Time Management Skills

Time is a resource that must be managed in a forward-looking way. It is not like money that you can put in a bank and use at a later time. You must be prepared to use it when the available time arrives. Planning is very important in managing medical school, especially if you want a learning reaction that produces a maximum yield of learning, and still have some time left over for life, and perhaps for your family. Actually, learning to manage time so that you can get your work done at the level of quality that you desire is an essential skill to learn in medical school so that your practice of medicine can be productive and satisfying while allowing time for other important activities with family, friends, or simply to pursue your own interests. No one really wants to work any harder than necessary to get the results they want. Sir William Osler said essentially the same thing to medical students back in 1892. Here are some hints to help you get a handle on the clock.

  1. Take a long view: Courses in medical school run for a prescribed period of time. Presently, basic science courses are a semester in length while clinical clerkships are 4 weeks or 8 weeks in length. Lay out on a monthly planner the dates of all major due dates and evaluation periods. Also place on this planner the holidays, recess days and times that will be occupied by family events or other essential events.
  2. Take an intermediate view: Lay out on a weekly planner all classes, conferences, lectures, rounds, call times, or whatever so that the time available outside of scheduled activities is obvious for each day of the week. Mark out some time for yourself. If you have a family, plan some time with your spouse and kids. For those of you in the basic sciences, plan the times when you will be studying each major course. For those of you in the clinics, the task is more complicated. You will need to plan time when you can read about your patients during the day, and, during other free time, to begin to read about diseases for which you will be responsible.
  3. Take a day view: List on a 3" by 5" card your plans for each hour of each day so that your weekly obligations can be met, including reasonable obligations to yourself and/or your family. It is important to keep some balance and support in your life. Now is the time to prioritize by giving yourself more time to do the high priority stuff. One task will be to figure out when and how you learn best. The "when" is important since all humans go through diurnal variations in energy levels and the ability to concentrate. The "how" is important since the proper "how to learn" will also be the most efficient way to learn in each learning experience. Remember that good learning involves planning your approach and the use of proven learning tactics/study skills. You might try grading the effectiveness of each study period on a +1 (not effective) to a +4 (very effective) scale. Over time you will gain a sense of what times and methods of study are the most effective for you. You will also need to experiment with the amount of time that you study outside of class. There is no magic number here. The answer is getting the maximum yield of learning while maintaining a reasonable balance in life.
  4. Some caveats of time management are:
    • Do not create artificial "jet lag" in yourself by keeping a reasonable schedule during the week and then completely blowing the schedule during the weekend. Artificial jet lag is caused when students stay up until the early mornings hours on Saturday, sleep most of the day on Saturday, stay up until the early morning hours on Sunday, and sleep most of the day on Sunday. Disruption of psychological and physiological rhythms occurs with that kind of schedule.
    • It is important to develop a routine, but it is also important to keep a flexible attitude about how you use time. You may not finish a task in the time allotted, or you may finish sooner than anticipated. Things may come up that you can not predict. When you use an effective time management plan with built-in flexibility, your stress level will decrease. When your plan is too rigid and you worry about being off schedule, your stress levels will increase.
    • Stress management is an essential part of a time management plan. Learning to manage stress is actually "preventive medicine" for both your physical and mental health.
    • Learn to use "nooks and crannies" of time. If you can salvage ten minutes an hour, you can basically add an extra day to your week. Ten minute study periods are excellent for a quick reinforcement of some principle or concept that will move the information from short term to long term memory.
    • The Counseling and Educational Support Services staff can assist you with time management problems.

Last modified: Aug 13, 2012
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