Episode 72: Learn about time inventories, respecting deadlines, goal setting, audio notes and more…
Time Management Strategies For Medical School
- Do a time inventory and schedule time inventories every 3 weeks.
- Set goals.
- Set specific tasks with time frames
- Use an organizational system (use David Allen’s 2-minute rule)
- Physical fitness
- Use peak performance times
- Clean the clutter in your office, home, and nooks and crannies
- Set and respect deadlines
- Treat emails and your physical inbox as OTHER people’s agenda, not your own
- Negotiate your open-door policy
- Assign responsibilities during the conversation on the subject, and communicate feedback action steps on-the-spot
- Observe meeting start and end times strictly
- Manage multiple projects so you can mentally change gears and keep busy
- Say “no” to new projects if you can’t commit the time necessary, or if it unrelated to your Definite Major Purpose
- Reward yourself and alternate pleasant and unpleasant tasks
5 Time Management Strategies: A Physician Interview
Interviewer: On the line with me today is Justin Anderson Anderson from Apollo Audio books. We’re glad to have you back. Welcome, Justin.
Justin Anderson: Hi, Interviewer. Thanks for having me back.
TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS: JUSTIN ANDERSON
Interviewer: We’ve enjoyed having you. Today, we’re going talk about time management and we want to pick your brain a little bit. And I sent you earlier this week 15 Time Management Tips and you picked your top five and even added one there.
So, what I want to do at this time is let you start off telling us about this top five tips that got you through medical school regarding time management and the very first one being a time inventory. Will you tell us about that?
Justin Anderson: As a medical student, you are from day one totally overwhelmed with what you have to cover. And, you know, they all often make that analogy of, it’s like, time to take a drink of water from a fire hose. You can’t possibly retain everything all the material that you have to get through.
And so, whether it’s for your block exams or is it for studying for the USMLE, as the USMLE comes closer. I mean, I would always come and sit down and say, “Exactly, how much material do I need to get through?” And what I learned six months in the medical school is that for me to retain the information, I would have to make it through that information three times.
And so I would sit down and calculate out. Well you can do it two ways. You can either A, if you’re a reader, then you sit down and calculate out, how long it takes you to read X number of pages? And you use that to say, “Well, how am I going to get through the material three times?” Or B, if you used audio like I used as a student and I had a, you know, 10 hours of audio that covered pathology. Then, I would say, “Well, I need to go – you get two to three times to take 30 hours.”
And the thing is that once you start thinking about how many hours you need to study a day, then once you get a week or two into it, you need to decide, “Am I still on my schedule or am I not on my schedule? Am I getting further and further behind?”
And if you’re getting more behind, then what are you going to do? How are you going to adjust your study methods in order to get back on track? If you’re doing just right, then that’s great.
And I think that times that I really felt that it was the most important to do, a time inventory was just before studying – I mean, just before the USMLE Step 1, because you have that summer break and your not in school – well, at least, we have a summer break.
At that point, we weren’t in school. And so I took six weeks off to study, about a week to take the test, and then a week of vacation before I started – before I started the next year.
And, you know, if you know exactly what books you want to cover, what resources you want to go through and you need to check yourself once a week to make sure that you’re staying on track otherwise you’re going to end up not covering certain material.
And so, start with some written goals of how you’re going to spend your time, and then after that, be sure in checking, make sure that you’re making the progress that you thought you would be making at the beginning.
Interviewer: And that’s great. I love your tip about checking yourself every week or so to always ask the question, “Is this working? Am I getting the results?” You definitely don’t want to wait until the test day to find out if it was working. I preached that all the time.
I really like the idea of the time inventory there, to be honest. I didn’t do this a whole lot for anything except for studying. And that finding more and more that an inventory is a good place to start whether you’re trying to get in shape or change your diet.
If you’re trying to do a lifestyle change and let’s face it, medical school is a lifestyle change. And sometimes it’s the best to kind of take the inventory first so you know what you’re starting from. That can help and you mentioned USMLE step one is a good time to take your first big inventory.
But if a premedical student is listening, the MCAT is equally applicable. You could definitely start with the time inventory to prepare for that.
The next time management tip was to set goals and prioritize them. Can you tell us about that?
SET GOALS AND PRIORITIZE THEM
Justin Anderson: One of the most difficult things as a medical student or if you’re studying for the USMLE or studying for the MCAT is that you have to set goals on exactly how you’re going to get through all the material in order to learn it. And I have always felt that if a professor is going to test you on something, they should mention at least once.
They should at least mention it once in passing, which doesn’t always happen. But I’ve also put a lot of emphasis on “class notes”. Then I used my “class notes” to help me decide what subjects were important to study. And if you either A, you have a recording of your class that you can watch or listen to, that’s great; if you have Scribe service that’s greater if you take your own notes. Those notes can help guide you to picking the important material.
So, after you picked the important material, you decide exactly what’s important then you have to decide how to schedule it. And this kind of goes back to our time inventory, which is how fast do you read or how fast do you listen to the audio for your course. And then, well, the real advantage that I didn’t have the medical student would be to do speed reading.
And so if anyone hasn’t done Interviewer’s Speed Reading Course, I would recommend you do that or you could even – they have books on it that you can get at the library.
So, first of all, when you’re setting your goals for studying, decide what’s important, and then second of all, schedule it. And you can do that based on your reading or based on audio. And what I did, as we know, as you know, I studied audio books. And so, I would basically say, “How long does it take me to get through the audio three times.” And then, I would know that to know exactly how many times I was going to be studying.
Interviewer: Thank you for that lot of good insight and setting goals certainly spends a lot of topics. I have, particularly, took note here on what you said about looking at there were major review books kind of upfront in a class to know the level of detail that you’re going to have to learn during the course of that class.
Yeah, but you said that you need to know the material in greater detail than is usually often in those review books, that’s why they’re called “review books”, they’re not very thorough.
So I think a good way to look at that is a review book is sort of your table of contents for what you need to know the most. It’s not all the material in that subject, but to focus on the topics that are there and go back and make sure you’re getting plenty of detail from your lectures and your class notes, maybe scribe notes and the textbooks for the course.
And if you’re at a medical school that doesn’t do scribe notes or you’re having trouble with having a mentor, that’s an upper classman. We do have 1,200 pages of summary notes written by medical students. So we’re about to do another part on that. As a matter of fact, I think it’s going to be the next episode.
Justin Anderson: One thing that I always found intimidating was the size of the books that they give you in medical school because, you know, I never – the fact that you even had a 2,000 page book on your desk was terribly intimidating.
And so, starting with just the short pathology section that you’re going to cover for your test in First-Aid or even using High Yields or BRS.
And it’s so much – at mentally, it helps you get over the mental block of, “Oh my gosh where do I start?” Yeah, because you can say, “Oh, well you know, this book isn’t so big. I can get through that.” That can give you a place to start.
Interviewer: Great. I wanted to also point out that life keeps happening while you’re in medical school. So when we’re talking about setting goals and prioritizing them, we’re also going to mix in other things that are going on in our life. Like for me, I was married when I went in to medical school. A major goal I had was to keep my marriage intact, and happy, and healthy. And not enough is taught about on that subject.
One thing I want to keep intact was my fitness and I did that in medical school and then lost it in internship. That was a transition. So I wanted to give a tip from David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done”. I highly recommend that for any professional.
He has what he calls his two-minute rule. And if you’re looking at your Inbox and your email or physical one next to your desk, and you pick up the very first item on the top of the stack, ask yourself, “Can I complete this task or deal with it, or apply this, whatever is needed? Can I do this within two minutes? Yes or no?”
If the answer is “yes,” then do it right then, don’t put it off. And if the answer is “no,” then get a little posted note or write on it or whatever. And write down the very next specific action that needs to be taken towards that project, and then put it now back in your Inbox, but in a different place, maybe a different shelf or file protocol next to actions. And of course, don’t forget to go back and look there.
So, listening to David Allen’s book about once a year while I’ve been cleaning my office is really helped my productivity picked up.
Justin Anderson: And you know you’re missing…
Interviewer: Do we?
Justin Anderson: …something about priorities or about goals thing that keeping your marriage was important. And when I was a medical student, I was married too.
And one of the biggest things – the biggest thing for my wife and I was for us to both communicate what our goals were. As I mentioned before, we took block exams. And so, that meant for six weeks, you would have classes, and then you have a week of test on every subject.
And then, and some schools do that, some schools don’t. For my wife and I, in our relationship, you know, the first two weeks of the block, I spent a lot of time with her and we had, you know, we had as much fun that we could do, whatever we wanted together.
And then the second two weeks in the block, you know, we talked about this and she knew that I was going to start studying, which would mean I would spent some evenings studying but not all of them.
And then the last two weeks in the block, we both understood that exams were going to be there in two weeks. And so, you know, I would come home, during the last two weeks, I would come home, have dinner, and spent an hour or two with her, and then go back to studying.
And so, not only you can set your goals, but you should communicate those goals and agree on those goals with your spouse back and forth if you want to keep your marriage.
Interviewer: The next tip for time management is, set and respect your deadlines for various things. What are your thoughts on that?
SET AND RESPECT YOUR DEADLINES
Justin Anderson: Yeah, I found this setting and respecting deadlines both tremendously important and also tremendously difficult in medical school. And what would happen was as I would prioritize which classes were more important and less important.
And say, you know, if I had a block exam for coming up, and I knew I had to study pathology and behavioral science, I would prioritize more time to pathology and less time to behavioral science.
Even if I went through the pathology as many times as I have set for my goal and I felt like I knew as much as I was going to know. I would still never know 100% of what would be covered on the exam.
And so, if I said, “Well, I’m going to study 40 hours of pathology and 10 hours of behavioral science.” You know, at some point, I would have to force myself to stick with those deadlines and stop studying pathology and then move on to behavioral science.
Because if you don’t change gears and shift gears unto the next subject, then you’re going to end up with some subject that you don’t cover, and you’re going to end up, you know, really bombing that exam which will be a pretty tough on your transcript.
So two things that can kind of help you when to meet those deadlines: Number one, you can do speed reading and we mentioned that before. Number two, you can use audio. And the audio, the way that I used audio or the thing I perceived to be the benefit of audio as a medical student was that it kept me from getting stuck.
Because the time when I wouldn’t meet my deadlines would be if I had three chapters of pathology to cover for the exam, I would get stuck trying to memorize the first chapter.
And, you know, because I knew all the material was important in the first chapter. I wanted to remember it all. I would get stuck trying to memorize it or I would read something and say, “Oh, you know, I didn’t really retained any of that and go back over.” And the way that I used audio was I would just use the audio of all three chapters to go through all of that material once, twice, three times.
So that I knew that I had covered all the material three times and I’ve never got stuck trying to memorize something. And if I knew exactly how many hours I was going to study to meet that deadline, you know, when the deadline came, I knew I’ve been through the material and that was as good as it was going to get until I went on to the behavioral science and study my behavioral science chapters.
Interviewer: I do think that’s more common approach just to keep moving through the material. I did the podcast interview a few episodes ago with a student that has been acing his medical school exams, but he’s only taking the medical school load, half load and doing some master’s work.
I suspect that that effects the timing has to do that, he literally goes line by line and memorizes it and it’s working well for him but I don’t know that he could handle that under the full time load if he wasn’t a master student. He could of course couldn’t answer that either because he doesn’t know.
Justin Anderson: Well I tell you, there are totally different personalities out there and I studied with a group of about four other students and one of the students had an absolutely photographic memory and so I would spend some time making mnemonics on how to remember things. And he would always tell me, “oh I’m making mnemonic why not just remember it?” and that, you know, for four years, he said “well why not just remember it?” because everything that he read he could remember. And so if he went through the line once in the book that was all that it took for him.
I think the majority of students are – the majority of students need some repetition. They need to use different format or different media to kind of reinforce the material and get it to stick in their brain. But if you have a photographic memory and you can go memorize line by line you are blessed.
Interviewer: Just you are. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can internalize it and apply it but you can see it and it helps.
Justin Anderson: Right.
Interviewer: One thing that I used to always do just to throw in a little extra tidbit was, I would always have a page or two of notes I just couldn’t get in my brain, you know, that were complicated or list of things like digestive enzymes I remember in particular and so I will try and try to remember them but I would always – it actually became a part of my student plan was I knew I was going to have a list of things I didn’t know.
So the morning of the test I would literally practice just copying them and being able to write it out for memory and as soon as I was handed my test I’d turn it over on the back and write out my memory in the back and got me a few points but hey, you know, I was swinging for the fences.
Justin Anderson: Isn’t that right?
Interviewer: All right, so that actually brings up our next topic was about the group study for time management. What are the pros and cons of group study in your opinion?
Justin Anderson: This is my feeling from number one, my own personal bios and number two, my experience with other students when I was a medical student a few years ago which was a lot of medical students myself included aren’t really – don’t really like necessarily group study.
And I think it’s because a lot of people feel like I could be reading my notes, I could be going through this book and one of the big advantages to group study that I found was that when everyone goes through a certain amount of material. If they all go through the same chapter in a book or an audio, they’re going to retain different parts and different parts are going to stick out to them.
And so, you know if you want to benefit from all the different things that other people retain you can do that by discussing the book with five different people because everybody, you can either, A, go through it five times or, B, discuss it with five different people and they’ll bring out points that really stood out in their mind.
And I think the easiest way for me to study in a group with a group of other guys who aren’t necessarily group studiers at the time was we would do question and answer book.
We didn’t spend the majority of our time doing question and answer but after we had kind of been through the material, we were familiar with the material and then we would sit in a group of about four or five people.
One person asking the questions and the other people responding and you know, in my group there was number one, the guy with a photographic memory and number two, the guy who didn’t know anything and there were people in between, right?
And the group study approach doing questions and answers, I mean, it really work to benefit everybody because…
Interviewer: But you already told us that you weren’t the one with the photographic memory so which one were you?
Justin Anderson: …I was the guy in the middle.
Interviewer: Okay good. You don’t get in to ophthalmology with knowing nothing, do you?
Justin Anderson: No but I’ll tell you that when we did the group study, the guy who always struggled the most, who didn’t, you know, know the answers; he does successful practicing position and he actually master into a very difficult to manage specialty and so…
Interviewer: It’s awesome.
Justin Anderson: …it’s – there’s – even if you’re struggling, even if you are having a hard time, even if your grades are below the 50th percentile in your class, even if you’re in the last quartile in your class. You can still do what you want to do, you can find a way to do what you want to do and that’s exactly what he did.
Because he didn’t have stellar grade, he didn’t have a great USMLE and he master in the specialty he wanted, did his residency, and he’s practicing in the specialty that he always wanted to practice in which is a hard specialty to get into so there’s hope for everybody.
Interviewer: Absolutely that’s great inspiration, I’m so glad you said that. Well our fifth time management tip is the use of audio recordings to fill sort of mental dead times throughout the day and you use this extensively and so did I and so can you tell us about how you did that?
USE OF AUDIO RECORDINGS
Justin Anderson: I mentioned a little bit earlier, I was married as a medical student and I wanted to have a happy marriage and so part of having a happy marriage was whenever my wife would have a honey do list, you know, I would happily oblige her whether that was painting the entire interior and exterior of our home or you know, mowing the yard or taking out the trash or going to get something.
I really wanted to fill all of my – I mean, not usually valid – I wanted fill my downtime when I wasn’t studying. I wanted to turn that down time into study time and so if I was going to be painting the exterior of the house which is a totally mindless task then I would pop on my audio reviews and listen to the audio so that number one, I helped my marriage by doing what my wife wanted me to do and number two, at the same time I was also learning from medical school.
And I did the exact same thing every time I mowed the yard I would have my audios on and in fact even today when I mow the yard I still have my iPod on it’s just that I’m not listening to Pathology Behavioral Science Pharmacology, you know, now I’m just listening to different books and so those are the times that are really beneficial.
Another time that’s great is when you’re at the gym because people have this perception that in medical school you know, there might not be enough time to go to the gym or gym is not a priority because they should be studying or feel guilty like they should be studying.
You know go to the gym; take your audio with you. You can listen to it in the car on your way to the gym and then while you are at the gym for an hour and then on your way back and you’ve got an hour and a half or two hours of study time done and you also went to the gym.
So as a resident I had to walk the dogs because we live in New York City and whenever I walked the dogs I would always listen to an Ophthalmology review. So I spent for three years, one hour a day walking the dogs, studying Ophthalmology.
Interviewer: I can remember walking my dog who since passed away and you bond a lot because if I didn’t have my headset on we wouldn’t have walked this far.
Justin Anderson: It kind of changes your perception of the way you’re spending your time because you can either think of walking the dog as a total waste of time or you could be angry about it or bitter about it but you have to walk the dog or you could just be happy that you are walking the dog. Number one because you are outside on a beautiful day and number two, you could be happy about it because you are killing two birds with one stone.
You are really getting to study and when your in medical school you always looking for more time. I mean you always want more time to get through the material and the audio can help you do that. And I think that you and I have a little bit of a different approach and that you’ve mentioned whenever you know something you’d delete it.
And you don’t have to go through it again if you knew it.
Justin Anderson: And my feeling kind of was if I went through it again then either A, I would retain it longer or B, I would know it better. And so whether you use either approach which is to delete it so you are not going through the same material or if you do go through it and you retain it longer. I think either way the repetition is beneficial. To get to both of the material you do know and the material you don’t know.
Interviewer: Good point and also it’s worthwhile to point out that I think we were listening to two different things. I was recording my own audio notes and you were listening to the Gold Standard USMLE Series. Is that right?
Justin Anderson: I was doing both I recorded my own audio notes from like the class scribe and from some of the books that we used. And then in addition to that I was using the Gold Standard audio was kind of the back bone of what I was studying because the Gold Standard was what I was going to use to study for the actual USMLE.
I can remember for every set of block exams I made my own audio that was probably about 20 hours of audio more or less or maybe it was 30 hours because they were cassette tapes. You know I had a set of 20 tapes that I would go through and if you take that and you multiple it times every single block then I would have – I don’t know 240 hours of audio to study for the USMLE step one. And 240 hours is way too many hours you just don’t…
Interviewer: That’s why I was deleting files as I went because I was overwhelmed by the number I was making.
Justin Anderson: …so I knew that the Gold Standard was what I was going to use to study for step one and so I used that as the back bone so that when I went to start studying for step one I have actually been through the Gold Standard material before and it’s a great audio review and that’s what I used as a student for the actual USMLE.
SUMMARY: TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS
Interviewer: Outstanding I wish I had known about it then. Well we’ve covered five of the 15 time management tips. I’m going to put all 15 of them to show notes for this podcast on the website. I just wanted to hit them again, we talked about taking your time inventory, setting goals and prioritizing them, setting and respecting your deadline, group study and then using audio recordings to fill mental downtime throughout the day.
And I just can’t help but notice that all of five of these time management topics relate and come back to a person being on top of their studying. If you were on top of your academic game and you were swinging home runs ever day you probably wouldn’t be listening to a time management podcast.
It’s so core and central to what you do in medical school is too just try to survive academically. If you had that in place and under wraps then I think you can relax in other areas of your life and enjoy the process much faster because I have to tell you, medical schools four years for most people and life is happening in between and we don’t want to miss it.
And we have a really good news that we’ve taken a step forward with Apollo Audio books as we’re trying to build up a Mastermind Community and the resources we’re offering you and that is for students that are in the basic science years that is the first two years of medical school.
Now we are offering with the membership to the Mastermind Community. The mp3’s from the Gold Standard USMLE and the USMLE Help.
Justin Anderson: Right, right.
Interviewer: And these are going to be split up over 18 months just to keep the price down, of course if you can afford to buy the whole thing. There will be links right there on the website for you to do that and let me tell you what this is.
This is mp3 files that are for Bio-Chemistry, Anatomy they track through all the courses you are going to take throughout the entire basic science year’s part of your life and the price for membership to the Mastermind Community is exactly the same. It’s not going up.
Justin Anderson: I think the really amazing thing that you have been able to put together here Dan is that you are able to keep your subscription price exactly the same and provide for the step one programs for the basic science years. You are going to give them three separate audio programs split month by month by month without any additional price at all. So I think it’s just amazing that you could put that together.
Interviewer: Well I’m blessed to have met you and Brett Ferdinand from Gold Stand pointed you towards me. Now for people that are listening that didn’t hear me interview you a couple of podcasts ago. Could you kind of go through what those audio programs are that they’re going to get with their basic science year’s membership?
Justin Anderson: Yes I’ll give you a brief run down and that there are two USMLE Help programs that they’re going to get. There’s USMLE Help Anatomy and Bio-Chemistry and in addition to that they’re going to get the entire Gold Standard audio review for the USMLE step one and that is a 60-hour audio review and it includes all of the, I mean, it’s not comprehensive as in it covers every single thing that’s covered in medical school because it’s the high held information condensed into a 60-hour audio review.
And so for the first CDs that you send out to the subscriber, it’s going to include the Bio-Chemistry both from USMLE Help and the Gold Standard Program and then there will be Anatomy from both the USMLE Help and the Gold Standard Program. And then all of the subjects covered Physiology, Pharmacology, Pathology that are in the entire Gold Standard Program over the course of their subscription.
Interviewer: That’s right so they’re not all CD’s mailed out but you do get access to Bio-Chem immediately so you can get started, you don’t have to wait to study and there are other Mastermind podcast and Science review materials in there but I’ve never seen anything that comes close to what Apollo Audio books and USMLE Help has put together.
Justin Anderson: Well glad to be offering it with you and I think that being able to digest the material as the subscribers received it. There ought to be take what might be a big overwhelming audio review and break it up to shorter more useful usable parts.
Interviewer: Outstanding and I’ll tell you I’ve been really inspired by meeting you and seeing what we’re putting together because it fits in line with my vision to provide resources throughout the whole medical education journey and I had a meeting a couple of weeks ago with Princeton Review to convince them to make an MCAT product in the exact template. The question pause answer format that Apollo Audio books uses.
And they are thinking about it right now and if they don’t it I’m going to do it. So somehow or another we’ve got to do that because this is the way to learn and why in the world in the 21st century is every medical student discovering over and over and reinventing the wheel on how to study.
It’s been figured out this is what you learned the hard way so why not just get right upfront all the USMLE material in a format that you are going to eventually need it in anyway.
Justin Anderson: Yes it will save you a lot of times and making your own recordings.
Interviewer: That’s no kidding and then when you add in like hardware space in the time of moving the things around and also any recording equipment I mean that kind of cuts into the price to make you kind of feel better about the purchase. If I be in it one day to get an iPod or something preloaded with all of your stuff on it like medical school in a box I mean I don’t know if you every thought about.
Justin Anderson: Yes.
Interviewer: I have a million ideas a minute. So I think that’s enough for now. We thank you so much for your time Dr. Anderson and we’ll be speaking with you more in the future.
Justin Anderson: Okay thanks Dr. Dan. it’s been a real pleasure letting me talk with you and talk with your podcast subscribers.
Interviewer: Thanks, keep up the good work.