JaNeil Humphrey is a senior biology major at Oakwood University. You can follow her on instagram.
Becoming a doctor requires organization, consistency, and flexibility. At each educational level, the learning curve gets steeper as the amount of material, pace, and applications of learned materials increase. Because of this, weekly tasks may be backed up, endless, and without order. It may also be challenging to keep physical order in study spaces or at home.
The good news is that if you find a system of organization that works in one area of your life, the structure can be easily transferred into other areas. At any level on your career journey, here are some ways that you can improve your organization:
- Be Real With Yourself: Coming to terms with ALL of the areas affected by your organizational skills (or lack thereof) will help you gauge what changes need to be made. Do you often find yourself missing deadlines? How are your study habits? Do you find yourself running out of time to complete basic daily tasks? How long does it take you to find daily-use items? Asking yourself these types of questions will help pinpoint your weaknesses and your strengths as it relates to organization, and will guide you to things that will improve this skill overall.
- Less is more: Making small changes like using physical and sync-able planners for your devices or setting alarms that repeat daily and weekly will increase your ability to organize, if done consistently. Choose one change to make, and add more once it becomes a habit. Making too many changes to the way you structure your life will make the changes feel less achievable.
- Create a Study Schedule: Having a study plan will make other daily tasks less overwhelming. The schedule will ward against cramming and will serve as a general guideline to covering all material learned soon after it is addressed in lecture sessions. After sticking to your study skills for a while, it will be easier to gauge which subjects and or courses require more time—allowing you to adjust your plan accordingly. (See the page on Study Schedules for more info)
- Designate a place for everything: According to the National Association of Professional Organizers, the average person spends one year of their life looking for lost items. I have resisted becoming “the average person” by organizing my chaos. Everything from study materials, to repair tools, to old notes have a specific place in my living space. Even though my room is rather small, I make sure that each item has a place, also if it is thrown in a bin of related items. Designating an area for textbooks, study tools, and notes in physical and electronic file folders will reduce the time spent looking for things, freeing up more time for productivity.
- Reduce clutter: This also will help with the last tip. Making sure that your living and study space is clean so that things are easily accessible when needed. As your physical spaces are decluttered, your mental space will be too.
- Make Checklists: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande is much more than an excellent read for premeds, it also makes the secret behind successful pilots and architects, who do their jobs with little to no error, applicable to clinicians. Their secret weapons are checklists! The main charge of the book is for professionals—especially doctors and aspiring doctors— to acknowledge the limitations of human capabilities despite our vast knowledge base. The acceptance of human fallibility will allow us to rely on tools (in this case, checklists) to efficiently complete critical tasks with minimal error. As Gawande painlessly explains throughout the book, this does not disprove intellect and knowledge, but it is an indication of it. So start by making a checklist for academic tasks to be completed each week.
- Consistency is vital: No matter what lifestyle changes you make to increase your organizational skills, push to make it a habit. Although it may be hard at first, repetition and consistency will produce noticeable results in your productivity and clearness of thought.
- Be flexible: The study skills used in college may not work in medical school, and the amount of space you may have for items or study space in your college dorm may be reduced in your apartment during med school. Get creative and be open to adapting your organizational and study skills like your life changes.
The bottom line is when in doubt, to go back to the basics. There is a secure connection to minimalism and organization. So take a deep breath, reduce the clutter in the professional and personal areas of your life piece by piece, and watch as your life becomes more organized!
Here are some links to tools that will help you stay organized: