What are some good ways to stay organized and productive before and during med school?
The life of a med student is pretty hectic; as are the lives of pre-meds as they work their hardest to improve their resume and get accepted into a good school. Some days it seems overwhelming to keep everything straight and to get everything done to the best of our abilities. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day! I have some tips to share with you that will hopefully help you maximize your time and make your life somewhat easier.
The schedule of a premed student is quite different from that of a med student, so I’ve separated my organizational tips into two groups:
- Fill out the Pre-Med Action Plan that I posted on my blog. I included a PDF document of the action plan that you can download for FREE to keep track of your progress.
- Work on this throughout your program, but update it often!
- Invest in a student planner or use an electronic organizer. This is an obvious tip, but as a pre-med student, there are important ways that you should be using your planner/organizer.
- If you are currently taking classes, enter the dates of your exams into your planner. Then, in the notes section of each week, write a note of upcoming exams, projects, and assignments. It’s convenient to have little reminders each week to maximize and prioritize your study time.
- Block out times for daily activities including classes, volunteering, internships, work, mealtimes, study times, and relaxation times.
- Stick to your schedule. After a month or so it will become a habit, and it won’t seem so weird to plan out your entire life.
- Use your planner to write down your assignments! Block out time each day to work on them.
- Prioritize. Work on whatever is due first. It sounds like common sense, but sometimes people fall into the trap of doing something that they find is easier or more interesting first, and then they run out of time for a difficult or less interesting assignment that they should have began with first and gotten out of the way. Running out of time and rushing to complete it means that it’s not going to be your best work, and can affect your grade negatively!
- If you don’t have time to finish an entire project today, don’t put it off to tomorrow where you think you can complete the entire thing. At least get started on something, and then pick it up again when you have more time. You never know; it might take longer to complete than you think!
- Use your planner to write down ideas that you have for an assignment. Write down your ideas right away, and give it some serious thought. That way when you go to work on it later, you’ll have somewhere to start, and you won’t be staring at a blank page and wasting good study time.
- Visit the free tutoring centers on your campus. If you are struggling with an assignment or am upcoming exam, make a visit to your university’s tutoring center. Most universities have a writing lab, a math lab, and various science labs to help students. Most of the people who work in these centers on my campus are grad students and are an amazing source of information. They can give you good study tips, and point out if you’re doing something wrong (and what it is). This can increase your productivity by studying smarter. This is a skill you will take with you into medical school!
- Visit your school’s premed advising centers. Ask them what opportunities are available for premed students, and ask them if they have a mentorship program. A lot of universities are introducing mentorship programs in various departments, and they can be extremely helpful in guiding you through your program.
- Attend workshops through the premed department at your university. If you are more informed on what you could be doing to help your application, you will be able to accomplish all of your extra curricular work on time, and you won’t have any mistakes on your application (every premed students’ nightmare).
- Time management: This is the most important thing for med students, as I’m sure that many of you all already know. Managing what little precious free time you have can be a challenge; but also a necessity.
- Because there is so little time available, it’s important to develop a strict schedule. This is difficult for some people who like to be more spontaneous, but being spontaneous is not the greatest way to approach studying for med school. It’s best to try to get used to a regular schedule for a while.
- It sounds ridiculous, but take the number of hours each week/day and plan out the amount of hours you spend in the classroom, the clinic, studying, going to the gym, cooking, eating, sleeping (seriously, add sleep into your schedule; the most important thing!), and whatever else you need in your daily schedule. Seriously. Write down the numbers.
- Use a student planner or an electronic organizer. This is an obvious tip, but as a med student, there are important ways that you should be using your planner.
- Use your planner/organizer to write down what you should be doing at what times throughout the day. Then stick to it.
- Use the hours that you came up with above to plan out your daily schedule.
- Go to bed on time. Wake up on time. Eat breakfast. Set a timer for wasting time on Pinterest and Reddit. Seriously!
- Try to take some time for yourself each day. After you’ve been working and studying all day, give yourself some time to relax. Factor that time into your schedule!
- Eat healthy and on time, get enough sleep, go to bed on time, wake up on time, and go to the gym or exercise every day. You have to take care of your health and wellness so you don’t burn out. You won’t learn as effectively if you haven’t slept or eaten properly. This is the biggest problem with med students; not taking care of themselves like they need to.
- Synch your devices: It’s helpful if you can view your calendar on any device you are using. iCalendar and Google Calendar work well for this. It’s helpful to be able to see your schedule no matter where you are.
*An important note for both premed and med students: Be sure to factor in some relaxation time for yourself.
Getting some R&R is necessary because it’s so easy to get burnt out, but it’s also important not to overindulge and waste an entire day without doing anything productive at all. If you take an entire day off being lazy, it’s easy to be lazy on a second, a third, a fourth, etc.. So on your off days, do something small; for 30 minutes or less. Simply read some notes or from a textbook before you go to bed or whenever you have quiet time during the day, watch a health related documentary, or a few short school related videos on YouTube.
You can use this time to keep your brain fresh on some new material you just learned, but most importantly it eliminates the opportunity of that self-defeating laziness and lack of motivation to set in, and for it to spiral out of control for days. It prevents you from getting behind. You have to approach med school as part of your life in order to succeed.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to the beach for a day on the weekend, or to not go out for dinner with your friends. I’m simply saying that while you’re at the beach, take a textbook with you, and while you break from swimming to have lunch, read for a few minutes while you let your stomach digest before you go back to swimming. Or if you go out with your friends, don’t come home after drinking so many glasses of wine that you can’t read a section of notes before bed.
It’s all about balance. Doing this should keep you on track and motivated. Good luck!