Although time management can't increase the hours in the day or reduce your workload, it can help you feel more in control. It can also help you to achieve your personal and professional goals – from studying efficiently to ensuring you have enough time to communicate with patients well.
With the heavy workloads faced by doctors, effective time management is also important for clinician wellbeing and patient safety. A study by the University of Manchester and Keele University found burnout was associated with an increase in the likelihood for unsafe care and unprofessional behaviour, such as not following treatment guidelines and poor quality communication.
We asked medical students to share their tips for managing their time. If you feel time slipping away when you need to complete your tasks, take some inspiration from your fellow medical students.
Most medical students who responded agreed that it was about getting organised. However you set your work, it’s best if it’s organised in a structured way.
As one medical student suggested, “Have a weekly planner with all your appointments laid out so you don’t overstretch yourself.”
Good time managers take a few minutes at the start of their day to prioritise the most important tasks and consider how much time is needed to perform them. It can help to make a list, setting priorities according to the urgency of each task.
Break it down
If completing a project is an issue for you, perhaps it’s because it seems overwhelming, or really complex. Break the task down into smaller more manageable steps and take each one at a time.
“For big projects, do little often,” one medical student told us.
We all procrastinate on occasions. But procrastination robs us of time. Try not to be distracted by non-urgent tasks and focus on your priorities.
One student suggested writing down all the non-urgent tasks that distracted you and put it aside to deal with later. That way you have a list of what needs to be done and can tackle them when you’re completed your priority tasks.
Know when to say no
You might think it’s quicker to do everything yourself, but appropriate delegation should allow you to be more efficient in getting through your workload. Setting boundaries in a polite but firm way can also help safeguard your time, allowing you to focus on the urgent tasks that only you can do.
For big projects, do little often.
And when working in clinical settings, it can be even more important for patient safety – always work within your capabilities and say no when you’re being asked to do something that is outside your level of expertise or experience.
Do what works for you
Remember, everyone works differently. What works for one person may not work for others.
As one medical student said, “follow a method that works for you. Don’t just copy what everyone else is doing because we all work differently.”
Some of the responses have been edited for length.