Time Management for Pre-Meds: 4 Tips and Tricks
Kasey Isaacs is a junior at Morehead State University and is pursuing his Bachelor's degree in Biomedical Sciences, with an emphasis in Pre-Medicine. A recipient of the Atlantis Pre-med Leaders Scholarship, he spent three weeks on a Clinical Shadowing Fellowship in Milan, Italy in Summer 2017. In the following article, Kasey gives actionable tips to pre-med students struggling with time management.
As cliché as it may seem, my first week of college was truly an eye-opening experience. Entering a pre-professional biomedical track with a very fundamental (read that “basically no”) understanding of biology or chemistry was sketchy at best, but I had also made the brilliant move of scheduling calculus on top of my first biology and chemistry courses. Needless to say, I had to do a bit of soul searching—amidst fighting off a couple of panic attacks. In doing so, I discovered several helpful ways to manage my time. In order to save you stress, I’ve laid them out below. Here’s to conquering your courses!
“Taking the time to record your “TO-DOs” also paves the way for the two other key steps to effective time management: prioritizing and (not) procrastinating.”
Tip 1: Use a Planner
The first tool that transformed my college experience was the planner.
Now before you roll your eyes and wave me off, (as I did in high school when someone sang of the planner’s many virtues) hear me out. A major problem with managing the many responsibilities of college lies in our human inability to simply remember these many responsibilities off of the top of our heads. Events, dates, meetings, due dates, class times, lab periods, test dates—they all can run together and snowball into a massive pile of stress.
However, this can all be averted by simply taking the time to jot down a quick note about upcoming issues. My university produces a planner that even has the class schedule and university-wide events built-in, which I have found to be handy. Or, if you are not a fan of pen and pad, the calendar function on your phone is also helpful. As a tutor and the president of a student organization, I find this calendar to be a particularly helpful and convenient way of delineating meeting times, places, and dates.
Taking the time to record your “TO-DOs” also paves the way for the two other key steps to effective time management: prioritizing and (not) procrastinating.
Tip 2: (Do) Prioritize; (Don’t) Procrastinate!
When the responsibilities of the next week are laid out neatly before you, it becomes much easier to begin sorting through the tasks that should be handled first. In general, it is a good idea to put a high priority on that which needs to be done soon. However, this may not always be the case, depending on the circumstances. Though a number of personal prioritization methods exist, a working model known as the “Eisenhower Principle” (after Dwight D. Eisenhower) serves as an elegant task prioritization model.
This principle is also known as the Important/Urgent principle, due to the president’s assertion that he had only two types of tasks in his life: important and urgent. Important tasks are those that further our goals while urgent tasks demand immediate attention. Reviewing your planner and categorizing the duties as either important, urgent, both, or neither allows for a streamlined decision-making process that serves as an effective way in which to both efficiently and effectively approach obligations, which in turn will alleviate stress—something I know all pre-meds can use.
This prioritization, on top of further organizing one’s schedule, also provides a successful means by which to combat the mortal enemy of the college student: procrastination. Placing a numeric ranking on the tasks of the day creates a type of healthy stress (as oxymoronic as that may seem).
When you have taken the time to process the fact that a task—no matter how unpleasant it may seem—is of the highest importance for that day, it becomes much harder to ignore. Similarly, by plotting the due date along with this ranking, it becomes much more difficult to fall into the “ah, I’ve got plenty of time to get that done” trap. Instead, the ugly truth of the due date is directly in front to you, forcing you to acknowledge it, address it, and eventually conquer it.
Tip 3: Schedule Rest/Recreation
Planners serve as an efficient and effective method of managing daily duties, but incessantly marching through a list of responsibilities in neither a bright prospect nor a feasible idea. A major part of learning how to manage one’s time revolves around realizing the appropriate times for rest, relaxation, and socialization.
Sleep is a necessary part of life. Studies have shown that sleep is heavily implicated in memory formation and retention, and thus maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is key; an overworked brain is of little use when it comes to studying and learning.
There is a plethora of different opinions on the amount of sleep needed for optimal function, and though I encourage a personal literature review (should you feel so inclined), I have anecdotally noticed that the “right” amount of sleep seems entirely person-dependent. After some experimenting with sleeping patterns in college, I found that about six hours of sleep leaves me feeling well-rested without feeling groggy. However, this does not mean that such a schedule will work for you. Experiment a bit—preferably over a break as to not introduce unneeded stress in the semester—and see what works best for you.
“Studies have shown that sleep is heavily implicated in memory formation and retention, and thus maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is key.”
The benefits of relaxation and socialization are hardly unsung, and it seems fairly obvious that taking some time off and away from responsibilities is healthy—and a very alluring prospect. Ironically, the majority of time management tips I have been given throughout the years have centered around “taking time off”, “taking a break”, and “taking time for yourself”.
Though I don’t mean to denigrate relaxation and socialization as key parts of life, I do wish to point out that we, unsurprisingly, tend to gravitate toward such advice. Taking breaks is indeed key, but you may have noticed—as I have—that often you will see “study groups” that seem to take a break from relaxation to study. Again, the “right” length and number of breaks differs on a case-by-case basis, but it seems prudent to remember that an excess of breaks is simply a euphemism for procrastination.
Tip 4: Put Away Your Phone
In the modern age it seems that everything is vying for our attention, with literally infinite opportunities for distraction contained in the seemingly harmless vectors that we call our phones. Though superfluous study breaks and socialization can serve to break our focus and impede our productivity, cell phones–and the many luxuries they provide–represent the ultimate distraction. What begins as an innocent glance at Facebook or Twitter somehow turns into a three hour creep-session that leaves us feeling guilty, stressed, and oddly knowledgeable about our third cousin’s little sister’s best friend.
“Putting away your phone can help you better achieve the state of “deep work,” a term that refers to complete focus and devotion to the task at hand.”
Similarly, I think we all know the danger of looking up a term, principle, or story on Google. What begins as research for a report on Roman history can—through a long series of Wikipedia rabbit holes—find us wasting time reading about some obscure type of plant found solely in the eastern portions of Morocco.
Suffice it to say, our phones can be a dangerous distraction disguised as a powerful educational tool. Admittedly, some iron-willed souls have the power to resist the allure, but for most of us it is best to simply turn off our phones, put them on airplane mode, or place them in another room while working. This reduces temptation and enables us to better engage in that high-intensity, high-output productive state that some refer to as Deep Work, a term that refers to complete focus and devotion to the task at hand.
To sum up all of the above, here are a few action points that you can use to increase your time management skills:
- Get a planner…and use it.
- Numerically prioritize your daily duties to avoid procrastination.
- Find a sleep schedule that works for you.
- Relax and socialize, but not too much.
- Don’t try to use your phone to study; save it for breaks.