You’ve already heard me say this a few times… But guys, residency was HARD. Between long hours, high-stress situations, and mountains of deadlines, it was a lot to handle! BUT, I survived with the help of some things I learned along the way! Today I’m sharing 10 tips I used to help me maximize my productivity! Whether you’re starting residency, a new job, or even college, below are helpful tips for anyone looking to work smarter, not harder!
1. Pick a calendar and stick to it.
I have used a slew of paper planners and digital platforms. Formerly, I was a devout paper planner user, but I actually transitioned to digital calendars during residency for a few reasons. First, I did NOT like having to carry around my planner at all times. Things change quickly, and I would sometimes have to keep lists of dates on a random piece of paper that I then had to re-write in my planner. Not a good use of time.
Next, I love reminders! No matter which program you use (Google, Outlook, iCal, etc.), you can set reminders for every deadline and meeting that will pop up on your computer screen, phone, and smartwatch. I found it to be very helpful, especially when I was engrossed in a project or needed to leave rounds early to go to an important meeting.
Basically, I love the convenience that technology provides. Ultimately, it’s why I made the switch to a digital calendar. My phone (and therefore my calendar) is in my pocket at all times. That was paramount for my ever growing list of appointments and to-do’s!
2. Productivity? There’s an app for that.
I’ve mentioned the Flora app before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again if you struggle with mindlessly scrolling on your phone. We’ve all sought out our phone as a distraction at one point or another, but Flora makes it easy to put my phone aside and focus on the task at hand. The app has you choose how long you want to “focus” and limits access to your phone for that specified period of time so you won’t be too tempted to check that Instagram notification. It’s easy to de-activate if you have an emergency as well. Download it here for free to give it a try!
3. Write it all down.
This is a strategy I’ve used for a long time. Sometimes when my mind gets bogged down with all the things I have to do, I just write them down. It doesn’t matter how big or small the task is, or in what order I write them down. It just helps to get everything out of my head and onto paper because I feel like frees up space in my brain. Then I can continue working on the task at hand.
4. Work in time blocks.
I plan out my whole day. It’s a flexible plan, but a plan nonetheless. I pick out the tasks I need to accomplish for the day and take a guess at how long it’ll take me to complete them. If it takes me a shorter amount of time to finish that task than I initially thought it would, I will work on something else until my next “work block” is scheduled to start!
For big projects, I like to schedule 1-2 hour blocks of time each day over several weeks or months to complete them. For smaller tasks, I’ll schedule 30 minutes or so to complete them. I do this, because I get bored working on one thing for too long and my productivity goes out the window. I also know that I am better at completing certain tasks at different times of the day. For example, if a project involves writing a lot, I like to schedule that in the morning because that’s when my brain is fresh. In the afternoon, I like to focus on more mindless tasks because it requires a different kind of focus.
5. Schedule breaks.
Speaking of time blocks, I always schedule breaks in between each block of work if possible. If I know I have a scheduled break coming up, I will work a little harder to make sure I focus for the remainder of time I have left in my “work block”. During these breaks I make sure to grab some water, take a quick walk, and step away from work, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
6. Focus on one thing at a time.
I used to think multi-tasking was what I had to do to accomplish everything on my to-do list. Within the last couple years, I realized that working on one thing at a time is the real way to check things off the list. It keeps me focused so I don’t make sloppy mistakes and keeps me from feeling like I bit off more than I can chew. It sounds counterintuitive, but I promise that slow and steady wins the race every time.
7. Break it down.
For large projects, I tried to be really specific and intentional about what I wanted to accomplish. For example, when I was writing my manuscript for my research project, I would schedule a work block of 1-2 hours each morning for it. I would then pick actionable tasks to accomplish within that time frame like “write introduction” or “read background literature”. This kept me from sitting there for two hours wondering how I was going to finish a monster-sized project.
8. Wake up earlier.
This one was probably the hardest for me to put into practice, but I am so happy I did. Before work, I always wake up to exercise and spend at least 30 minutes on something else. Whether it’s reading a book or writing a blog post, I try to spend a little time doing something that brings me joy. It sets the tone for the rest of my day!
9. De-clutter your space
Whether you work from home or you have an office, it’s important to keep everything tidy. I made it a habit to tidy up my desktop every day, and every 1 to 2 weeks I deep cleaned all my drawers and cabinets so nothing ever got out of control. I really think your surroundings have such a big impact on your mind and productivity!
10. Check your email twice a day
I used to keep my email inbox open all the time, but anytime I received a new email, it would distract me from whatever I was working on at the time. Now I check my email twice a day. Once in the morning, and once about an hour before I leave for work. This allows me to stay on top of my inbox while limiting distractions throughout my day.
As always, thanks for reading along! Have you tried any of these productivity tips? I’d love to hear what works best for you to amp up your productivity! Share anything you do to work smarter not harder in the comments below!