Now that I’m starting to get deeper into the trenches of studying for the beast that is the USMLE Step 1, I am paying extra special attention to how I spend my time. I have always tried to distinguish when I’m truly wasting my time and when I’m actually burnt out to the point that I need to take a break from the task at hand. For example, I often like to catch up on my favorite television shows while I’m eating a meal, but sometimes I continue watching them for hours afterward. Now, when I catch myself doing this, I pause the episode I’m on and promise myself that I’ll return to it if I can just complete a specific task.
On the topic of trying to be efficient is this idea of multitasking. Most of my generation has grown up with computers and cell phones. These devices are almost like an extension of us – we feel naked and alone without our connection to the world via text messages, email and Facebook. It has gotten to the point where I’ve noticed in restaurants that it’s impossible to spot a table where a cell phone doesn’t make an appearance. We like to believe that we can still reply to that “urgent” email and listen to the conversation happening directly in front of us. We think we can watch the big game and still absorb information about the effects of the different levels of spinal cord injuries (we’re currently in our Musculoskeletal block). But the sad reality is that it’s really unlikely that we’re being efficient with our time when we try to multitask.
I am not immune to this phenomenon; I definitely try to do more than one thing at once (see the photo above for proof!). Sometimes it works out (I’d argue that it was better that I at least tried to review something while I was getting my heart rate up, rather than just stared off into space), but a lot of the time, it backfires. One great example of this is when I’m trying to respond to an email and watch or listen to a recorded lecture. Instead of just pausing the video, I let it go and type away my response. One of two things usually happens: 1) I end up shifting my full attention to the email and when I return to focusing on the lecture, I need to rewind it and replay the part I missed, or 2) I am still focused on the lecture and end up with an email full of typos and sometimes phrases from the lecture (“That sounds like a great idea why don’t we transect the spinal cord at the level of C8 and see what happens?”).
There is some research out there suggesting that we don’t really multitask but just “serially switch” between tasks. I’d like to believe that there’s an extent to which our brains can juggle multiple tasks (like writing this entry and listening to a beautiful piano piece), but when it comes down to the important stuff, we need to just focus on one thing at a time.
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All of the opinions expressed here are the author’s and hers alone, and do not represent necessarily those of Kaplan or its employees.