The entrance into veterinary school and the management of your studies once you’ve begun your vet training, no doubt requires a good deal of planning and constructing strong study habits. Although you don’t have to be a type ‘A’ personality to succeed in vet med, take the time to develop some basic organization and time-management skills to aid you in your journey. Like anything else, it takes practice.
Firstly, find a close friend or family member who can help hold you accountable to sticking to your plan—ideally, someone who’s inherently organized. Secondly, discover what type of planner works best for you, one you’ll actually use. Maybe it’s your smart phone, perhaps a good old-fashioned daily planner book works best, or possibly a more creative planner like a bullet journal is for you. Whichever it may be, keep your planner on you at all times and update it regularly to maintain focus on important deadlines.
During your veterinary application process, make a timeline of important dates: your GRE, the VMCAS application due date, and the deadlines to submit your transcripts and other important documents to the vet schools in which you’re interested. Similarly, vet students should clearly note every deadline of each course, including all assignments, quizzes, projects, and exams; make note of your personal commitments as well. Writing a list or marking these dates on your calendar will help you better visualize what you need to get done and when. You’ll be better able to envision your upcoming semester with a bird’s eye view. Then, plan backwards from those dates. For instance, you may think with a false sense of security that you have three full months to complete project X. However, you may have five other big items that also require your attention over those same three months. When you take all tasks into account, you discover you really only have two weeks within this timeframe to prep for project X, so you’ll need to complete it early right now since you may not have free time later on.
Perhaps a clichéd, yet undeniable key tip for getting organized is to manage your time well. Avoid procrastination to prevent feeling overwhelmed. Once tasks build up too high, we may freeze up because we don’t know where to start, and our stress levels rise, thwarting our attempts at action all the more. Treat the items on your to-do list just like you would an appointment you can’t miss. Ideally, tackle a bigger project first while you’re still fresh. Once it’s out of the way, completing smaller tasks will seem like a piece of cake. If you start to feel overwhelmed by a big task, break it down into smaller, easier to manage parts; list each part in your daily planner, and chip away at them one by one. If you have a few extra minutes here and there, don’t waste them; start on the next item even if you don’t complete it all today. You’ll whittle away at your project in no time and wonder why it ever seemed so daunting. Crossing off those smaller tasks from your to-do list frees up brain space to allow you to better focus on the bigger, more important items. During my orientation week of vet school, a professor told our class that studying the vast amount of knowledge in our veterinary curriculum is like trying to take a sip of water from a fire hydrant spraying at full blast. You can drink more easily if you collect some of that water bit by bit rather than trying (and failing) to guzzle it all at once.
Additionally, pad your calendar to allow for some extra time before a deadline in case an emergency or delay arises. For instance, print your report two days before it’s due rather than the night before. What if your printer breaks, your laptop crashes, or your Wi-Fi stops working? Building in an extra day or two before an important due date is a vital buffer in case the unexpected happens, especially if organization is not a strength. And finally, take care of yourself physically and mentally: exercise, get some sleep, and eat healthily to better maintain your focus on the task at hand. With a bit of practice, you’ll be better organized in no time!
I wish all those interested in veterinary medicine the very best of luck.