I Want to Be a Doctor
16-Manage Time
October 20, 2021
Today's question is from a college freshman who asks: How do you remember to do all the things on your calendar? I'm constantly forgetting to do something. Yeah, me too. Which is why I don't rely on my memory at all. Ever. I know a lot of people who try to remember to do things and that's totally fine if it works for you. For me, my brain is so overloaded with everything else that I just can't. And if you can't either, that's okay. https://podcasts.bcast.fm/i-want-to-be-a-doctor
Welcome to the I want to be a doctor podcast where insider information about what it takes to become a physician is available for anyone. I'm Dr. Robin Dickinson, a board-certified family physician and I will give honest answers to your questions. Today's question is from a college freshman who asks: How do you remember to do all the things on your calendar? I'm constantly forgetting to do something.

Yeah, me too. Which is why I don't rely on my memory at all. Ever.

I know a lot of people who try to remember to do things and that's totally fine if it works for you. For me, my brain is so overloaded with everything else that I just can't. And if you can't either, that's okay. 

I use a combination of systems to make sure I don’t rely on my own brain.  Now some people have suggested that it’s good to strengthen your memory by forcing yourself to remember things.  And some people have acted like I must have dementia to have to rely on so many alternatives to my memory.  But the way I see it is that I have a limited amount I can do with my brain and I’d rather spend that space coming up with new ideas or learning or even just having fun with my kids than trying to remember something boring like a deadline or appointment.

From the most immediate to the most complicated, here’s what I do or have done.

Most importantly, I have about 40 alarms on my phone at any given time.  If I ever forget something, even once, then that category of item goes into my alarms from then on unless I’m certain I’ve figured it out.  Leaving for work, taking the trash and recycling to the curb on Tuesdays, picking up my kids from activities, taking my inhaler, reminding me that my mom and sister are coming over after supper on Saturdays.  Every one of these and so many more have an alarm.  I stagger the times so anything having to do with teaching has an alarm at a 2 minute mark.  9:22 or 12:52.  Anything having to do with picking up the kids is a 3.  And so forth.  This means that when I have to snooze the alarm for 10 minutes (I have my alarm set for snooze), they will only stack on top of each other if they are in the same category.  It sounds silly but I used to miss alarms because my phone will only show one alarm at any given time.

Is it weird having this many alarms.  Yes.  But without them, I would be constantly forgetting things.  Some of these alarms are daily, some weekly, and some I set up just once for a particular appointment or deadline.  Can you imagine how much brain space I’ve cleared out by doing this!  I could never manage all the things I do if I had to remember to do them.  It’s also let me be more present in whatever I’m doing at the moment.  I’m not checking the clock or my calendar.  I can totally focus on whatever is important and trust that an alarm will rouse me when attention is needed elsewhere.  In my opinion, that ability to focus and be so present with whomever I’m with or whatever I’m doing is the greatest benefit of using alarms.  

I have an online calendar that I can access from my phone at all times.  The instant I agree to anything, it goes on the calendar and has reminder notifications set to go to my phone 3 days or a week or however long ahead of time.  Even if the time isn’t set, I put it on my calendar for the correct day so that I’ll see it if I try to schedule something else.  Doing this means that I don’t double book myself or any of my family members and makes sure that I leave enough time for meals and for getting from one place to another.  The reminder notifications are critical because when I get one, I leave it up on my phone until I’ve set an alarm for the item.  Some phones let you set alarms with specific dates but mine only lets me choose the days of the week and time.  So I set up an alarm for each one-time event a week before to make sure I remember.

Some people use their phones for lists but it just hasn’t worked for me except for projects that I’m coordinating with my assistant.  I have a paper planner for all my to do lists and so forth.

In my planner, which is just a blank dot journal, I have two spreads a week to keep track of things.  The first spread I’m going to skip because it’s a lot of personal stuff like goals, self care, lesson planning, and knitting projects.  But the second spread is something you can find in nearly any planner with a weekly set up.  There is a box for each day of the week where I write a list of each time a person has to be somewhere, every appointment, activity, etc. Below that, I use check boxes to list tasks I need to or intend to do on that specific day.  I also have a box for weekly tasks.  That is really important in my opinion--there are a lot of things we need to do that don’t need to be done on a particular day and writing them on a list every single day is overwhelming.  Instead, I have a list for the whole week and from there can schedule them into specific time slots or check something off if I have an unexpected time available.

I sit down once a week and write out everything in my planner for the week and add things as I think of them and check them off or cross them out as the week progresses.

If you are someone who has a lot of deadlines every week, for example, assignments or projects or exams, then it can be helpful to create a slightly different document or an additional one.  When I was in college, I used a monthly calendar. I know people who use spreadsheets.  But whatever you use, have assignments sorted by date so you know what’s coming up next and have some indicator of importance and time needed for doing it.  I used circles (one, two, or three circles around an assignment) to indicate importance, which for me meant how much it affected my grade or my future.  And I put how long I expected it to take in parenthesis.  I know someone who uses a spreadsheet and has dates in the left column, assignments in the second column, importance shown by color of highlight, and how long it will take estimated in pomodoros.  A pomodoro is a chunk of focused work time. And also Italian for tomato.

I still use a modified form of this in my current lists by including different signifiers for high priority tasks.

The reason why this system for assignments works well is that it helps you prioritize your study time.  In general you’ll do the assignment that’s due soonest first.  But if you have something coming up that you expect to take a long time, you’ll want to start working on it sooner.  And if you don’t have time to do everything, you’ll want to prioritize something that’s worth more points or is otherwise more important.  Or if you have two assignments of equal importance but one is fast do finish, do that one first and then tackle the big one.  That way you get full credit on one assignment and have a chance at the other.  If you do the big one first, you might not get to the fast one at all.

The most important part of organizing your time is knowing when to say no. If something has been on your list for weeks and you haven't done it, is it because you aren't sure how to start or is it because you really aren't all that interested in doing it. Be honest with yourself. If it's overwhelming or you don't know how to start then try breaking it down into smaller pieces. What is the very first step of the whole process? Put that one little step on your list instead of the whole big thing. But if you truly don't want to, ask yourself if saying no would be a better option. Saying no leaves space for saying yes to something else later. 

That's it for today. Subscribe, share with your friends and mentors; and remember to live the life that is right for you with your personality interests and values. 
Please send your questions to me at podcast@docrobinschool.com. That's podcast at d-o-c Robin like the bird school dot com.
Show notes are available on the podcast website linked below. 
This episode was sponsored by Dr. Robin's School, the first premedical curriculum for kids, and recorded and produced in beautiful, downtown Englewood, Colorado.