OzTREKK Ambassadors: Figuring out your study workflow
Study Workflow: What Flows for Me, Might Trickle for You
All right! You’re done your first semester of your second year of medical school—you must really have your routine down by now?
My routine has changed drastically from my first year of med school, and I’m sure it will change even more in the future when we move into clinical years. But here is what my day looks like, what tools I use, and what I’ve figured out so far. There is a lot more to medical school than just lectures and anatomy lab. Who knew?
Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit older than the rest of my cohort, but I learned about Anki in my first year and it sounded awful. I was never the type of kid to make my own flashcards (on paper or cue cards back in my day) and I often mocked the kids that did. However, spaced repetition is proven to be a tried-and-true method of getting facts and concepts into your head, and keeping them there. I think what turned me off of it at first was making my own cards and not really being sure I’m covering all the information I needed to. Luckily the internet can help with that.
There are reddit pages dedicated to sharing, editing, and perfecting Anki decks for a variety of tests, specialties, and subjects. These pages have videos and guides on settings, good resources to pair with it, and how to use this tool. Essentially, for me it boiled down to using Anki decks for step 1, even though I have no intention of writing it, because these decks have been used, tweaked, and perfected by so many students before me, and simply doing cards that relate to what I’m learning. If you’re really lucky, previous students may have made decks for your specific curriculum. It can be a little bit of effort to make yourself go through these flashcards and figure out how to do it effectively, but you really get out what you put in. I often catch myself blurting out facts, almost unsure how it got into my head. That’s Anki for you.
Using the Pomodoro Method
One tool I started using in the first year that has lasted is the Pomodoro timer, but how I’ve used it has changed somewhat over time. The idea behind the timer, at least in my head, is trying to trick your brain. I think to myself, “Okay, I’m going to do some work for thirty minutes. After that thirty minutes, I have permission to goof off for five minutes and watch YouTube videos about Rick and Morty. Then I’ll have to do another thirty minutes of work before I can goof off again.”
However, the thing that has changed for me is turning off the auto timer. The timer that I use has a setting to automatically switch from your work to your break once the notification goes off, or you can turn that off, meaning that your rest timer doesn’t start until you manually click over to the other tab and switch it over. It takes a bit of discipline to actually follow the guidelines; however, this means if I’m caught up in what I’m doing—like I’ve really gotten into a good workflow state—I can continue plugging away with what I’m doing and the constant buzzers of breaks and work periods won’t disturb me from the state I’ve gotten myself into. If I start to lose steam after accidentally working for 45 minutes instead of 30, then I know that I still have a five-minute break to goof off and reward myself a bit.
So, most days, if I don’t have obligations at school or in hospital (like labs, bedside teaching, or clinical skill workshops), I will spend the morning trying to work through all the Anki card reviews I have using the Pomodoro timer “method” I just mentioned. Once I’m done that, I will move on to new content for the day.
Check Your Notes
Medical school in the time of COVID means that all lectures are done online and recorded for future use. So, that usually means waiting until the lecture is done, then watching it at 1.5x speed while using my iPad to annotate the slides and make my own notes. Jacqueline and I personally use the program Notability. It works great if you have an iPad and an Apple pencil, and you can physically annotate the notes as you go along. A lot of our classmates use other programs like OneNote to similar effect. Then, if I still need to brush up on the topic, or review it before next case for PBL, there are a lot of resources online that are great for showing you what’s high-yield information, such as Osmosis, AMBOSS, or textbooks like First Aid for the USMLE Step 1.
Getting Into Your Flow
I try to do all of this by using the Pomodoro timer to break up the work throughout the day, but you also need to step away from your desk (or in our case, the kitchen table) throughout the day. Go for a walk, drink too much coffee, go to the gym, take a nap and watch a TV show. You need to allow your brain to turn off for a bit, and digest what you have been shoving into it. Schedule your breaks so you don’t get carried away, but make sure you actually schedule them.
What works for me, or Jacqueline might not work for you, but you won’t know what works for you until you figure out what doesn’t. If the first year of medical school has taught me anything, it’s that learning what doesn’t work is just as important as learning what does.
Check out Jac and Levi’s other articles!
- Do What Works For You: Our motto for learning online
- 9 things to consider when weighing multiple medical school offers
- Finding balance as a medical student during a global struggle