Time management is critical. Time is the most valuable resource you have as a medical student. It is also one of the most wasted of resources. Before you begin to think about the process of studying, develop a schedule. The point of the schedule is to give you a concrete idea of how to allocate the available time in the most productive manner. If you have a schedule or plan for studying, then you have a way of allocating your valuable time when the unexpected comes up.
When to study
Carving-out productive study time is key. A good rule of thumb is that studying should be carried out only when you are rested, alert, and have planned for it. Although the demands of medical school require that you exert yourself mentally in ways you never have, it is still worth discerning if you are morning or a night person. Figure out what time of day you study most efficiently and where possible, schedule your studying time for those times of day. Trying to study when you're sleepy or distracted isn't the best idea.
Making every hour count
A schedule should take into account every class, laboratory, lecture, social event, and other work in which you engage. There are givens such as classes and so on that have to be incorporated. You must focus on the other "free time" available and how you will use it. Make a weekly schedule and block off the 24-hour day in one- hour increments with 30-minute increments in early afternoon. Indicate times for classes, labs, lectures, social, and work time. Also block off a period for sleeping each day. With what is left over, plan time for study. This gives you a rough road map of the time available. Of course, you should revise your schedule as circumstances warrant. A good, well thought out schedule can be a lifesaver. It's up to you to learn how to develop a schedule that meets your needs. All schedules should be made with the idea that they can be revised. A good schedule keeps you from wandering.
Tip: If your study period is before the lecture class, be sure you have read all the assignments and made notes on what you don't understand. If the study period is after the lecture class, review the notes you took during class while the information is still fresh.
Cautionary note 1: Revising your schedule
Don't be afraid to revise your schedule. Schedules are really plans for how you intend to use your time. If your schedule doesn't work, revise it. You must understand that your schedule is to help you develop good study habits that work for you in medical school. Once you have developed them, schedule building becomes easier.
Download study plan sheet PDF
Cautionary note 2: Procrastination
Sticking to your schedule can be tough. Avoiding study is the easiest thing in the world. There are so many reasons to procrastinate. Anticipate this challenge, and devise plans to circumvent the conscious or unconscious pull to procrastinate. For example, instead of talking on the phone, watching TV or surfing the Internet as a potential procrastination tool, limit any close access to these options during study time, avoid the guilt and use these activities as breaks and rewards.
Tip: Use a program that limits your access to the Internet and email. Examples include Self Control for Macs (selfcontrolapp.com) and Freedom for PCs (macfreedon.com).
Tip: Setting a scheduled study time helps allow you to set study goals. When you've accomplished your goal, reward yourself; plan smaller breaks for smaller tasks and larger rewards for larger goals.
Time Management advice direct from a medical student:
“Be aware of how you use your time as one resource in organizing, prioritizing and succeeding in your studies.
How does your study time fit within the context of competing activities such as friends, work and family? Many things distract us. We think we are studying for an hour, but truth be told we spent 10 minutes checking our phone, 10 minutes looking at e-mails and another five minutes just thinking about other things.
Make a schedule, so you know how you spend your time. Develop a semester calendar of important dates including mid-term and final exams, holidays, as well as important social and family commitments. Each week, create a daily schedule that includes classes, study time, as well as personal time.
Be aware of upcoming exams, so you can schedule review sessions a week or so prior to the test. Specify the particular course and the work you will complete.
If you are not getting through all your class material, maybe it's time to ask what needs to be changed about your schedule.
- Are you being realistic about how long it may take you to read, take notes, or summarize material?
- Did you leave time to actually study the material?
- How long does it take foryou to become restless? Some learners need more frequent breaks for a variety of reasons
- More difficult material may also require more frequent breaks
- Place blocks of time for studying when you are most productive. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
- Prioritize assignments and reach for your worst subject at your best time of the day
- Postpone tasks or routines that can be put off until school work is finished. That means turn off your phone (not just vibrate) as well as your computer
One of the biggest challenges is balancing extracurricular activities, a job and free time with study time.
The time management and learning strategies you develop when you're in medical school will also help you as a practicing doctor!”