“We just have one question for you- how on earth have you managed to fit it all in?”
This was the question a doctor asked me during my interview for a job. They were looking at my portfolio. It’s… pretty sizeable.
“Erm…. not sure really. I mean, to be fair, I have two years extra on most of these interviewees here today…” I’ve had a bit of a convoluted career pathway.
In actuality, I do know how my portfolio got to its size and it wasn’t so much those two extra years. I’ve worked hard. That’s it really. There’s no other particular magic answer, and there’s no point trying to play that down, especially not in an interview. (Also, I will do a blog post on writing portfolios soon) I thought I’d talk to you a little, then, about how I manage my time.
Someone said to me the other week that you can’t manage ‘Time’ you can only manage yourself. Which is pedantic but definitely true. Time will carry on without you and life can easily pass you by while you binge on netflix.
The truth is I have a great many negative qualities that mean I am often surprised by what I accomplish: I’m inherently lazy when it comes to looking after myself; I’m ALWAYS late; I’m always optimistic about how much time I have; I often find myself slipping into a netflix/apathy funk; I can never achieve anything until I’m worried about NOT achieving it; and I’m often terribly disorganised and I have a ‘butterfly’ mind- if you don’t pin it down, it flaps away. I preferred drama and art but had myself do sciences instead (I did like Biology and Maths)- most people at school were surprised I went into medicine. Yet I’m lucky enough to now love it and along the way I’ve learnt about these negatives in myself.
The point is, we all have flaws and imperfections and there is no perfect way to overcome them completely. As time has continued without me therefore, I’ve learned the following ways to get on top of things:
- Learn how YOU learn
– if you’re studying for an exam or doing a project, there is no point fighting with yourself. Yes, sometimes you need to be flexible and work as a team but the best way of achieving that A is to understand how you learn. My way is visual. I have always been a visual learner. Also, if I don’t write something down myself, I don’t remember it (typing doesn’t help) and if I truly want to understand a condition, I’d preferably see a patient with it. This can lead to swarms of post-it notes, lots of whiteboards and marker pens to draw and scribble, and lots of time spent on wards looking for patients to talk to. (Med students, if you’re not in the hospital/community practice, you WILL NOT learn how to be a doctor- books are not enough).
- Make lists and have goals
– if I know I’ve got things to achieve, I write them all down with tick boxes and then I break them into bite-size chunks across the week/month. Sometimes I schedule those goals for specific times, but mostly, I know I’m useless with time so I just list them and aim to tick them off. Oh, and, bite-size means just that. You should only aim to do 3 goals a day and if you pick 5 then don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Simply learn to prioritise.
- Know when you’re about to hit your stride
– annoyingly for my sleep patterns and need for daylight, I work better at night. Often at uni, I’d try and make myself work before about 7pm/8pm- useless. Once it hit 8pm, I could put a lamp on my work to focus me and work until 2 or 4 am solid. There’s a concept called the 80:20 rule in business. Don’t spend 80% of your time only achieving a 20% output; don’t force yourself to work when you can’t focus (maybe you need a break?). Instead, work out when you best focus and then spend 20% of your time knocking out 80% of that list you made.
- Exercise regularly
– I hated it when people said this to me at uni because I thought I was useless at it and it wouldn’t help. Actually when I think about it, I would have dancing breaks. I’m a self-taught belly-dancer/body-popper and I used to spend my breaks dancing around my room. When the break was over, I could focus again. Regular exercise is more important than I realised then but I was still doing it. And now, if I don’t keep active, my mind and my body and my attitude all start to slow. Building in regular exercise REALLY helps me to manage myself.
- Learn when to say yes and how to say no
– will that opportunity help or hinder you? That’s all you need to ask.
- Have a diary that suits you
– some folks laugh at me but I LOVE my filofax. Each year I can recycle the pages so I feel like I’m not being overly wasteful and I always make sure I have the ‘Week on Two Pages’ set-up. I’ve had so many people tell me to use google- that’s fine if that’s what works for them, but except for setting an alarmed reminder on my phone, technology doesn’t work for me when it comes to planning. It goes back to the fact that if I don’t write it down by my own hand, I won’t have organised my brain.
Have a think about what works for you- once you’ve picked these things out, learnt to accept your bad days and pat yourself for your good days, you will instantly find it easier to manage your time and yourself!