Blogging has been so rewarding for me, especially in the past couple of months. I think what I enjoy the most are the conversations that happen behind the scenes. There are a few of you who have become like virtual friends and a bunch more who I have engaged with via emails and DMs. While I’ve always received questions in my inbox, I’m noticing that the number is steadily increasing, and I’m starting to get the same questions asked over and over again. Because of this, I decided that I’m going to start creating posts for some of my frequently asked questions. This way I can redirect all questions to relevant posts. One of the number one questions I get asked is how I stay organized in medical school. Between blogging, being a medical student, and all of my hobbies, I have to keep all of my to do lists and schedules in one centralized place. I have tried countless of planners, apps, to-do lists, and organization techniques and for the past few years, but what has worked best for me is the Erin Condren Life Planner. Today I’m sharing how I’m using my 2017-2018 Life Planner to keep me organized in medical school.
A couple of years ago, when I got to medical school, I finally caved and bought the Erin Condren Life Planner that I was eyeing for a few years. It was something that was on my wishlist for a while but I saw medical school as a worthy enough reason to take the plunge and get it. I’m not gonna lie, as a student, I wasn’t sure if I could justify the price when I knew I could get a cheaper planner elsewhere. But after not being able to find the organization and structure I needed from any other planner, I knew it was time to upgrade to the Erin Condren Life Planner.
Today I’ll be sharing EXACTLY how I use my Erin Condren Life Planner for staying organized in medical school. Keep in mind this is A REALLY LONG POST (sorry in advance) but because I get so many questions on organization I decided to be extra thorough with this one. To make it up to you I included A BUNCH OF PICTURES of my exact planner layout so you can see visually how I organize myself. I promise though, after going through this you will know the EXACT tips and tricks I use to stay sane while having a busy schedule.
Before I explain how I organize myself, I’d like to point out that at least once a week (usually Sunday) I set up my planner for the rest of the week. This doesn’t take long, but this is when I think of my meal plan, take inventory of the groceries I need, make a tally of things that need to get done around the house, and pick what workouts I want to do for the week. I also use this time to plan my study schedule for the week. Ideally I don’t have any outstanding tasks or assignments from the week before, however if I do, I make sure to carry them over into the current week so I don’t fall too far behind. I also use this time to reassess what worked and what didn’t work from the week before so I don’t make the same mistakes again.
For me, the key to getting things done is to not overbook myself. As a result, I keep my daily task list short and if I finish everything, I’ll start getting ahead on the next day’s tasks. Not overfilling my days keeps me from constantly having to push my schedule back and getting behind and feeling overwhelmed.
Okay so what’s the deal with these planners? They’re just pieces of paper right??! Actually WRONG. What I love about the Erin Condren Planners are the fact that they are fully customizable (from the interchangeable cover to the inside layout) and my FAVORITE PART is that they have a weekly vertical layout (you can see what I mean by this in the pics below). By the way, if you’re not loving the vertical, they also have other layout options (hourly and horizontal) that you can choose from but I like the vertical best and have used it for years. I like seeing everything I have to do for the day in one list, but I also like it to be organized by category, which is why vertical is perfect for me. When I was studying for Step 1 (a big test medical students have to take) my Life Planner from last year was organized into the following sections 1) School, 2) Step 1, and 3) Blog. Now that I’m a third year and Step 1 is behind me, I now organize my Life Planner into:
1) Academics – basically everything I need to do for clinical rotations & preparing for shelf exams which take place at the end of each of my clinical rotation
2) Blog – this is where I keep track of tasks for posts, when I shoot for posts, and little things I need to do for my little corner on the internet. I’ll go in depth towards the end how I organize my blog content.
3) Wellness – This is where I keep track of my workouts and also where I put any social activities or meetups with friends.
“optional section” – so underneath the boxes for each day, are some lines. This is where I put the titles of blog posts that are supposed to be published that day. I like to post at least 2-3 times a week. Sometimes, I have a lot of posts and post ideas, but to ensure they’re spread out evenly, I like to plan them ahead. There’s nothing worse than posting everyday for a week and then realizing the next week that I’m all out of creative ideas. Pre-planning my posts prevents this from happening!
I’m sure that as Step 2 (the 2nd most important exam in medical school) and residency applications approach, I will probably reprioritze these categories but for now this is what works for me and my schedule.
In the left margins of the weekly pages, there’s extra space and I love using the box on the top left for my weekly goals. I’ve been getting into stickers so sometimes I use that space for a sticker that has a motivational or fun quote. You’ll see in the pics below that for the month of July, I used stars and stripes stickers to add some personality to my pages. I have the Erin Condren Monthly Sticker Book, which coordinates perfectly with the colors inside the planner. She has a bunch more sticker sets, but because I don’t like to clutter my pages, a few accent stickers are enough for me.
The bottom left area with the dotted lines is where I keep my weekly checklist of things to do like laundry, grocery shopping or any other weekly reminder that doesn’t necessarily have a specific deadline.
Below you can see my planner spread for next week:
Having separate “compartments” for my tasks helps me stay organized. As you can see, I snuck in a fun “Celebrate” sticker for my cousin’s baby shower on the 1st! Your planner comes with a bunch of cute metallic stickers that coordinate with your planner. I never used the stickers in my old planners but I’m getting into stickers a bit more and have found them quite useful this time around.
In addition to organizing my weeks, I also like to keep my monthly calendar organized. Even though I write everything in my weekly view, sometimes I want to see an overview of the whole month. I mostly use these to highlight exam days, days off, on call days, days where I have to go to Drew (my second school campus), days where I decided to shoot for the blog, and birthdays/ holidays. I didn’t realize this until this year, but Erin Condren creates custom sticker labels. Because I was never a sticker person in the past I never noticed them. But this time, when I ordered my planner, I decided to give these a try and I absolutely love them and the color organization they provide! I use these stickers in my monthly view to give me an idea of what my month look like. I will definitely order some more but next time, I will create separate short call and long call stickers since I didn’t make that distinction the first time around (you’ll see what I’m talking about when you see the pic of the labels I ordered below).
On the monthly pages, there is also some space on the side similar to the weekly pages. I don’t really use this often since most of my to do lists live on my weekly pages. But I use this space to jot down notes, phone numbers, or monthly goals I may have.
Because I prefer to have more “white space” in my planner, I’ve been putting most of my stickers on the monthly page to keep my weekly view from looking too cluttered.Below I included some shots of the August monthly layout (I haven’t decorated it yet though). I already filled July with locations and appointments so for privacy reasons I’m gonna keep those pages to myself!
I think the reason why people ask me to share my organization tips so often is because my blog seems like a well-oiled machine. Occasionally my posting schedule gets off (usually because I didn’t take photos or edit them) but for the most part I try to keep things organized and running smoothly. I used to have an editorial calendar and batch process everything where everyday was designated for a different task (i.e. Monday = outline all posts, Tuesday = write all posts, Wednesday = take all pics, etc). If you have the time, batch processing is the way to go for organizing your blog. However for me, it made blogging feel like a chore. Plus sometimes I just feel like writing, sometimes, I feel like taking photos, and other times, I don’t want to do anything at all. To keep my blog enjoyable I stopped creating all these “rules” and I basically just work on my blog as study breaks and when I have extra time.
In regards to making an editorial calendar, I keep a running list of blog post ideas and then I choose from that list when it’s time to write and plan new posts. To ensure that I have enough content each week, I plan ahead and decide what and when I will be posting and keep this organized in my planner. However, this is very fluid and I change my mind a lot so I try not to plan ahead by more than 2 weeks. Most of my blogging task list is photography related (anyone else hate editing?) or sometimes I have to make graphics for my posts in photoshop. Other than finding days to take and edit pictures and creating graphics, I don’t usually schedule out anything else. I’m pretty fluid about my writing and because I enjoy it so much, I usually end up writing a little something every day or every other day.
MEAL & WORKOUT ORGANIZATION
As I mentioned before I use my planner to house everything. It seriously deserves the name Life Planner because it literally houses my life. I used to have this meal planning insert that snapped into my Life Planner but when I threw away last year’s planner, I accidentally threw away the insert with it. For the record I know some people save their planners but after the year is done I usually toss mine… I really hate clutter and I because don’t usually have a reason to revisit them I throw them out. but I’m going to try and hold on to this year’s and see how I like it. Anyways, this year, instead of buying the meal planning insert I used to have, I bought this Wellness Log insert instead. I think this is supposed to be used to track your meals and exercise, but I use it to plan my meals for the week. I prefer it to the actual meal planner insert because there’s more space to fit my meals and snacks for each day but either insert should work. The back of the Wellness Log has heart rate info for working out but my fitbit does this for me so I ignore this space. All of the inserts/ dashboards are covered by a durable protective clear covering so you can reuse it by using wet erase markers.
I used to cook all my meals on Sunday but I found that I wasted so much food doing this. I have tried meal planning different ways, but no matter what I try, I hate eating reheated food all week. Now, I preplan my meals, but I don’t cook them until the day of or sometimes the day before (usually I do this if I know I’ll be too busy the next day). Cooking is therapeutic for me so I don’t mind coming home to cook. Even after a long day, I still love to come home and make a meal and during this time I usually play a lecture (or let’s be real, it’s usually Real Housewives), listen to a podcast, or talk on the phone.
Even though I cook each day, I plan my meals ahead of time so I don’t cave and eat junk. Also by planning my meals, I know when I need to take certain things out of the freezer to defrost overnight. There’s nothing worse than getting ready to cook and realizing that all the meat is still hard as a rock. It also helps because by planning my food for the week, I can assess my pantry and fridge and try to create meals around what I have, which saves me money and keeps me from wasting food.
The Wellness Log insert has a space to put workouts, but as you can see in the photos, I mostly use this space create a list of items of groceries I’ll need to buy for the week. Instead, all of my workouts go in my planner inside the Wellness box for each day.
As you can see I LOVE my Life Planner and it seriously keeps my life organized. If you looked closely, you’ll notice that I don’t have appointments or times in my planner. For the most part, I keep my hourly schedule in Google calendar. I prefer this because my schedule is always changing and when I’m out, I don’t always have my planner on me. So if I need to figure out when and where my meeting is, I’ll check my calendar on my phone. But everything else (to-do lists, shopping lists, when bills are due, what days I’m on call in the hospital, when I have an exam, what workouts I’m doing for the day, etc) is organized in my Life Planner.
Just as an FYI… My current planner costs about $80 (this includes all of the customization I added i.e. rose gold spiral, my name, etc.) HOWEVER I know most of my readers are students and I wanna let you know that you shouldn’t let the price scare you and Erin Condren has various affordable options! You can get a non-customized version for less from Staples (what I got last year) OR you can get one of the new hardbound Life Planners for only $30. The difference between the hardbound Life Planners and the original spiral bound ones is that the hardbound comes are mass-produced (the spiral planners are made to order) and you can’t customize them as much. The downside is that you don’t have a custom planner but the plus side is you have a planner with all of the same functionality as the spiral planners (the insides are the same) and you save $40-50. These are new for this year so if you’ve been eyeing Erin Condren planners in the past but were hesitant because of the price, then I’d highly recommend the hardcover ones!
Wooo okay I think that’s everything. I promise my organization system isn’t as complicated as it looks here. It takes me about 30 minutes a week to fill in my planner (usually done while I’m watching reality TV or YouTube) but it’s a 30 minutes well spent. Also if you’re inspired by this post and thinking of getting the Life Planner, keep your eyes peeled… Sometime next week I’m going to post a review for those of you who want more info about the planner and some of the accessories you can get with it.
Hope Your Week is As Organized as Mine 🙂
Disclaimer: Thank you Erin Condren for partnering on this post!