How to Hack Your Work Week and Be More Productive

As doctors-in-training, we know we are smart. But somehow that intelligence doesn’t always directly translate to productivity. It is possible to work non-stop and try very hard, but still be ineffective and unproductive. The goal is to make it through medical training without burning out. In other words, in addition to students must learn to work smarter, not harder. How should we make the most of our work week?

My biggest piece of advice is to conserve your energy.

Misconception that you have to wake up early to get more done in the day. In fact, my personal experience and advice says otherwise. Sleep is imperative and naps are encouraged. In order to wake up early and be effective, you also have to sleep early. It is true that you can’t do everything perfectly all of the time, but cutting corners on your health and sacrificing your 8 hours.

Your early morning power routine will come to a crashing halt if it does not include adequate sleep the night before. It is important to alter your routine to allow yourself to wind down. For example, it is best to avoid drinking coffee 6 hours before bedtime. Try to experiment and identify what helps you to fall asleep versus keeps you up at night. Some also advise against going to the gym at night, but I personally have not had any issues falling asleep. Since your cortisol spikes after exercise, some argue that it may disrupt your sleep.

Another way to manage energy and be most productive is to identify when you work best. Everyone thinks that people who wake up early do the most work throughout the day. But, we all know that we aren’t alert and energized the whole work day. Our blood sugar and energy levels dip, for instance, around meal times. I know that I can wake up as early as 4 AM, but the only thing I can do is review notes for an exam. If all I have to do is sit in a chair and look at a screen, I can manage to do that before the sun comes up. But, if my brain has to do more heavy lifting, such as writing a research proposal for a grant, I am most productive in the late afternoon. Figuring out what you enjoy to do and complete faster at certain times throughout the day is another way to manage your energy. Listen to the tune of your personal rhythm.

Just like muscle confusion constitutes a good workout, I like to confuse my brain by disrupting the routine. There are some people who wake up the same time everyday, eat the same meal, and go about their day in a monotonous way. That would drive me crazy and I have learned that about myself. I like to change up my daily routine. Some days I read research literature during on the elliptical early morning before my first class. Other days I enjoy the white noise while reading articles at Starbucks. I get bored easily and I know that in order to keep myself motivated and get work done, I have to change the time of day that I do work. Even studying for an afternoon quiz during lunch at school is better for me than waking up early when I know I prefer to sleep in.

As someone who travels frequently on weekends, I’ve also made a list on my computer of things I’ve mostly completed or work I can do at the airport. I like to do writing during this time. You can adjust your “free time” list to include work that you can do in any down time you have throughout the day. For instance, if you don’t take an entire hour for your lunch break, you can always squeeze in some “fun work.” It doesn’t have to be related to academics. I have plenty of personal projects going on. As another example, I signed up for a French class on Coursera. If a class starts late or there is some time in between lectures, I will review a French lecture I may have missed or tabled for later.

The next time you find yourself sitting in a lecture begrudgingly and staring into space, try these hacks to make your day more productive.

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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.