Discussing time management in your Medicine interview & how to use it for your A-level revision & UCAS application.

In this article, we discuss six powerful time management tips that can be used for your A-level revision, UCAS application and applied to your Medicine interview preparation. This knowledge will also help you if you are asked in your Medicine interview, how you manage your time, as you can discuss some of these things. These time management tips are not your typical time management clichés, so using them in your answer will help you stand out. Tip two gives you a perfect revision timetable that you can use for A-levels or any type of study including preparing for your Medicine interview. These six time management tips will also help you in medical school where time management becomes even more critical. This article is lengthy so you may want to read it over multiple sittings.

The myth of time management

Time management is a ubiquitous topic discussed everywhere from self-improvement books to the lecture halls at Harvard Business School. However, it is a misnomer. You cannot manage time. Time will run its course regardless of what you do or whether or not you even exist. You cannot slow time down or speed it up. A king has the same 86,400 seconds in a day as a pauper. You can only manage yourself and how well you navigate through time, but not time itself.

Psychological time vs clock time – time as an emotion vs time as a measurement.

We have said that you cannot manage time. You cannot alter its speed. However, you can manage yourself by changing how fast or slow time feels for you. Have you ever been stuck in a long queue at the post office, sat through a boring lecture or anxiously waited for some important news? It may have felt like many slow painful hours were passing by, when in reality, it was seconds or minutes if you were to measure it.

Contrast this to being engrossed in a thrilling film or book, having a fantastic time out with friends, or doing a very enjoyable hobby. You may glance at your watch and realise it has been hours yet the time “just flew by”. You may have become so engrossed in what you are doing that you forgot about the concept of time. This is the opposite of the other situations we described – like being stuck in a queue – where you are much more aware of every passing second.

Your perception of time changes depending on how you feel about the task and how you feel in general. This is because there is a difference between psychological time (time as a feeling) versus clock time (time as a measurement). Time is an emotion as well as a measurement. This leads us to our first tip below.

Time Management Tip 1 – Do not see revision as a chore, see it as building your future

How enjoyable or painful an activity is will determine how you how quickly or slowly you will perceive the time it takes to do it. Enjoyable time will typically pass more quickly and easily (you may even forget about time) than unenjoyable time.

Time Management Tip 1So how can we use this knowledge to make studying less boring or unpleasant? You may view your Medicine interview preparation or your A-level revision as a laborious chore. However, consider what you are doing. You are building your future and actively shaping your own destiny. How long have you wanted to be a doctor? Now you have the chance to take exams to create the future that you want for yourself. If you have an upcoming Medicine interview, someone is offering you with open arms the chance to fulfil your ambition. Preparing for it is not a chore, it is a privilege. You have this opportunity that billions of people around the world, who cannot have a proper education, do not have.

So, next time you are revising for A-levels or preparing for Medicine interview questions, think to yourself that you are not studying because you “have to” but because you “actively choose to”. These hours are being spent investing in yourself, expanding your knowledge, testing your abilities and building the future that you want.

You can also use the power of visualisation. Before revising, spend a few minutes picturing yourself passing your exams very easily. Picture yourself on results day, celebrating with your family and friends. Imagine yourself achieving your goals and acing your interview and getting into Medical school and so on. Make the pictures very bright and vivid and actually feel the emotions that you would at the time. Doing this before you revise will give purpose to what you are doing when you revise and can even make you excited to do so.

Time Management Tip 2 – Do not study all day. Instead only work “cleanly” and avoid the “grey zone.”

It is a false economy thinking that marathon long sessions of revision will produce better results than much shorter focused bursts. Imagine if a formula one team decided that their car should not come in for any pit stops as it wastes time that they could have used to drive continuously instead. Of course, this strategy is entirely wrong. If they continued without pit stops, the worn-out tyres and other damage picked up would slow them down even more than the time needed for several pits stops throughout a race. You will see formula one teams calling their cars in to change tires if the environment changes, e.g. it starts raining. The vehicle may even malfunction if it does not stop for regular assessments, repairs and refuelling.

If you are studying for your A-levels or practising for your Medicine interview all day from morning to night, then chances are you are working in the “grey zone”. You may think you are “working” all day, but it is very likely that you are in fact spending some time doing moderately effective work but also significant amounts of time not really working but not really enjoying the benefits of rest either, i.e. in the grey zone. As you are in the grey zone, the quality of your work will be mediocre and your rest will be of limited benefit. You will likely have a persistent feeling that you are busy but still feel that you are not working hard or long enough. You may feel frustrated and unsatisfied. Perhaps even a little guilty that you are not working enough even though you are seemingly working all day.

Now imagine that instead of the all-day working described above, you instead took an entirely different and superior approach, which completely avoided the grey zone. This approach is living “cleanly”. Living cleanly is the opposite of living in the grey zone. It involves periods of intense, uninterrupted work, followed by clean transitions to complete rest and rejuvenation. Rest does not mean you are lying down or sleeping. It just means not working at all. You could be enjoying any of your hobbies, playing sports, socialising, reading for pleasure etc. These two states are distinct from each other and do not overlap. When you are working, you are entirely working i.e. not with Facebook and loud music in the background, and when you are rejuvenating, you are entirely rejuvenating, not thinking about work let alone being stressed or worried about work.

As a result, you work less but get more done and can rest for longer and enjoy the rest more. We talk about how to reach a state of clean working without getting distracted in tip 5, as it is not easy to achieve, and talk about clean rest later also. Before that, let us look at how a clean-living day would look like. This is an ideal revision timetable for A-levels, medical school, your Medicine interview preparation or any type of work or study.

An example of clean working in action

Here is an example of a powerful clean study routine/timetable for your A-levels, Medicine preparation or any other type of study.

Step 1. Begin block 1 – that is working for solid block of for example 50 minutes (It could be 10, 20, 40 minutes or whatever suits you, but pick a consistent length of time for all of your blocks, so your brain gets used to knowing how long it is should expect to continuously work for) This block has to be an entirely distraction-free block of continuous work. Tip 5 later in this article explains how to achieve this difficult feat and how to avoid getting distracted along the way. We discuss something called the butterfly effect and how you can stop it ruining your workflow.

Step 2. After the 50 minute block 1 is done, completely stop working and take a 10-minute break (or 20 minutes etc. if you prefer but again keep a consistent length of time so your brain knows what to expect). During this break, leave the room, go for a walk or do whatever you want. The break does not necessarily have to be mentally easy either (you could even play Sudoku or chess if you wanted to) – it just needs to be very different and involve some physical movement and a total change of environment. Make sure you leave the room. During the break, don’t just remain on your desk, taking a break but still kind of thinking of work, i.e. the grey zone – you must do the opposite of this and wholly switch off from work and do something else, somewhere else.

Step 3. After your break, come back to your study environment. Spend some time reviewing what you did during the last block and thinking of what you hope to achieve now. Now start block 2 for another 50 minutes of clean work. You could choose to study another subject or continue on the same one. Even if you remain on the same subject, remember to still summarise to yourself what you did in the last block.

Step 4. After finishing block 2, you are half way finished so you can now take an extended break, e.g. 40 minutes or longer if you prefer. Again, try and keep the break time consistent in all of your study days.

Step 5. After your extended break come back for block 3. As before, spending some time reviewing what you did during the last block and thinking of what you hope to achieve in this block. Then start the block of 50 minutes clean work. Once again take your 10-minute break and leave the room.

Step 6. When you come back, once again review the work from your past blocks, plan what you want to do with this block and then start block 4, the final block of 50-minutes work followed by a 10-minute break. After this summarise all the work you have done so far in the day. Perhaps test your recall, see if you can explain out loud what you have done and end your work-day.

You will notice that this style of working involves regular reviews of all the work you have done in previous blocks and a final review of the day’s work. The reviews are after breaks so will be with a fresh mind. This will greatly help to reinforce learning the content into your long-term memory and help with recall. This is a far superior method than simply learning content once and not reviewing the topic for extended periods of time.

If you worked cleanly like this and avoided the grey zone then in the approximately 4 and half hours that this clean cycle of 4x 50-minute blocks takes, you will have likely achieved more than you would have if you revised all day. When you stop working you don’t have to worry about work as you know you have worked very hard and can now entirely rest and rejuvenate. You have only used 4 or so hours and can do anything you want for the rest of the day, or you could take a long break for a couple of hours and try doing another cycle in the evening. Or modify this approach so it has 6 blocks of work with a long break after the 3rd block. The point is, make a clean break between being fully engaged working and fully resting. Don’t keep thinking about your next block in your time off or after you have finished for the day as that it is living in the grey zone.

You need to practice this work/revision schedule as the more you do, the longer your attention span and ability to work intensely, uninterrupted for lengthy periods will increase. Your mind will also get used to knowing that it is expected to work for 50 minutes continuously. This is not easy and most people struggle. In the modern era of smartphones, many people cannot even work for 5 minutes without looking at some form of screen, i.e. a computer or phone or be able to work without some background noise, e.g. the TV or music on in the background. Persist through this initial resistance and with practice you will get better. It may be difficult, but the vast increase in productivity is worth the initial effort.

You can read our blog on how to learn such large amounts of new information for your Medical school interview on top of your A-levels for a full guide on how to study, revise and improve your understanding, memorisation and recall.

Learn to rest cleanly

Time management tips rest cleanlyRemember, clean work is only one component of clean living; clean rest is the other. Stress and burnout are an increasing phenomenon in modern society. Stress and burnout are widespread amongst doctors too. Part of the reason so many people feel stressed is that they cannot switch off from work. Anxiety, stress and thoughts of what they should be doing creep into their minds all day. They are thinking of work even when they are at home, or with their family or watching a TV programme. When it comes time to actually work, they work very poorly as they are often anxious, overwhelmed, or burnout as they haven’t had enough rest. This creates, even more, anxiety, stress and now new emotions like guilt or inadequacy.

These people are living in the grey zone – there isn’t a clean separation of their work from their rest. They are thinking of work during their rest and wishing they had more rest while they work. As a result, the quality of both their work and their rest suffers. They are not effective at work, and they are not effective at resting. They frequently feel overwhelmed and “too busy” to meet friends or family or do everyday tasks after work even though they might not actually have that much work that they could do in their off time. They just feel overwhelmed and busy.

If you can work cleanly, for example following the work pattern described in this tip, then you know that you have worked as hard as you could have during your work period. You can be reassured by this so when you are not working you can completely switch off.

You could also practice meditation or mindfulness as a way to not only increase your attention span and ability to focus (studies show this to be the case) but also so you are not worried by work or other matters at inappropriate times. Mindfulness has a scientific basis for its effectiveness and is increasingly being used in the NHS, in places of work and taught in schools. It has of course been used by millions of peoples worldwide for thousands of years before its increased popularity in the western world.

Time Management Tip 3 – Practice and develop self-awareness

You should not measure how well your revision went based on the number of hours spent or the number of pages read. Measure yourself by outcomes achieved. How well have you learnt the topic? Learn to start thinking how effective and efficient you are being. With practice, you will develop your skills of self-awareness and self-reflection. You will start to get a real feel for your skills and abilities and know when you are at your best or when you are having a bad day and it would be better for you to approach the topic later. Self-awareness is a highly valued and rare skill. Practice it and you can develop this skill.

Time Management Tip 4 – Use NET time (No Extra Time)

If you get the bus or train every weekday and it takes only 20 minutes a day in one direction, then in one year, you have spent a total of over seven entire 24-hour days commuting. Or you could look at it as twenty-one separate 8 hour working days. That’s over one entire month of working days in a typical Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm job! Most people who work all year get around a month off of annual leave. That is a lot of time spent commuting! You could do many productive things during that time and you would not actually spend any extra time as you were commuting anyway. This is why it is called NET, or No Extra Time. This gives you one entire extra working month in the year. You could, for example, learn a language, read books, listen to audiobooks, prepare for your Medicine interview or do admin work. All without costing you any extra time at all.

NET time is a powerful technique but comes with a word of caution. As we discussed earlier, in modern times, many people cannot switch off their minds and are continually thinking of something when they are for example relaxing, watching a movie or with friends. Many people cannot spend a few seconds with just their thoughts and need to continually look at a phone screen or have music or TV on in the background. Use NET time wisely – it is a tool to make you utilise what time you have more efficiently but do not get addicted to it, so you feel like you always have to be doing something. Do not let it stop you from enjoying a train journey or a simple walk doing nothing at all but just enjoying the ride and the company of your thoughts. Mindfulness, a form of mediation, can also help you greatly in calming your mind down as well as giving you more focus and clarity.

Time Management Tip 5 – Eliminate distraction and interruption. Avoid the inner butterfly effect

Time management tips the butterfly effectWorking in an environment where you are continually being distracted, for example, having multiple tabs open or frequently looking at your phone is an incredibly inefficient way to study or revise. Studies have repeatedly shown that people who work with their mobile phone within their proximity, even if it is switched off, facing down or in a draw; have slower reaction times, score lower in IQ tests and are less able to learn and retain new information. Phones have been shown to a have a temporary “dumbing effect” with some studies showing that smartphone use while working can temporarily lower your performance more than drinking alcohol or taking drugs! The reason for this is not the technology itself. It comes down to how the brain works. The mere presence of things like phones, or multiple open tabs on a computer, causes part of the mind to be occupied with actively suppressing distractions. Your conscious mind may not be thinking about your phone, but that process – i.e. the process of requiring yourself to not think about something you usually think about – uses up some of your limited cognitive power.

That is in the case of phones and computers that aren’t even giving you any notifications. If your phone or computer is giving you an actual distraction, e.g. you have Facebook open on your computer, or you read an alert or answer a text on your phone, then your mind switches its focus. Studies have repeatedly shown that it can take extended amounts of time for your brain to return to the same level of concentration it was at before the distraction. If there are repeated distractions, your brain will not even reach a high level of attention in the first place.

Stopping the butterfly effect

Repeated distractions can lead to a butterfly effect where a small distraction ends up guiding your mind into a completely different direction from where you started. This is how some people may begin studying the cardiac cycle on a webpage or a YouTube video and then within an hour end up on the Wikipedia page about the history of racquetball in North America.

How you can avoid the butterfly effect:

1) Recognising what it is – now you have read this article you have done this step. Just being aware of the butterfly effect is a powerful first step.

2) Setting up your environment, so it is free from distractions. Steps should be taken to minimise the chance of interruptions e.g. by turning on do not disturb mode or aeroplane mode on your phone. Only having the books you need out. Only opening the programs you need on your computer and turning the new email function off while you are working.

3) Living “cleanly” as we discussed in tip 2 above. There is plenty of time to answer text messages or watch random YouTube videos during breaks. In fact, the change of activity is actually good for you during a break. However, this should not be done during work. See tip 2 for more information.

Working in chaotic environments

Remember, learning to work in situations with many distractions is an important skill to possess. However, it should not be the regular way that you do most of your work. A boxer needs to learn how to fight when being pushed back on the ropes in a weak position, but that should not be their default method of fighting! Your typical work environment should be one set up for success with minimal distractions.

Time Management Tip 6 – Do not give up your hobbies or healthy habits during your exams

For many people, when they have things like A-level exams or Medicine interviews coming up (or some other life event which makes them busy), the first thing they tend to sacrifice is things like going to the gym, hobbies, sports or seeing their family or friends etc. Sometimes they even sacrifice sleep or eating well. This is because they feel pressured and that they do not have time to do anything else, so they must create more time by sacrificing these things. This is a false economy. Your passions, hobbies and interests are things which make you happy. They rejuvenate you and energise you and give you more energy so you can work harder. Sleep and healthy habits also rejuvenate you, and you are not saving time by sacrificing them. By surrendering your rejuvenation time, you are actually making your working time less productive. Think of the earlier example we used where the formula one team know that pit stops do not slow them down in the bigger picture.

So why do people work like this?

Time management skills working cleanFor someone who works in the grey zone, it is understandable why they would sacrifice these things. They work very inefficiently and have a reduced ability to focus, so they need to stretch out their working day to such an extreme. If you “live cleanly” i.e. work and rest cleanly like we discuss in tip two then this method of working simply would not happen as your few hours of work would be so effective. Your mind would be much more sensitive at picking up when you are not working at your best and you would have enough self-awareness to know this is not a good idea.

There are more than enough hours in the day to work and play. Maybe you need to make some adjustments to your schedule for a brief period but not beyond this. You certainly should not be regularly compromising your emotional and physical well-being. If you find yourself consistently having to put your entire life on hold just because you have exams coming up or other busy events then you need to realise this is a serious problem and make some significant changes to your life. Don’t beat yourself up about this and feel bad that you are this way. Don’t let it make you feel inadequate. Instead, learn to be a problem solver, not someone who just dwells on their problems. Being a problem solver involves assessing your current situation, thinking about what changes you want to make and how you can get yourself out of your current situation. Then making a plan, taking massive action and doing it and then reflecting on how well it is working and adjusting your plan accordingly. The advice in this article is an excellent start.

Summary of this article

This article is very lengthy, and we have covered a lot of time management skills. Re-read this article and try and tease out the take-home message of from each of the six tips. Could you explain the 6 time management tips to someone else? Try it or explain it to yourself if there is no one around. If you can then you know you have understood them very well. Make notes or mind maps for each time management tip. More importantly, consider how you are going to apply this information to yourself. Knowing this information is one thing, implementing it is another.

Consider learning this information like the pit stop for the formula one car we mentioned in this article. Yes, it will take you time to read and learn this information. It will take you even longer to apply it. But this initial time spent will massively increase your performance in the long run. Your goal is to get into Medical school and become a great doctor with a long, fulfilling career. The effort you are investing now is worth it to achieve such a worthwhile goal.