down and relax. Take a break and go enjoy yourself. Also you will be sitting for alot of the day, your body needs some exercise. Exercise can even benefit your grades. So try not to forget to give your body time to relax and time to get it moving!
Have a note with your assignments on it: This is a REALLY handy way to keep track of what you need to do. You basically make a simple note on your computer where you put your classes and homework on it. You can also include anything else you need to do on it. I use the application stickies for the mac. And I keep this note open all the time on my desktop, and frequently refer back to it to make sure I get my assignments done. The reason this is so useful is that it is on your computer, so if you use your computer alot you can never forget your assignments. Just keep it open on your desktop so that you constantly see it, and are reminded of it.
You can see that I have my classes and homework on it. And I also put in a note to get research from one of my professors. Simple but effective.
Split studying into multiple short sessions: It is always better and more effective to have several short sessions than one long session. The way our brain learns is through repeated exposure to information. Not cramming it. Check out my article here where I talk about spaced repetition and how to use it to improve your grades. When planning your schedule , try to plan for 2-3 study sessions instead of one long cramming session!
Leave yourself extra time to work with: It is really important to leave yourself some extra time to work with. Things don’t always go according to plan, life happens. So thats why you should always give yourself a little leeway when making your plans. For example if you are supposed to be somewhere, account for the time you will take driving there and back PLUS potential traffic. Also try to leave room in your schedule where nothing is planned, this way if you need it you can use that time for something you weren’t able to complete before. Always leave yourself some leeway in your schedule, don’t pack everything back to back if possible.
Don’t run yourself thin: This goes with the previous point. Do NOT make your schedule too overbearing, you need to give yourself time to relax and unscheduled time. If you overload yourself with too much you will quickly burn out. You also don’t want to be too laxed about your schedule. You have to make sure you get everything you need done. The key is to find balance.
Making it practical:
I like to try and make things practical for you, so you can know exactly how to use this to help yourself! So here is a quick example of how to put everything together. I will go ahead and show you an example day and why I do what I do.
Let’s assume that I have class from 8 am- 2 pm. And the things I want to get done are: prepare for a genetics test, do a lab report, and go hit the gym.
7:00am: Wake up, eat breakfast. Head to school.
2:30-3:00pm: Study for genetics test (Its a good idea to study right after classes)
3:30-4:00pm: Work on lab report (Small break in between. Switching things up)
4:30-5:30 pm: Go to the gym (Now is a good time to go the gym, I just finished studying and need to give my mind a break)
7:00-7:45pm: Study for genetics test again (Remember to break studying into multiple sessions)
8:00-8:30pm: Relax, watch netflix (notice how I put relax time after studying. Once again to give my brain time to cool off and let what I learn sink in)
8:30-9:30: Work on lab report (Giving my self plenty of time to work with. Lots of leeway)
10:00pm: Review genetics again
11:00pm: Head to sleep (Remember sleep needs to be accounted for!)
*Note that these are relative times, you want to just give yourself an idea about how you will spend your time.
– Notice how I give myself some leeway between scheduled events.
– Notice how I split studying up into 3 short sessions and I give myself time to relax in between . Always give yourself time to relax so you don’t get too overloaded
– Also notice how I am giving myself extra time to work with. This allows my schedule to be solid but also flexible.
– Make sure you don’t run yourself thin.
These are my tips for managing your time! The key is to create a schedule you know will work for YOU. You know your own habits. So be honest with yourself, don’t try to force a schedule that you know you can’t keep up with. Remember, that this is only a vague schedule it is not set in stone. You want to give yourself an idea of how you will spend your day and then do your very best to stick to it. And when coming up with your game plan for managing your time, make sure to consider all of the tips I gave you. With that you will be a time managing boss! You will have time to fight crime, hit the gym, hang out with friends, do your extracurriculars, and get good grades!
Let me know what tips you have for managing your time in the comments below!
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