I’ve talked about the habits I’ve formed to be an honors student, I’ve revealed some of the low-tech items I use to stay organized, I’ve discussed various study methods I use for acupuncture and chinese herbs – I continue to use all of this information in my Chinese medicine school experience.
But I have to admit that I have been strained nearly to the breaking point with this new year. The information is more complex, my involvement with non-academic school related efforts is greater and I simply haven’t kept up the way I need to.
I think even if you aren’t involved in much outside of school, the simple amount of information tossed at us in any medical training program is simply too much to be efficiently absorbed. However, we should make every effort to do so! Instead of suffering from a nervous breakdown, I decided to look at my problems critically and figure out some rules to help guide me from overwhelm to overachiever.
Upon figuring out these five principles, my feeling of desperation immediately dissipated and in just a few short hours I’ve managed to get on top of a lot of what was spiraling out of control. Not bad, eh? Let me share these with you and let me know if you have any additions, revisions or experiences by adding to the comments!
1. Keep up
This is common sense. You need to stay current with your classes. This has been said so many places and in so many ways it has become almost cliche. But it cannot be overemphasized. If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now you need to sit down and list out everything you need to do, class by class, to get to a place where you feel “current.” For me, this includes having the materials read for my next weeks’ classes, having study materials prepared for upcoming exams and being in an appropriate place in the writing process for any projects I have coming up. I repeat – if you are feeling overwhelmed, go through this process. Step-by-step through your syllabi, call professors or fellow students if you have to – and make concrete lists of what you need to have done to be “caught up.” Don’t wait to do this – do it now.
When I have my list put together, I don’t think much about where to begin. I know there are a lot of methods out there for helping you to be most efficient in going down a list of tasks. However, I find it’s best to just start at the top of the list and move down it. You need to get current NOW. Take this weekend to get current with all of your projects and resolve to stay caught up from now on. You can use a system like “Getting Things Done” or simply use to-do lists, do whatever you have to do to avoid slipping behind again.
2. Keep it together
Keep all of the materials you need for a given class or project in one place. For instance, I have a midterm in acupuncture theory coming up. For this class, I have electronic notes as well as paper notes, several books and a few websites that all help me to understand the material. Because the majority of this material is non-electronic, I’ve decided to print off what is electronic and keep all that material together on my desk. I may have to use one of the books for something else, so I’ve made a list of the materials that I consider essential for my test preparation. That way, when I’m ready to study I can consult the list – make sure everything is there – and then study in a focused manner without having to stop and search for something.
To implement this you really need to think through each project, test or course. For instance, if you’re studying Chinese herbs – what do you need to most effectively learn this material? You may have a Materia Medica, a formulas text, a set of class notes, some herb samples, some audio notes and a set of pictures of different Chinese herbs. Think carefully – is this all you would need to study the subject? Maybe pen and paper? Access to the Internet? A pot of boiling water? Make a list of each item you consider essential for study, and keep all such notes together in one place where they can be easily accessed. Do your best to keep the relevant materials together in one place and use your notes to augment when things get scattered.
3. Keep perspective
There are a lot of perspective problems I run into in my Chinese medicine study. I lose my perspective on the importance of a single class, a single test or a particular book or professor. I lose my perspective on my time left in school or the given term. I lose my perspective on the balance of work, school, play and cultivation that I require to stay healthy. To combat this, I’ve created some more lists as well as implemented a Weekly Review as advocated by David Allen in his Getting Things Done. I’ll explain both briefly.
I have created several lists to keep me grounded. One list shows all of my responsibilities for a given term identified by my role in each. For instance, I am a Student in Chinese herbs IV (Formulas) and I am a Father to my daughter. Another list shows all of the assignments and tests required in each class. Another list indicates my personal priorities when it comes to a balanced life. A couple of lists aren’t really lists – I keep a copy of the academic calendar close at hand and I keep a pristine personal calendar listing dates/deadlines for all academic, work and personal aspects of my life. A couple of times a week, I take an hour and carefully examine all of these items. It seems too simple to work, but just reminding yourself of your responsibilities, priorities and the “lay of the land” as far as your term/year is concerned can have a powerful effect on your ability to keep perspective.
I also instituted a Weekly Review as advocated by David Allen, though I’ve modified it for my own purposes. In the Weekly Review, I check out my “hard landscape” which is composed of things I must do at a particular time. I make notes of potential problems so I can be prepared for any particularly hectic days. I also review my lists of assignments and check my progress on each, normally within the context of my GTD system. I also do a little bit of “visionary” work – just thinking about my place in life, where I’m going and what might need to shift to move me farther along my chosen path. Sometimes that requires I eliminate projects, move deadlines, or add new habits. I don’t think I could do this without GTD – but any system that works for you… works for you. 🙂
4. Keep focused
Every morning I remind myself why I’m in Chinese medicine school. I read the oath that we will be reading at our graduation out loud and I meditate a little bit on why I am where I am. This little exercise helps me keep focused on what is my goal for these four years I am learning Chinese medicine. Although keeping balance is important, making new friends is vital and being involved in extra curricular activities is a vital part of my life. Ultimately I am here to learn Chinese medicine in the deepest way I can. I know that my education will continue for my entire life, but this is a special time in the process and I need to make the best of it.
It is virtually impossible to truly keep balanced and still glean everything necessary from the educational environment. In my opinion, entering into a program like this one requires that you abandon your hopes to spend a significant amount of time socializing, doing outside reading or engaging in other non-academic activities. People who need those things to stay whole should look into slowing their program down significantly – may students in my year chose to do this with the program, turning a 4 year program into 5 years or more.
For my part, I’d like to get through this phase of my training so I can get on to more practical experience and individual mentorship with willing professors. I also hope to teach so that I might learn more deeply. This requires intense focus and a willingness to understand that this, too, shall pass.
5. Keep a sense of humor
Human beings are funny. Tiny tiny tiny, but with such big aspirations – we sometimes let our best intentions get the better of us. I am careful not to let my dreams become monsters, devouring my Qi, my joy and my family. I may not be able to keep all the plates spinning that I intend, sometimes they will fall to the ground with a clatter. I may not be able to learn everything I feel like I should learn RIGHT NOW. Sometimes, I just need to take the afternoon off and watch a movie, go for a hike, or laugh with friends and family. Most of all, I need to be able and willing to laugh heartily at myself at every moment because the second I become too serious, I become rigid and we all know how easy it is for rigid things to break.
So far, so good.
About Eric Grey
Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.