Keys to Being Productive in Medical School- Part 1

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The ultimate goal in any setting, especially medical school, is figuring out how to do more with less. As med students, we’re constantly finding ourselves having to prioritize multiple tasks at once, all with seemingly similar deadlines. This leads to a lot of anxiety for both new and veteran medical students.

So how do we go from students who are routinely stuck “drinking out of a firehose” to those who consistently conquer their day? The topic of productivity is one I really enjoy talking about. To avoid making this article too long, I’ve decided to split my tips into at least two parts.

Below are a few tips I use daily to be productive in medical school. 

1. Make Brief and Focused To-Do Lists

Tell me if this sounds familiar: Your daily to-do list is a checklist consisting of studying, reading, attending class, watching the lecture, working out, some house-related chores, a few emails you need to send, making dinner, and perhaps a side project.

What’s wrong with this form of planning? Now while such a method does work they fail in creating a structure for your day.

Why does this matter? Think back to the last time you felt extremely motivated to be productive. in medical school.You were probably excited to seize that day (and ideally the days following), but you also had an idea of how your day would go.

Going back to our typical daily planning, this method fails to create any excitement about the day. Instead, it just manages to highlight tasks that we’re not interested in doing anyway.

Power of Brief To-Do Lists:

The cure? Stray away from generic descriptions of what you will do. Instead, make your to-do list be both specific and short. I recommend choosing 5 specific tasks that you would like to accomplish.

For example, here are my five tasks for today. (keep in mind that I have an exam in 2 days)

1. Finish pass through the second half of the syllabus

2. Release blog posts on how to be productive in medical school. Release multiple parts

3. Watch lecture and do Anki cards for the lectures

4. Do 50 practice questions through online resources, tutor slides, and Kaplan

5. Read for an hour (My current 20-day challenge)

I know a boring to-do list but did you really expect anything else out of a medical student? 🙂 

The reason the condensed to-do list works is because it seems both manageable and impactful. In addition, only selecting five tasks requires you to prioritize and avoids any issue of overbooking yourself.

So next time you make a daily to-do list, make sure the list is specific, interesting, and brief. These smaller to-do lists should help you become more productive in medical school.

2. Schedule Your Tasks Into a Calendar:

Before I developed my current method on being efficient, I would have a mixture of my level of productivity and the methods that I was using. Some days I was writing down my daily task in a checklist form. On other days I would add them into a calendar.

My most productive days were associated with the latter method. Why? Every task now had a time stamp dedicated to it and thus allowed me to approach the day with a plan.

Here’s an example for my calendar for tomorrow:


Each task on my to-do list has a time for tomorrow. Thus, when I wake up, I know exactly when and what I’ll be doing.

You can use a physical calendar if you wish – here is the one I currently use. It allows me to list my top few priorities and works great with this method. I also prefer Google Calendar to schedule my day. Regardless try to schedule in your specific tasks for your tomorrow using some form of a calendar to become more productive in medical school.

3. Overestimate, Overestimate, Overestimate:

A common issue which interferes with productivity is underestimating how long it’ll take.

For instance, instead of an hour that you planned, that lecture ends up taking an extra 30 minutes. You may think you can compensate for time lost, but all it takes is one or two more underestimations for your to-do list to be blown out of the water.

To minimize the number of times a specific task destroys your daily productivity, simply add 15 minutes before and 30 minutes after each task.

The 15 minutes allows time to actually begin your task. Let’s be honest, when we plan to study from 10-12, we rarely actually start at 10. With the 15 minutes, you will have a time buffer to get your resources together, become focused, and avoid extensive overlaps between back to back tasks.

The 30 minutes are important to avoid any underestimations I discussed above.

These buffer zones grant you the piece of mind to be able to schedule two task consecutively on your calendar.

In addition, there will be days where you finish your task on time or before you anticipated! This extra time is great to either take a break or begin with your next task.

Hope you enjoyed the first few tips on being more productive in medical school! I have plenty of more and I will release them gradually! I’d love to hear what tips you may have to be more productive so comment below!

Whenever you’re ready, there are 4 ways I can help you:

1. The Med School Handbook:  Join thousands of other students who have taken advantage of the hundreds of FREE tips & strategies I wish I were given on the first day of medical school to crush it with less stress. 

2. The Med School BlueprintJoin the hundreds of students who have used our A-Z blueprint and playbook for EVERY phase of the medical journey so you can start to see grades like these. 

3. Med Ignite Study ProgramGet personalized help to create the perfect study system for yourself so you can see better grades ASAP on your medical journey & see results like these. 

4. Learn the one study strategy that saved my grades in medical school here (viewed by more than a million students like you). 

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Until next time, my friend…

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