You’re having trouble staying focused during your study sessions, daydreaming about the upcoming new Drake album or the World Cup (Let’s go Brazil!).
You’re not alone.
Success in medical school means climbing a mountain. Putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the top. Even though most of us would rather sprint our way to the peak, staying productive and consistent is the guaranteed way to achieve goals.
1. Use a timer to take breaks
One of the beautiful things about being human is our ability to get horribly horribly distracted when we are trying to be productive. Whether your vice is Facebook or Instagram, we all fall victim to the procrastination fairy.
Rather than trying to “just stay off facebook,” plan to get distracted but set a limit to how long you’ll let yourself be unproductive.
One popular way to make sure you’re balancing your work time and break time is called the Forbes magazine approved Pomodoro method.(1) It was developed in the 1980’s by Francisco Cirillo, an expert on time management, who used a small, tomato shaped timer to break down his productivity into 25 minute spurts. After the alarm rang, he would take a 5 minute break to let his mind wander, then set the alarm again for another “Pomodoro.”
This technique was key for me in studying for Step 1. My daily study plan included over 100 pages of First Aid, 120 UWorld questions and a bunch of flash cards (read to the end to get my take on Study Plans). I needed a way to break all the work down to bite size pieces, Pomodoro was my answer. I used an app called Tide but an app store search for “Pomodoro” will give you a bunch of great options to keep you focused and productive.
2. Be judicious with sugar intake
When it comes to getting down to studying, many of us think of food as really just a fuel to keep us going. In reality, the choices we put on our plate has a huge impact on our productivity.
Imagine that drinking a cup of coffee from Starbucks gave you energy all day, while drinking the same amount from Dunkin Donuts gave you energy for a couple hours. The same concept applies to our food choices.
Whenever we snack, our body responds by pumping out insulin. Studies have shown that high levels of CNS insulin have been shown to enhance learning and memory by improving hippocampal function. (2) However, not all snacks release energy at the same rate. Sugary snacks will give you a quick boost of energy, but will leave you just as tired shortly after.
Opt for snacks that provide you with sustained energy so you don’t run out of gas after a couple UWorld blocks. Some great options are mixed nuts, fresh veggies and fruit. Stay away from processed refined sugar as much as you can and stick to real food.
3. Make a plan, stick to it
Medical students right now are in volume overload when it comes to study resources. With hundreds of options available to study with, we’re facing option overload compounded with the paradox of choice.
In order to cover the most amount of information in a reasonable amount of time, it’s important to set out a plan with SMART goals and stick to it (check out this post on making SMART goals). Your plan should include only the resources you deem as necessary for success.
Perhaps the greatest need for a solid plan is in Step 1 studying. When I began my dedicated study period, my plan was to start with the greatest number of resources in the beginning, then whittle them down until I was just using 1 or 2 heavily annotated “Bibles”. In order to accomplish this, I listed all the books, questions and videos I wanted to use in a scheduler.
A number of schedulers exist online that will crunch the numbers on your to do list so you can stay steady in your routine. For Step 1 I used the scheduler at Osmosis.org, which had all the subjects and pages of many of my resources available.
We love hearing from you! What are your ways to stay focused in school?