Do you find yourself cramming for exams and wishing you had spent more time on readings? You’re not alone. In fact, many students, including myself, have difficulty managing their time effectively.
Being an internationally trained dentist (ITD) in Canada brings some responsibilities that require subtle lifestyle changes. You are investing a great deal of time and money into a new lucrative career. You should want to increase your chances of success from the beginning. That requires focus and dedication.
However, instead of stressing about getting the correct answer on every practice exam, take a breath and step back for a moment. Look at the way you live daily and think about how you can better your time management skills so the end result is solid progress towards your goal. Focus on completing dental requirements and balancing your life to lower stress levels and feel good while studying.
Why Time Management Matters to Dental Students?
Time management is essential for dental students because of the amount of work involved. Between clinicals and theoretical studies, there is not enough of your day to spread out with friends, family, and the critical activities of life like paying your bills and maintaining a measure of quality health.
Whether you are a first-year ITD preparing for an exam or a seasoned veteran one step away from opening a new practice, you already know there is so much to learn in this field. You don’t want your grades to suffer just because you didn’t manage your time correctly.
As a dentist, managing your time effectively is crucial because it will help with being productive at work and staying on top of your tasks. Having good time management skills will allow you to get more done while working fewer hours. It may not seem like much, but it will make a massive difference over time.
Think about how this prepares you for being a member of a dental practice. If you think you are busy now, imagine when you have hundreds of patients, a dental team, and supportive staff. Yes, you can delegate quite a bit to others, but there will be demands on your time that are not likely to go away anytime soon.
So, how can you manage your time while studying? Here’s a list of the five ways you can master this imperative skill.
1. Set Clear Goals and Simplify
You need to set goals and make sure that your goals are attainable. The key is to be specific about what you want, so that you can clearly identify the steps that will help you achieve it. If you have a practical test coming up, say you will spend 20 minutes every other day studying in this specific location with that peer every time.
Once you have goals, simplify everything. Remove the “fat” of extra distractions during your focused periods. Shut off your phone, turn off the TV, and give your mind the freedom to fully explore a topic or task.
2. Establish Habits
If you don’t have a habit, it’s challenging to be productive. That’s why you need to establish good habits in your daily routine. A habit is something that is repeated over a period of time. The more we do something, the more it becomes automatic and unconscious.
It’s human nature for us to form habits and make actions automatic so that we can focus on other things in our lives. By doing this, we become more productive because our mind is free from having to constantly think about what needs to be done next or what needs attention right now.Develop a solid routine where you always study for your dental work at a specific time of day and location. This ritual will signal to your brain that now is the time to focus.
3. Create a To-Do List
There are several different ways to create a to-do list, but they all serve the same purpose. They help you break tasks down into smaller, more manageable pieces and prioritize them based on importance or urgency. If you have a lot of assignments due at once and don’t know where to start, creating a to-do list will help you get organized so that you can tackle each task individually.
It helps to use smartphone apps or physical calendars to give each task a due date so you know what to do next. Eliminating confusion is one of the key methods to improving your time management skills.
4. Tackle One Thing at a Time
It is important to set aside one task at a time and dedicate all your energy to completing it. This will help you stay focused and prevent distractions. To avoid multitasking, try setting a timer for each task you need to complete. When the timer goes off, move on to the next task on your list.
Many students are guilty of getting distracted by their phones while they study or do homework. If you find yourself constantly checking social media or text messages while studying, try turning off notifications on your phone so that these notifications aren’t distracting you from what you need to get done.
5. Take Breaks & Get Healthy
Taking breaks is a necessity for your productivity. When you take breaks, your body and mind get to rest without losing focus on the task at hand, which can be extremely important when working on something that requires serious concentration.
For example, if you’re studying for exams, taking regular breaks will help prevent eye strain—which can result in headaches if ignored for too long—and allow you to come back with fresh eyes and renewed energy.
Don’t forget to eat a well-balanced diet and get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day, even if it is a light walk around campus. You want your body to have the energy stores that allow you to focus on what needs to be done. This will help with procrastination, so your tasks do not build up and sabotage your time management efforts.
Bonus Tip: Join a Study Group
A great way to learn is by studying with others. It’s a lot easier to study if you have someone else there with you, helping you understand and remember what you’re learning. This is especially helpful with time management because it creates a social obligation around a designated task, placing a higher weight on something that should be a priority for your dental education.
Time Management is About Choices
At the end of the day, your time management skills are going to mainly depend on the choices you make. Even if you decide to create a schedule and eat a healthy diet, you still need stress relief. Going out to a movie when you should be studying may be okay every once and a while, but don’t forget the larger goal.
If you leverage your time management now, you will have more time for exciting things a little later on. Buckle down and develop these skills at this point in your career, and you will reap the benefits once you begin your dental practice.
About the Author
Karen Nunez was born in Valenzuela, Philippines. She received her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Centro Escolar University in Manila.
Karen currently is a practicing oral health care professional based in Alberta, Canada; and runs a website where she writes a slew of articles to empower internationally trained dentists to integrate into Canadian dentistry.
Read more of her blogs here.