Time is a valuable resource. Some may think that time can be managed, but really it cannot be. Only tasks can be managed, so it is important you have skills that help you effectively and efficiently manage the many tasks you must complete in medical school.

The 3 Ps of Efficient Time Use

  • Planning
  • Procrastination
  • Priorities

Planning

Learning to 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 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. Lay out on a monthly planner all major due dates and evaluation periods. Also place on this planner the holidays, rest days and times that will be occupied by family events or other essential events. Use your priorities to help you decide what is most important.
  2. Take an intermediate view: Lay out on a weekly planner all classes, conferences, lectures, rounds or call times, 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 in the basic sciences, plan the times when you will be studying each major course. For those 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: Use a 3x5 card or a daily planning page to lay out 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 plus-1 (not effective) to a plus-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.

Procrastination

Why do you procrastinate?

  • To avoid an unpleasant task.
  • Afraid of failure.
  • Don't know where to start.
  • Waiting for more information.
  • Overcommitted.
  • Hoping it will go away or someone else will do it.

How do you overcome procrastination?

  • Realize, you do not work best under pressure.
  • Prioritize tasks.
  • Set goals.
  • Make yourself accountable.

Priorities

Rocks, pebbles, sand. Some priorities are non-negotiable. Some priorities are not constant, but negotiable. Set your priorities. The most important things are the ROCKS. They go into your schedule first. Examples of rocks may be family or school. These are the most important things in your life. They hold long-term importance and significance. Next are the pebbles and the sand. Pebbles are the things you need to do and sand is all the extras you want to do. Not only do you want to set overall priorities, but you will often need to set priorities for each day. The Urgent/Important Matrix is a great tool for helping you organize the weekly or daily to do list.