Time Management When You Have No Control Over the Clock

Whenever I’ve gone to talk to my advisor the topic of balance comes up.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a good reason; it’d be wonderful if I could efficiently fit everything and everyone that matters into the time allotted in a given week.  But let’s be real… finding balance is always easier said than done.  With a demanding schedule, impending exams, and obligations to friends and family, I’m lucky if I can make it to Friday without a laundry list of things I’ve put off due to lack of time.

I’m constantly reprioritizing in my head, playing the role of triage nurse, in a never-ending effort to determine what  things need to be done acutely and what things can (and will) wait.  And while, at times, this habit has the potential for disaster (everyone’s had that test that they’ve procrastinated studying for just a little too much), I’ve found that at the end of the day, it tends to be quite effective in terms of helping me keep my head above water and accomplish what I need to.

I think this ability to sort through everything and prioritize, along with a healthy amount of flexibility (i.e. a willingness to move things around) makes for a situation in which I have the maximal amount of control over an often less-than-ideal situation.  Recently, this has meant coming to terms with the fact that, with regards to my schedule, the locus control is completely in someone else’s hands.  This has forced me to roll with the punches of a workweek which is constantly changing, and has made me learn to block off whatever schedule I’m given, and work with what’s left over – regardless of how little it is.

A lot of this has to do with being completely honest about some of my less-desirable habits/mannerisms and streamlining my schedule to compensate for them.  For instance, on any given day I have to be at the hospital too early to go to the gym beforehand, which is what I would do in a perfect world.  Yet, I know that the end-of-the-day fatigue is a strong deterrent from getting me to go afterwards.  So I honestly assessed my behavior patterns, and realized that if I went directly home after work, that’s where I’d stay.  In other words, once comfortable, there was little chance that I would leave my apartment again to go to the gym.  The solution?  Shoving the bare minimum needed for a workout into the bottom of my work bag each morning, such that I have no reason whatsoever not to go on my walk home from the train (it just so happens that my gym is conveniently situated equidistant from my apartment and the L).

And while I am indeed tired at the end of the day, it’s something I forget about the instant I actually walk into the gym.  I’ve found that if I can circumvent a maladaptive behavior that would normally make me put something off, I more often than not overcome the toughest part of the problem.  And once I’m doing things in a more timely manner, there happens to be more time for the more enjoyable things in life.   And even if this isn’t quite the case and you still can’t fit everything in, at the very least, come Friday the to-do list is markedly shorter.

Picutre of author

About Justin Fiala, MD Candidate

Justin is currently in his third year of medical school at UIC's College of Medicine, and is hoping to pursue a career in internal medicine. He has a strong interest in addressing the health needs urban communities and is part of the College of Medicine's Urban Medicine program. Aside from academics, Justin enjoys cooking, listening to public radio, and perusing the New York Times website. He is also a trained pianist and self-professed lover of all kinds of music.

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