The first part of this series on how to increase your productivity in medical school was of one the easiest to write for me. I’m constantly looking for tricks and techniques to get more done with less and so I’m going to share some more.
Below are additional tools that have helped me to make better use of my time. Hopefully, these tips will help increase your productivity in medical school as well.
Parkinson’s Law in Medical School:
This was mentioned in my first ever post about succeeding in medical school. I can’t recall when I first came across this advice, but it’s been essential in everything I now do.
As a reminder, Parkinson’s Law states that work fills the time that we assign to it. If you allow yourself 3 hours for a task, you will take about 3 hours to complete it.
On the other hand, if you only give yourself and hour and a half, then the task will be completed in that time frame.
Our brains are remarkable in making even the simplest tasks become complex. Parkinson’s Law prevents us from falling into this trap by purposely giving us less time to complete something.
The effects are amazing. With the limited time, not only do you force yourself to focus on what matters, but you avoid concerning yourself with the tiny details.
For example, one of the more popular posts on this blog was about my study schedule. I mentioned how, on average, I study no more than 5 hours a day. Yes, this number increases when exams are on the horizon, but on a typical day, I try to only allow myself only 5 hours.
Using Parkinson’s law, I’m forced to ask myself which study method allows me the best understanding of the material. Through trial and error, I learned that Practice questions and flashcards to be the most impactful.
So what do I fill my 5 hours with? Practice questions and flashcards!
Now your ideal technique will vary, but the concept is the same. Try to spend the most time doing what works the best. This concept works for all kinds of tasks – studying, research, personal projects, etc.
Choose High Impact Priorities:
This goes hand in hand with Parkinson’s’ Law, but it’s important enough to be its own tip.
Think, for a moment, about a day where you overloaded your to-do list. You find yourself with 10+ items, with a combination of some high priority items and some things that you’ve put off for a while (like laundry?).
By the end of the day, you’re disappointed to find out that you truly only completed one important task and maybe a few easy house chores. At the time you felt productive, but you then realized that the most important tasks were still left undone.
I’ve done this many times, and honestly, I was fed up with this feeling of false productivity. Then, through reading some articles (using my Pocket app), I came across advice to ignore the small tasks and focus on the more impactful ones.
So the next few days I started to make a list of only the top 4-5 things I had to do. Below is an example of my to-do list I had this past Saturday:
1. Review Lectures 17-20 in the morning
2. Outline the results and discussion sections of my research paper
3. Review lectures 21-25 in the evening
4. Do 50 Practice Questions (25 at a time)
As you can see I didn’t add any small house chores or emails that I needed to send out. I typically include these on a separate list and tackle them at the beginning of my breaks. I don’t consider these tasks, however, as high impact and thus I don’t feel more productive doing them. Let’s being honest, sending those emails or doing our laundry may be necessary, but they rarely require much effort.
I also like to point out that some days you won’t complete all the things on your list. If I don’t get to the last items on my list I will just make the first thing for the next day.
I recommend you try this if you often have a to-do list which becomes a task in itself to read. Sometimes short and simple makes a big difference to increase your productivity in medical school.
Schedule During Peak Hours:
This advice is nothing new – work when you are the most efficient.
As med students, however, we try to fit our schedules until they’re full. This leads to us falling short on our to-do lists, but also leads to fatigue day in and day out.
I’d recommend that you select the hours you work best and aim to be productive then. For example, I’m the most productive from 7-12 and 3-6. I’m often tired and unfocused outside of these hours, and so I don’t attempt to do my high impact tasks then.
Instead, these hours are perfect for the smaller tasks such as emails. If I’ve completed everything, I love using this time for a nap!
Identify when you’re the most efficient and energized. Then use Parkinson’s Law with your high impact tasks during these times to increase your productivity in medical school. You’ll find that you’re completing your to-do list more often than not.
Pomodoro Technique in Medical School:
What’s the ideal time we should work without a break? Some often refer to the 50 minutes on 10 minute off rule, and some suggest a different method.
By now you should know how long you can work with complete focus. You also know how long of a break you need before you can attack your tasks again.
This is where Pomodoro comes in. It’s an app which, by default, is set to 25 mins of work and 5 mins of a break. You can add it to your phone or computer and have it running when you’re working on a task. Once the 25 minutes are over you allow yourself a break. Use this time to stand up, walk around, and energize yourself.
I know that 25 mins on and 5 minutes off may not be ideal for some of you. You can change this on the app or use a different timer if this is the case.
I turn to Pomodoro when I have a long day of studying in front of me. It provides a structure of when to work and when to take breaks. I find myself getting more done, but also feel more rested towards the end.
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If you’re a first or second-year medical student wanting guidance on how to succeed in medical school, read my book, The Preclinical Guide. I provide all the tips I wish I knew day one of medical school. Check out the book here.
Until next time…