It’s not easy to pursue a degree in the medical field. It takes time, energy, and pure dedication to push through heavy workloads and seemingly endless study sessions. However, the following five strategies will help you manage your workload so you don’t get overwhelmed:

  1. Learn to manage your time efficiently

When you’re studying for any kind of degree in the medical field, whether it’s nursing, anesthesiology, or pharmacology, effective time management skills will get you through your heavy workloads.

Time itself can’t be managed – we all have the same 24 hours in the day. What you can manage is how you choose to use your time by managing your tasks effectively.

Rush University suggests first ranking your tasks in order of importance and organizing them into groups based on priority. For example, say you need to finish your financial aid application, meet with your study group, and talk to a professor about an upcoming exam. These tasks should be prioritized based on their deadlines. For example, if your exam is in a few days, then talking to your professor is a top priority. If your study group doesn’t meet for a month, finish your financial aid application first.

  1. Eliminate the use of task lists

Task lists seem like the best tool when you enjoy checking things off a list. However, that sense of accomplishment can be misleading. A task list is, by nature, not organized by priority. When working off of a basic task list, you’ll be tempted to do two things that will work to your detriment:

  • Get everything done in one day. With a list in front of you, how can you not want to get it all done right now? That feeling of satisfaction you get when you cross off an item is not effective progress if the item you’re crossing off isn’t a priority.
  • Do the easiest things first. When you have an entire list to work from, it makes sense to tackle the easiest items first. By doing this, you’ll undoubtedly tackle non-priority items that you could have tended to days or weeks later, thereby ignoring your priorities.
  1. Master the art of using milestones

Milestones are individual goals, but they’re part of a larger goal. For example, if your goal is to get a specific residency, a milestone along the way would be completing your personal statement for your residency applications. Likewise, submitting those applications would also be a milestone.

Traditional goal-setting begins with the main goal and works backward to identify smaller goals (milestones) along the way. What will it take for you to achieve the overall goal? Those are your milestones.

Using milestones connect to goals, as opposed to one giant task list, gives you constant access to the big picture, so you don’t lose sight of your overall goals.

  1. Limit or eliminate your distractions

Anything that distracts you should be eliminated, at least while you’re studying and engaged in other activities necessary to obtaining your degree. The most common distractions are video games, cell phones, and friends. Other distractions can include pets, the television, and the strange phenomenon of self-distraction.

Research has shown that people working in an office frequently distract themselves throughout the day by getting up to stretch, talking to a neighboring team member, and looking up random ideas online.

  1. Stop multi-tasking

The idea that anyone can multi-task is a misunderstanding. What everyone calls multi-tasking is really task switching. When “multi-tasking,” you’re not really doing multiple things at once; you’re moving from one task to another, repeatedly. Unfortunately, this practice drains the body’s glucose levels faster than ever. The brain relies on a majority of the body’s glucose to function, and that’s why multi-tasking is exhausting.

If you’re exhausted from studying, you might be task switching without realizing it.

Being interrupted has the same effect on you as multi-tasking

You might think it’s no big deal to be interrupted multiple times throughout the day because you can always put your attention back on your tasks. That’s not entirely true. Research from  the University of California-Irvine shows that after a distraction, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to your original focus.

You’ve heard people talk about getting in their groove. When you’re studying for medical school, you need time to get into your groove and you can’t afford to be taken out of it.

Stay focused

Above all, the most important study habit to maintain is staying focused on your goals. No matter how hard it gets, don’t lose sight of your dreams. People of the future are depending on you.