Welcome. It’s Dr. Jack and I have 5 tips for you on how to minimize procrastination when it comes to studying for your board exam.
Tip 1: De-Emotionalize the Job You Have to Do
My first tip is based on a thought experiment. I’d like you to take a minute to imagine that you have a clone of yourself, and your clone is identical to you. They have the same bright smile and winning personality that you do. There is only a single difference between you and your clone. Your clone never, ever procrastinates. So now, take a minute and think, what is different between you and your clone? What is different? Thank about it. What would have to change in you to be like your clone? It’s the only thing that differs between you. He or she doesn’t procrastinate, and maybe you do, so take a minute. I’ll come back. I’ll wait for you. Take a minute or five.
You back? Okay. Good. What did you discover? What is the difference between you and your non-procrastinating clone? Guess what, I did this for myself, and this is what I discovered. I discovered that when I think about board prep or any other kind of task I regard as being unpleasant that I really emotionalize it. I hear, step outside, and like, I’m looking at myself and listening to myself and inside what I’m hearing is, like, oh my God, I don’t want to do it. I wish I didn’t have to take this test. Oh, it’s going to be so much work! Oh, what if I fail? On and on.
Now, my clone doesn’t do any of that. My clone just sits down and does the work, doesn’t think about the bigger picture, just has a job to do and does it. I think back at my career and all the patients I’ve had to dis-impact after they didn’t poop for a month. It’s not like, when I found out I had to do that, that I went out in the parking lot and had a cigarette and walked around the block, like oh my God, I don’t want to do this. No, I didn’t even think about it. I was just like, okay, I’ve got to do it. I did it, came back whenever I was done, move on with my day. If you asked me the next day how my shift went, I’d say it was fine. I had a job to do. I did it, didn’t give it another thought.
Tip 2: Let Go of the Past
Alright. Now let’s move on to tip #2. Let go of the past. Now, you may have thoughts or may have had thoughts, or you might have thoughts in the future like, oh my gosh, why didn’t I start studying earlier? I should’ve studied more. Like now my time is so short! What was I thinking? Again, first emotionalize it. Second thing, though, is you’ve got to let go of the past. You don’t have the time or the mental energy to be focused on beating yourself up. That’s only going to be counterproductive. Now, if you want to beat up on yourself, do that after your exam, but not until then.
Imagine you’re a soldier. You’re in the battle. You can’t be thinking about yesterday’s battle and what should’ve or could’ve occurred. If someone wants to blow your head off right now, you have to focus on what you can do now and going forward. Once you’re safely back at base, then you can debrief. So after the exam, go ahead, beat yourself up all you want, but not until then. You can’t afford it.
Tip 3: Avoid All or Nothing Thinking
The next tip is to avoid all or nothing thinking. Look, there are no guarantees about passing the exam. There are physicians who don’t even study even a minute, and they pass their exam. There are others who study their utmost and still fail. It’s not a step function, like if I study a certain amount of time I’m going to pass, and if I don’t, I’m going to fail. It’s a gradient. Every minute that you devote to study incrementally improves your chances of passing. Five minutes of extra study, maybe it will improve your chances by some small increment of 1%. If you do five more hours, that will improve it that much more. So just do what you can do. Everyone wishes they could do more, but we have other parts of our lives to do. Again, don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good, because the good is much better than doing nothing.
Tip 4: Separate Planning from Studying
One thing that leads to procrastination is the perception that a person has that it’s such an overwhelming task. Tip #4 is I advise that you separate the planning from the study. For example, if you’ve been avoiding thus far to prepare for your board exam, don’t start studying today. What I’m going to ask you to do is to take a look at the scope of work that faces you. What do you have to do between now and the time of your exam? Review what you must do and then plan it out. If you estimate that you need to devote 50 hours between now and the time of your exam to prepare, and you’ve got 10 weeks, well, there you go. You have to study 5 hours a week. Then, plan it out. What topics are you going to cover first? Of course, prioritize, because if you happen not to be as efficient or diligent as you imagine right now, then do not make it the less important stuff. You prioritize by focusing on the topics that have the most questions on the exam associated with those topics and those topics that you feel weakest in. Makes sense.
Tip 5: Schedule a Time and Place for Studying
The fifth tip is this: I’m sure you’re not swimming in time. Your life is busy. So when you think about studying, you have to build in a time and a place for it. For example, maybe you think, well, maybe I can wake up a half an hour earlier between now and my exam to get some study in. Great, if that works for you. Now, you have to also think about the place. You think, well, I’ll just get up early, have a cup of coffee at my kitchen table. Yea, but what if your significant other gets up and they start talking to you, “Hey Jack! Guess what I’m going to be doing today?” I’m like, “You know, I’m trying to study here. But yea, I’d rather talk to you than study, so yea, let’s talk about your day and my day and whatever.”
Maybe you think, well, I’ll go to the office to study. Right. As soon as I get in my office I hear, “Hey, Dr. Jack! Here’s a pile of charts you didn’t sign off on or forms you didn’t fill. Glad you’re in a half hour earlier!”
There goes your study time. There were times in my life when I would park my car in the McDonald’s parking lot and just sit in my car and study, just so that no one would bother me.
Again, in order to succeed in studying, you must make an appointment. It should be in your calendar with a time and even a place associated with it. Those are my 5 tips. I hope you found them helpful.
Signing off for now. It’s Dr. Jack. You take care.
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ABF, MD says
Thank you. Those are so true and your tips are clear and actionable.
Jack Krasuski says
Thank you for the feedback, glad you found this blog post helpful. Good luck on your studies.