Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Study Tips: Avoiding Distractions

med student blog
I'll be honest here, I've been having some trouble focusing on studying for Step 1. A lot of trouble, actually. Today alone I've: perused beet recipes, learned to play the first few lines of the Friends theme from a YouTube guitar video, watched 9 other YouTube videos, initiated a text conversation with an old classmate, organized my cutlery drawer, read about Victoria's best beaches, and started to write this post...all in the course of the past two hours I'd set aside for studying. Ah!

Believe it or not, I used to be a pretty good studier. I think I'm just a little out of practice. I've got five weeks until my USMLE Step 1, so I'm going to do what I did back in undergrad and medical school to avoid distractions -- here's a list:
  1. study schedule & goals -- I've roughly outlined what I'd like to accomplish in the next 5 weeks and am going to do my best to stay on track. As I wrote about in my study schedule post, I use this schedule as a guide to set (and write down!) specific goals (usually page numbers) for what I'd like to get through each time I sit down to study.
    med student blog
    a work in progress...
  2. distraction-free desk -- I've cleared everything but my study materials off my desk. I've put my study schedule up, gathered tea and water, and slanted the blinds to deter myself from people-/traffic-watching (yes, I get distracted that easily).
    usmel step 1 study schedule
  3. list of page numbers -- To help me stay on track in First Aid I've made a list of all the page numbers and am highlighting them once I get through them. Particularly with eBooks I find it hard to get a sense of how much I've gone through; this is a satisfying way to be able to track my progress and set goals (e.g. I'll finish x block of page numbers today).
    usmle step 1 study schedule
    I skipped the biochem chapter. Of course. :(
  4. to-do list of non-study-related things -- Whenever I think of something I have to do/look up/cook/buy/etc. that's not related to studying, I jot it down on a to-do list (in my planner or on scrap paper) so that I can put it out of my mind right away, before it lures me away from studying! Putting little things that cross my mind (e.g. "chicken recipes", "text ___") on the list saves me the time I'd waste (and cascade of distractions that inevitably follows) in doing them right away.
    avoid distractions studying
  5. "songs I should download" list -- I often listen to the radio while studying (Click 98.9) and get distracted by looking up or downloading songs that I like. I've started just jotting them down on a list instead.
    medical school study
  6. meals at my desk -- Meals away from my desk can expand into huge distraction-filled time wasters (the worst being when I start watching TV and can't bring myself to get back to my desk). If I'm focused on studying it's better to bring meals to my desk to avoid getting sucked away by three-hour hockey games...
    med school studying

Depending on what I'm studying or how focused I'm feeling, I time my breaks in different ways. I don't think there's really an optimal way to determine when to take a break; you could take breaks:
  • organically -- don't plan 'em, just take one when you feel you need it (caution: it's easy to trick yourself into believing that you need/deserve a break!)
  • by number of pages or chapters -- "every 10 pages I'll take a 10-minute break"
  • by minutes -- "every 25 minutes I'll take a 5-minute break" -- the Pomodoro Technique is structured like this (I haven't properly tried it so I can't tell you much more -- you may want to check it out on Wikipedia or read about Pippa's experience on Happy Healthy Me(d)!)

Hopefully I'll be able to follow my own advice and be super productive in the weeks to come :)

Let me know if you have any suggestions for avoiding distractions while studying...I could definitely use them :)

If you're interested, here are some other posts I've written on getting organized to study:


  1. Thanks for posting!! Very helpful!!

  2. This is really great stuff ! Thanks for sharing !


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