To Succeed In Med School, Strong Time Management Skills Are Essential

I am often asked, by parents and students alike, to talk about the most important skills for success in medical school.  While there are a number of skills that are critical, nothing is more important than the ability to effectively manage your time.  Between academics, lab work, volunteer hours, and other requirements, medical school is guaranteed to have you wishing that there were thirty hours in a day instead of twenty-four.  Often, the ability to make the most of the limited time in each day is the difference between success and failure for students who may be equal in all other respects.  Specifically, here are some of the best practices I recommend to all of my students when it comes to managing their time:

1) Learn to prioritize. One of the toughest lessons to learn in medical school is that you simply don’t have the time to do everything you’d like to do each day.  That is why it is critical to prioritize your tasks on a daily basis and start working from the top.  That way, on the days when you cannot get through your to-do list, you’ve at least taken care of the most important tasks.

2) Identify wasted time. Where are you using time inefficiently?  For instance, maybe you spend two hours on classwork in the early afternoon, but you realize that you never seem to get much done.  Consider shifting your schedule so that you do the work later or earlier in the day, and see if you become more efficient.  Or maybe you will realize that the time you are supposed to spend researching turns into Facebook time.  If that’s the case, force yourself to stay off Facebook until the work is done!

3) Create routines. The best way to efficiently manage your time is by creating a routine.  Your body will get into a groove, both mentally and physically, as you repeat the same process on a daily basis.  As you become more efficient, you will discover that your routine is saving you time throughout the day—time you can spend relaxing, socializing, or however else you’d like. 

4) Don’t let your quest for perfection bring you down. Most med school students have been great students all of their lives, and are used to doing fantastic work on a regular basis.  That’s great, and that shouldn’t change.  But in medical school, students must learn that there is simply not enough time in the day to complete every project and every assignment as well as you may like to.  Do your best—but know that you can’t expect to do everything perfectly.  Learn to do a great job while making efficient use of your limited time.

Most people assume that intelligence, study skills, or dedication are the most important skills for med school success.  And while each of those skills is valuable, without the ability to efficiently manage time, it is impossible to succeed in medical school.  

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