Before getting to medical school, I was worried that I would not get to have any fun and I would miss out on my youth as SDN and Reddit had told me. But I can tell you, if you manage your time right, medical school is more than manageable and you can have your cake and eat it too. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
1) Plan Ahead
Sit down at the beginning of the year/semester and open up your course syllabus. If your school only gives you one course at a time, do that. If you have all your deadlines available at the beginning, input all of this into a calendar of your choice. I just use the calendar on my mac/iphone. I input ALL mandatory sessions-lectures, clinical discussions, hospital visits etc. I input ALL due dates for assignments, exams, research requirements etc. This will help to keep the big picture organized and prevent you from being blindsided by anything.
2) Weekly/Daily Gameplan
Every Sunday, sit down and plan out the week. Input all your school requirements first and how you will approach lectures and daily studying. Next input other medicine related stuff like extra-curriculars, research, shadowing etc. Next, input your personal priorities outside of school. This can be things like exercise, meal prepping, social outings, family time, dates, hobbies etc. You should be making this weekly plan every Sunday to keep yourself organized. Then everyday, take a few minutes at night and review your schedule for the next day so you know how things will go. Add things if you need to and adjust along the way as unforeseen things come up. Overtime, this habit will become automatic and you won’t have to think about it much. By doing things this way, it will save your mental capacity and willpower for more important things. You won’t constantly be thinking of what you need to do next, so this will reduce anxiety and free up time.
3) Wake Up Early
Nobody likes to leave the pillow in the morning, especially not in the winter. But waking up early, even 1-2 hours before you usually do can change the game. Even if you are not a morning person, your willpower is highest when you rise. Get up a couple hours earlier than you are used to and review that daily gameplan you made. Get to work immediately on the most taxing part of that gameplan that you really don’t feel like doing. As you work through everything, move from tasks that take the most to least willpower. Having a morning routine or a good cup of coffee to look forward to can help you get out of bed sooner. It will be tough at first but it is well worth it. Waking up early will allow you to get more done, and save you a ton of time to do what you enjoy.
4) Pomodoro Technique/Chunking
Nobody can effectively sit down and “study” all day. Most of that is sitting there staring at your screen and not actually doing anything. Work in chunks and take breaks along the way. An example of this is the pomodoro technique where you work for 25 minutes, take a break for 5 minutes and repeat for 3 cycles before taking a longer, 20 minute break. There are many apps you can use to help keep track of the time and use this technique. This is a good technique but I personally prefer chunking. Chunking is more based on tasks rather than time. For example, instead of doing 25 minutes of work, I will do 2 lectures and their flashcards then take a small break. I will continue to do this throughout the day and use small breaks, where I’ll listen to music and take a small walk around my apartment or the school depending on where I am studying.
5) Productive Breaks
When I take breaks from studying, I will try to make them productive. I love music, so I throw my headphones in and enjoy that. But while I have the music going, I’ll go do a small productive task that has nothing to do with school. For example, I’ll use a 5 minute break to wash dishes, put away laundry, make my bed etc. Small tasks that I’ll have to do anyways, but by using my small breaks to do them, I don’t have to do them later during my “fun” time. My longer breaks, will involve eating lunch, going for a coffee with friends, going to the gym or hobby etc. This allows a natural break between chunks which is very refreshing and was going to happen anyways.
6) Don’t Mix Work And Play
Everything you do, do it with 100% intensity and focus. When it is time to work, go all in and stay focused. Don’t listen to music or watch a youtube video on the side with netflix on in the background. Give all your attention to what you are doing. This will allow you to study more efficiently and for better learning while freeing up a ton of time as well. As soon as you are done working, and it is fun time, go all in on that too. Since you have effectively completed your work, there is nothing to worry about/think about, and you can just fully be in the moment with your friends and enjoy whatever you are doing.