Let me begin by saying we would never, ever accuse you of procrastinating during your arduous studies for the USMLE Step 1. For such an increasingly important exam, you surely have the discipline of a ruler, the endurance of an Olympian, and the focus of a hawk.
However, procrastination is a natural human condition that infects the mind with a restless, itching need to do anything but the critical task at hand. The procrastination infection could sneak up on you at any time, especially when the sun is shining and your skin soaks up the warm rays. Douglas Adams, the well-known author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, sometimes had his editors lock him in a room and wait outside until he finished a piece. It even took the great Leonardo da Vinci 16 years to complete The Mona Lisa, and he only finished The Last Supper after his patron threatened to cut off funds.
The point is humans procrastinate. Even some of the most successful, well-respected people.
Should you ever come across this condition yourself or you need to help an unfortunate friend, check out these useful time saving, productivity-boosting tips.
- Understand WHY you procrastinate. The most effective way to eradicate procrastination is to understand why you procrastinate in the first place. Be honest with yourself: Are you lost in your studies? Are you overwhelmed with the volume of material to memorize? Or would you rather be at the beach? Once you identify your reasons for procrastinating, you can find the best method to maximize your personal productivity.
- Back away from social media. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit*…They all lower your productivity as 5 minutes of “just checking your notifications” mutates into 1 hour of shameless Facebook stalking. Either stick to a designated window of time to peruse your social media site, ask a friend to change your password or use a productivity tool such as LeechBlock to block access to your page during certain times of day. *Along with all other social media sites, obscure and mainstream!
- Find your study space. Atmosphere can really affect how effectively you study. The quiet side of the library doesn’t work for everyone. Evaluate your level of temperature, distraction, and noise tolerance and then try to study in different spaces until you find the one that fits. It may help to find several study spaces and rotate among them.
- Get an accountability partner. Share your goals and checklists with a friend and swap study tips and advice. Ask your partner to check your progress and make sure you stay on the right track. You might not want to choose a close friend if you think you’ll resent your partner’s motivational pushes!
- Fall into a pattern. Set aside blocks of time during the day devoted entirely to your studies. Try to make these blocks of time consistent throughout the week so that they become a natural routine.
- Make a daily checklist. Write all of your tasks down—including mundane activities such as showering and grocery shopping if it motivates you to see items checked off. Include the topics you intend to study, but make sure your list is realistic and can be accomplished in one day. Be vigilant, and when you accomplish an entire list, reward yourself! If the thought of micro-managing your time doesn’t make you want to sing a song and clap your hands, you can purchase a detailed study calendar from the DIT Student Advising Team.
- Diversify your checklist. Vary your schedule. Mix easy tasks such as showering within challenging tasks like studying for biochemistry so you can enjoy small mental breaks. Find your peak study time and be sure to work on your most cumbersome tasks then. You can accomplish these tasks more efficiently and effectively during peak times and you’ll be less likely to put them off.
- Take a breather. Schedule time to relax or have fun. If you keep your nose to the grindstone 24/7 and have nothing to look forward to, you run the risk of burning out. You don’t have to go wild, but do something you enjoy.
- Don’t expect immediate perfection. You don’t have to master an entire topic in one day. Such a daunting prospect may lead to disappointment and weakened motivation. Instead, focus on chipping away at a topic a little at a time. It may take a few days, maybe longer. But as long as you learn at a steady pace, you’re on the right track!
When following these tips, realize that everyone is different. Your study habits are unique to you and you alone. Some students need to study surrounded by checklists and spreadsheets in a cold, silent library basement while others thrive in warmer, livelier environments. The most important thing to remember as you study for the USMLE Step 1 is to find what works best for you!