I wanted to think that the rudimentary study schedule I drew for myself was perfect. After all, I’m taking the exam in June and I have put everything in my life on hiatus for the event, which means that I should have endless amounts of free time to study and be on my way to a 528 (the perfect score on the exam which I don’t think anyone has ever scored yet). Yet, at the end of the day, my anxiety creeps up again and questions me repetitively with “Why do you feel like you haven’t done enough work today?” “SHUT IT, Anxiety,” I fight back – “I’m tired and I’m using my exhaustion as a gauge for how hard I worked today.”
“Oh yeah?” Anxiety quips back, “We’ll just see how prepared you feel when Test Day rolls around!”
After laughing at me, Anxiety has sufficiently completed the night’s round of self-torture.
Well, I decided to put my efficiency to the test today in order to see just how I was spending my time. I can’t take credit for this idea, however, as tons of self-help and productivity gurus have written/blogged about it before and I most recently came across it while watching the YouTube channel of med student couple Jane and Jady in this video. I took it a step further than Jady’s strategy of just tracking the amount of time he actually spent studying with the stopwatch feature on his phone. I decided to use an index card.
Since my alarm went off at 7:15 am, (I was actually awake at about 6:50 am and just rolled around trying to find some last few minutes of solace – so I guess I cheated myself out of those extra 25 minutes of time!), I noted down the activities I completed and the times I started and ended the activity. It wasn’t as obtrusive as I thought it was going to be initially, as I didn’t want to pay for the convenience of the multitude of apps out there that allow you the same features with just the tap of your phone screen. I already carry around my phone with me all day, and the index card was pretty weightless.
After the day was finished, I added up all the time together and put it into categories in an Excel Spreadsheet.
It turns out, I spent an embarrassing amount of time eating and taking food breaks, and not as long as I thought I did on study time! In my defense, the 101 minutes I spent on a Lunch break included cooking lunch for myself, doing dishes, and doing the laundry in my household (both my parents work and I help out around the house as much as I can now that I’m an adult who lives at home after graduating college.) Another embarrassing quip is that the 22 minutes I spent in the bathroom this morning included taking a shower!
Shockingly, I was able to see a pattern in my study time that I didn’t discover before – until a longer, uninterrupted study session before dinner today (106 minutes), I never noticed that I study in much shorter chunks of time that are approximately 30-40 minutes in length! Even when I was studying for the 106 minute long stretch, I found myself reaching for my phone while watching lecture videos and scrolling through Instagram and Buzzfeed! I also found myself letting Netflix episodes run in the background of my work, not really paying attention to them, like I wanted background conversation to help keep me focused.
So, although the total amount of time spent on MCAT work was 5.716 hours, that includes a 55 minute organizing session in the morning where I worked with the AAMC guides (see the first picture) and organized my flashcards. Today, I spent 4.8 hours of the day actually studying, which is only 36 minutes longer than I spent eating today.
With these lessons in mind, I designed a new schedule that would account for my mind’s wandering in study break form (obviously when we get closer to test day, I won’t be able to take as many little breaks as I want to, and will then be redesigning a study schedule – but remember that MCAT studying is a marathon, not a sprint!), my daily chores, and the fact that I HATE eating and studying at the same time.
I’ll talk about my budding yoga time in another post soon, but this new schedule allows me to utilize the Pomodoro technique (think 50 minute chunks instead of 25 minute periods) while letting me spend my free time how I want to and still leaving me with spacious food breaks! The best part is, I can increase my efficiency studying by about 130%!
Obviously, life happens, and I don’t expect to stick to this schedule every day! I have lazy days, and off days, and am stuck in a fog on some days too. Weekends are particularly challenging for me, as my whole family is at home and I crave spending time with them! However, this experiment in Efficiency has really opened my eyes to how I actually spend my time as opposed to how I think I spend my time. Perhaps I’ll describe an entire weekend to see how I spend my “free time” there, but I think I’m going to need a bigger index card! 🙂