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It’s hard enough to keep track of appointment dates, grocery lists, and a hefty workload. But keeping up with all of that in a world that is making constant demands of your time can really be tough — and no one knows the pressures of productivity better than people who are studying all day, every day. You might not be learning the advanced systems of the body or playing logic games every day, but medical and law students certainly are — and they understand a thing or two about memorizing and optimizing what they know.
While there may be a rulebook for passing your boards or acing the LSAT, there is no rulebook to life’s organizational challenges. But with a little effort, anyone can make a routine to maximize their comfort, their personal life, and their productivity. Here are four major ways medical and law students practice productivity. Whether or not you’re still in school, you can certainly learn a little something from top studiers.
Organize Your Commitments
There’s rarely a time when organization isn’t essential in post-graduate education. Just ask Ricardo Ruiz Flores, a first-year medical student at University of California Riverside’s School of Medicine. He describes medical school as a fight to learn huge volumes of information. “When I first started, they said it would be like drinking from a fire hose, and I thought ‘Oh, it can’t be that bad.’ But it was!” Ruiz Flores tells Apartment Therapy.
According to Ruiz Flores and other students, prioritization is your new best friend when you’re trying to get organized. Christelle Salomon, an osteopathic medical student at Western University of Health Sciences, says that staying on top of her to-do list is a key part of her process. She uses the Notion App, which allows her to structure her life by week.
“My organization is structured around Saturdays and Sundays, to figure out the next week,” she says, adding that the app is “an elaborate to-do list, with all sorts of templates. […] It’s an organizing app, and you create various pages.” The app helps her create systems in her life, so she doesn’t have to keep creating the same list over and over again.
Of course, digital lists aren’t for everyone. Salomon also transfers the day’s agenda that Notion generates into her physical planner. “The Notion to-do list is EVERYTHING, and that gives me anxiety to look at. So I take the stuff that is essential and put that down on my agenda,’’ she says.
Toni Davis, another WesternU medical student, uses the Passion Planner, which hosts a mood tracker, an hour-by-hour breakdown, and free spaces to get creative. It holds monthly calendars, as well as journal prompts to check in with your shiny, new productivity goals and dreams. “I’m a fan of bullet journaling and it’s themed around that. It’s nice to be able to have that space to plan out my day,” she says, noting that she particularly likes the planner’s layout.
Another great visual reminder is an erasable calendar, such as this one from Amazon. Deadlines, social events, and other fixed dates will jump out at you as soon as you walk into your study space. Or, for an extra reminder, you can add in sticky notes, like Davis does. “I’m always at my desk and that’s a strong physical reminder for me to do something,” she says.
Find the Best Environment
For another path to your most productive self, take a page out of Rocio Ramirez’s book. The incoming second-year medical student at WesternU took the time this year to invest in comfort, so her study space would be as welcoming as possible.
“I bought an LED Lamp that has five light settings and that’s been really nice. I also got gel pads for my desk. It helps because I use my elbows a lot, and that way I’m not putting my elbows on my desk,” says Ramirez. This LED lamp and gel pad set could be a great place to start for those looking to follow her example. Different light settings will help you transition from daytime work to evening time reading sessions, and comfortable pads on your desk can make typing all day more appealing. She also uses Noise Cancelling Headphones to help her study anywhere she needs to.
Ruiz Flores made his study space more inviting once he entered medical school. To make sitting at a desk all day less painful, he purchased an ergonomic chair to help turn a daunting task into a cushy one. The purchase helped him make his study space more effective overall.
“I used to dread sitting at my desk. I would end up doing homework on my bed,” Ruiz Flores says. Though some people might benefit from a work-from-bed situation, it proved counterproductive for him. “When you’re in your bed, you start thinking it’s time to lay down or watch Youtube and rest,” he says.
It’s easy to fall into relaxation mode when you’re supposed to be studying. But Ruiz Flores established clear areas in his room to serve as a workspace and rest spaces, so that he doesn’t get confused about what he should be doing at any point in the day. “I definitely wanted to make that division between workspace and relaxing space. I think that I definitely accomplished that with this chair,” he says.
If you’re looking for ways to spruce up your work environment, there’s a whole host of changes that might help. You can also consider introducing some greenery if that helps cheer your space up.
Maximize Focus and Efficiency
Many students also stress that productivity comes from grit and focus. “For things in life that are really hard — like the LSAT, MCAT, law school, or medical school — there really is just no work around to putting a lot of time in and working really hard,” says Marie Nercessian, an incoming first-year law student at Cornell University.
It’s a well-known fact that working hard requires focus. So how are these students staying on track and beating distractions? They’re finding the best study tools. With apps like Notability, you can make the process of slogging through lecture notes — or, OK, your email inbox — just a touch more colorful. “It can import any presentation. You can draw on them and write notes, and it’s super simple and super efficient,” says Ruiz Flores about the app.
He also recommends the flashcard program Anki, an effective self-quizzing tool where you can document your comfort level with specific flashcards and control how often you see them. For stationary tools, he recommends buying from Typo Store, which “has really good high-quality materials,” he says. “They all just have a focus on efficiency, while also looking really nice and feeling nice.”
Stay Mindful of Your Health
Students are busy, but they are also firm advocates for rest. It can be so easy to get caught up in late-night Zoom meetings and mountains of lecture notes, but Davis says she regularly makes time for herself, including using dance as a form of mindfulness.
“Although I am going into a field that requires a lot of time — and medical school itself requires a lot of time — I’m not going to totally sacrifice the things I enjoy,” she says. While it’s important to prioritize school, she recommends making room for joy and mindfulness practices in your schedule.
Nercessian agrees. While studying for the LSAT, she found that easing into a study session with an episode of “New Girl” playing in the background or some of her favorite snacks at her side made a noticeable difference.
For Ramirez, that means baking in crucial time away from her desk — and her Apple Watch helps her remember to do so. She uses the feature in which it reminds you to stand for at least one minute each hour to recharge and take breaks, so she can return to her study tools as refreshed as possible. “I set it to like 10-12 reminders a day, which is really good because it reminds me to walk off my desk,” she says.
In the end, students said that productivity and wellness go hand-in-hand. “If there is one thing I learned about myself it is that if you can manage your time, it’s really easy to manage your stress,” says Ramirez.