Recently, one of my readers sent me an email asking for my help to improve his medical study grades.
I’m always amazed when I see that some medical students are studying 70, 80, or even up to 100 hours a week. Whoa!
How is it even possible? I did the math myself. There are 168 hours in a week.
So, if you work 100 hours, that means 68 hours are left to sleep, eat, socialize, and do all the other aspects of your life that aren’t directly related to studying and improving your grades!
If you are already sleeping 56 hours a week (8 hours per night); that would leave 12 hours for everything else. Should you sleep less?
Here is my reply to this medical student: take the time to sleep well, hit the gym frequently, prepare healthy meals, and hang out with loved ones.
This is good advice, and it will help anyone perform at their best. But, wait.
How are you supposed to do all that if you are already working 100 hours a week? The numbers don’t add up.
What I’ve really learned is that pretending to work more than 100 hours per week for years is complete bullshit. For one week or two, maybe, and to the detriment of your sanity.
Sure, that could be possible. But that’s clearly not sustainable over the long term.
I did some research and found this Case Study on the Study Hacks blog: Case Study: Why the Number of Hours You Spend Studying Means Nothing
Surprisingly, the answer was not to reduce hours of sleep, quite the opposite. The answer was to study much, much less to improve your medical studygrades.
YOUR EXAM RESULTS DO NOT DEPEND ON THE AMOUNT OF TIME SPENT “WORKING”!
Here is a video of how I used to study during my first year. (I’m not the one in the youtube video!)
You’ll find many similar videos from other medical students in France if you type “Journée PACES” in youtube.
These medical students are “busy” for 100 hours a week.
Sitting before a medical textbook, not achieving much more than what they would do in 50 efficient hours, and feeling like overachieving heroes… frantic, exhausted, overachieving heroes.
We all like to believe we’re busy.
We like letting others know how busy we are even more, even if they don’t care at all.
This idea of studying all day makes us feel as if we’re accomplishing something.
However, just being busy doesn’t mean we are actually being productive and working with a laser-like focus.
How many times did you work all day, only to realize that you did not actually accomplish anything?
It happens to all of us. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like working. We face a creative block or we simply procrastinate on an important task. And that’s okay, even normal.
But what about your exams results?
Are you going to score the top marks for being busy procrastinating on your medical studies?
Of course not.
In reality, you must not care how many wasted hours you put into your medical studies.
So, why the hell are we counting all these hours, competing for who will work the most?
Why are we trying to add hours without even considering how much we actually achieve?
Time is broken. You can’t improve your medical grades by measuring how many hours you’re working.
Instead, measure tasks. Measure what you have actually done, instead of how many hours you’ve been sitting.
Don’t brag for how many hours you are working, but for the remarkable work you’ve achieved.
But, how do you do that, measuring tasks?
WHY THE TRADITIONAL NEVER-ENDING TO-DO LIST SUCKS
Let me introduce you to a system I’ve been using for some time now that has drastically improved my medical study grades.
Instead of having one never-ending to-do list, you have a semester study list, a weekly study list and a daily study list.
Before the start of the semester you fill up the semester study list.
On Sunday, you fill up the weekly study list by writing everything you want to accomplish during the week.
Then, each night, write the daily study list for the next day by selecting tasks from the weekly study list.
An essential rule is added: Once you’ve completed your daily study list, do not add another task. Pat yourself on the back and enjoy your free time guilt-free.
So, what makes this system so powerful and how different is it from a standard to-do list?
When I was using my college guide book as a study list, some subjects would stay untouched on it for weeks, or even months.
When I was using my college guide book as my medical study list, some subjects would stay untouched on it for weeks, or even months.
Additionally, there are enough other subjects on the list to keep you busy, and you don’t even notice that you are procrastinating on it.
A standard to-do list is rarely ever completed, so you don’t really notice when an item stays there for lengthy periods of time.
With this new system, you decide to do this tough task at a precise moment during the week.
If you are procrastinating, the system will tell you at the end of the week by showing me what did not complete.
Then, by acknowledging that you are procrastinating, you can take special actions to ensure that the task will be completed.
You can ask for help from someone else, write reminders everywhere, but often enough, simply being aware you are procrastinating will allow you to stop putting it off.
STOP STUDYING EARLIER
Another great benefit is that it allows you to stop studying earlier than usual.
Why is that?
Usually, you tell yourself, “I will study all day at the library.”
Then regardless of how productive you’ve been, you study until you feel too tired to do anything else.
But now, you have a list of tasks to do, so you’ll tell yourself, “I just need to finish these ten tasks and then I can stop for today.”
See the difference?
You have a big incentive to be more productive and work faster to improve your medical grades.
When I started to use this system, I could do the same amount of work as before, but often in one or two hours less.
Instead of studying until midnight each day, I started to finish my day around 6 pm, while doing as much work or more than before!
I was excited to be more efficient and complete my tasks, so that I could stop early and still enjoy some daylight.
HOW MANY TASKS SHOULD I DO PER DAY?
One piece of advice we often read is to set up exactly three tasks a day.
There is no magic number.
You may have only one or twenty tasks.
For instance, a task could be “Study Lesson 30 in Anatomy“. This is a big task, so I can’t have twenty like these.
Another one could be “Email your Cardiology Professor”, which can be done in 5 minutes.
I’ve found that having a lot of small and simple tasks is preferable to large and complex.
There is less risk that you’ll procrastinate on something if it’s short, easy, and well defined.
For instance, “Work on Project A” is not a well-defined task.
Ask yourself, “What is the first action? What comes next?” and so on.
Define the task as if you were giving the work to someone else. They must know exactly what needs to be done.
So, instead of “Study Anatomy”, I broke it down into “Study First Part in Lesson 10”, “Review Lesson 8”, and so on.
I always invest some time at the end of the day to plan the next day, from 15 to 30 minutes. I say “invest” because there is a payout to doing so.
I noticed that when I prepare my tasks very well and break them down into smaller pieces, I work much more efficiently and I tend to procrastinate much less.
For some people, it works better to prepare the tasks in the morning.
To avoid planning too many or not enough tasks, start by looking back at last week to see how much work you’re achieving every day.
This is a good starting point.
This will give you a good idea of how many tasks you should do. With time, you’ll get a feeling for it.
HOW DO YOU PLAN FOR UNPLANNED WORK?
For some subjects, we can’t realistically plan an entire week in advance.
For instance, you might study a lesson on Tuesday and you find yourself taking longer on that task.
While the rule about adding tasks during the day is non-negotiable, you can add work to your weekly list if it’s needed.
If a task is “urgent”, ask yourself if it really needs to be done immediately.
I’m always very careful with adding tasks for the same day.
I broke this rule too often in the past, and several times fell back to managing time instead of tasks. This rule is essential.
YOUR THREE STEPS TO GET STARTED.
I always advise to start small when beginning something new.
To help you get used to this system, here are a few easy steps that will get you started:
Step 1 – Write down everything you want to study next week. (5 to 10 minutes)
Step 2 – From this first list, choose what you want to study tomorrow. (1 minute)
Step 3 – Schedule 5 minutes every day to prepare your next day.
And that’s it!
My simple 3 steps to improve your medical study grades.
Give it a try for a week, you will see a difference from the very first day. 🙂
P.S. I have created a FREE, 7-Day Course on How To 20X YOUR LEARNING!
If you want to receive study techniques SIGN-UP FOR YOUR FREE 20X YOUR LEARNING 7-DAY EMAIL COURSE by clicking the picture below.