As crazy as it sounds, it’s been about 7 months since everything took a tailspin and now we’re a few months away from a new year. Many of us are still working from home, and both college and high school students have started school once again. I recently started my third year of medical school back in August, and learning and studying at home has been quite an adjustment. pre-COVID, I had already gotten into a smooth routine when I was able to go to class and I was living by myself. Now that I’m in The Bahamas with my family, I’ve had to figure out how to create a new normal that still produces the results I desire.
I know that for many college students and working adults, social distancing has screwed with our normal schedules. Many of us have warped sleep schedules, and stay up way too late to be productive the next day. Working from home has caused us to forget that we can clock off at 5, and instead, we’re still completing assignments at 10pm with a bag of chips in tow.
As I prepare for exams and begin to transition into clinicals, I thought about some of the things that have helped me over the last two months balance virtual med school, family, and social distancing all while keeping my sanity.
10 tips that I would give to others:
- Create a schedule
- Set realistic daily goals
- Block your day
- Get dressed for the day
- Have a dedicated study space
- Get accessories that help you focus
- Remove unnecessary distractions
- Be consistent with your routine
- Leave your work at work
- Connect with family and recharge
1. Create a master schedule.
Scheduling saves lives! Honestly, the number one tip that I would give you and that I give to anyone who asks me for organization tips, is to create a schedule. There are so many options out there, from a planner (digital or paper), Google calender, Notion, and the list goes on and on. I use all of these options simultaneously, and although that sounds overboard, all of them serve a purpose! While my paper planner has a general overview of all my assignments and important dates, Google calender has a detailed schedule that I can look at on my phone and get reminders if necessary. So even if you don’t have a planner, there are many other options that you can use. Whether it’s important work projects or college assignments that have a deadline, or a study schedule for medical school, a planner will allow you to maximize your time.
I currently have the Day Designer planner that I’ve been using for about a year now, and I’m actually liking it a lot. I personally like to schedule things in for the month so I can have a big overview of my assignments and quizzes and other important dates or topics that I need to pay attention to. With the month’s schedule in mind, I can plan my week accordingly and stay on top of tasks. My favorite part of scheduling is using highlighters because it allows me to color coordinate my planner and that way I know exactly what each date means. The best highlighters that I’ve used since college are Zebra Mildliners – they’re pastel, they don’t cause the ink to run, but most of all they make scheduling fun!
I know that scheduling works because when I forget to plan ahead, I find myself flustered trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be studying and end up wasting time that could’ve been used studying. Scheduling is the first step to make sure that you’re primed to be as efficient as you can be, especially at home.
2. Set realistic daily goals.
After creating a schedule and getting a general idea of your upcoming tasks, shift your focus to the day ahead of you. The first thing I like before getting started for the day is to choose 3 goals that I want to accomplish. It’s important to be realistic because at the end of the day, it’s better to get a few things done very well than to get a many things done in mediocrity. So whether you have two goals or five goals for the day, make sure that you creating realistic goals that work best for you and that ensure you stay on schedule.
3. Block your day.
You’ve created your schedule and your to-do list, but how much time will you spend on each task? One way to do this is by ‘blocking your day‘. Splitting the day up into a few blocks with breaks in between gives you structure. I like using the Pomodoro method, which is 25 minutes of one task, and then a 5 minute break. After 4 sessions of 25 minute breaks, you get a 30 minute break. I’ve found that it’s quite effective because it helps me to stay focused for short bursts of time without feeling overwhelmed. Parkinson’s law says that work expands to fill the time allotted for it – so if you know that you only have 25 minutes to get something done you will get it done in that 25 minutes and avoid procrastination.
4. Get dressed for the day.
Now that many of us are working and studying from home, it’s so easy to stay in pajamas all day for the sake of comfort. However, that’s not as conducive to productivity as you may think it is. You want to make yourself feel like you’re going to work or school because then you’ll be more alert and your brain will know that it’s time to be focused. When I wake up first thing in the morning, my morning routine which includes:
- brushing my teeth
- washing my face
- putting on my clothes for the day
- making my bed
Doing that routine each morning helps me to transition into studying much easier, and I know that once I have done those essential things in the morning, the next step is work. Even if I have a light day, getting dressed for the day really prevents me from being complacent and encourages efficiency.
5. Have a dedicated study space.
To increase your efficiency while you are working and studying from home, you want to create the optimal environment to do so. When I first started studying at home, I was did most of my work in my room and I found that it wasn’t beneficial for me at all. Even though I had a desk, my bed was staring me right in the face and I would end up studying on my bed especially if it was late at night.
I found that having a dedicated space outside of my room where I could study each day helped me to be more focused. Even if you’re working with a small space, you want to make sure you have a well defined distinction between your study/work area and your relaxation area. Associating a particular area with one activity will train your mind to be focused when it’s time to do work, and relaxed when it’s time to chill.
6. Make use of accessories.
Make sure that your dedicated study area is well designed to give you the greatest results. This doesn’t mean that you have to do a complete home makeover or spend thousands of dollars, but there are additions that can make your study space optimal. Being that I’m on my laptop most of the day, having a laptop stand like this one helps me with my posture. That in addition to an ergonomic chair creates a comfortable but conducive environment for me to study.
The only other thing that is a necessity for me to study is a pair of good headphones. My ears are sensitive to noise and being home with my family means that it’s not always quiet when I need to get work done. If you find it hard to focus with outside noise, headphones or earplugs will be a saving grace when you need to focus meet deadlines. I’m currently using the Bose 700 Noise Cancelling headphones, and I find them useful to block excess noise and keep me on task.
7. Remove distractions aka your phone.
Now that almost everyone is working from home, all of your friends are active on social media and it’s almost irresistible to pick up your phone and scroll to see what’s poppin’ on Instagram or Twitter. After about 5 glances on social media, the next thing you know it’s 5 o’clock and you still haven’t completed one single thing for the day.
One of the reasons that I get up around 5 am is because both the internet and my home are extremely quiet I direct all my focus to getting a chunk of work done. I usually put my phone on do not disturb and leave it in another room or drawer so that the temptation to go on it is minimized. Removing the distraction saves me time during the day so that I can get my work done with ease.
8. Be consistent with your routine.
I’ve been talking about routines throughout this post, but the only way that routines work is by being as consistent as possible. If your routine requires a huge change, try to incorporate it as slowly as possible so that it’s easier to adjust. No matter how you put it, being consistent will help your routine to flow seamlessly and that’s going to help you study and work as effectively as you can.
9. Leave your work at work.
This may be hard to do because many people are working all day instead of the normal 9 to 5. However, if you’re serious about working effectively, and you want to implement some of the things I suggested, this is an important one. Just as you wouldn’t take your work home with you at the end of a normal workday, the same applies when you’re working from home. One of the things I’ve done to shut off my “work” is by putting my laptop in my bag and leaving it out of my room so I don’t have to see or think about studying for the remainder of the night. I’ll admit that this doesn’t happen every night because even pre-COVID I sometimes have to study from morning until night. As often as I can, I make sure to disconnect from studying and give my brain much need mental rest.
10. Connect with family and friends.
I know that we are all social distancing and so many of us still can’t see our loved ones as much as we like. The reality, however, is that we are human beings who thrive off of human connection. So whether you’re living alone or living with family, find creative ways to connect with your family and friends outside of work and studying. All work and no play will make you get tired of working very quickly.
I would definitely say that these tips have been working for me, and although my routine is not perfect, it’s helping me get through the semester in one piece. Comment down below and let me know how you have been adjusting to working or studying from home!