There’s no way around it – dental school is hard work! Balancing a challenging course with the various demands of independent life, it’s no surprise that dental students can feel overwhelmed at times. However, with some solid time management skills, you can take a lot of the stress out of this crucial time. We share ten simple but effective time management tips that have helped many students to get the best out of their dental education.
1. Planning ahead and building a schedule
At the start of each semester, put all of your classes, labs, placements, assignment deadlines, exams and other key dates into your calendar. Think about any milestones in the run-up to the event, e.g. submitting a first draft, and note these down too. Now build a schedule of non-negotiable, priority activities around them. For school, for example, build in time for homework after each class, study time leading up to an exam, and rehearsal time before a presentation. Personally, add in time for commuting, work, eating, exercise and sleep. Now that you can visualize exactly what needs to be done and when, you won’t have to choose between study and sleep when a deadline creeps up.
2. Don’t forget downtime
Work and study might not leave much time for the things you love, but it really is important to fit them in. When you’ve built your schedule of non-negotiables, build time around them for hobbies, sports, or social time. Even if you only use that time for a quick walk, a coffee with a friend, or an episode of your favorite show, that downtime will go a long way towards helping you cope with the pressure of dental school.
3. Take notes in an organized manner
When you look back on your class notes from weeks or months ago, you don’t want to be spending your precious study time trying to decipher hasty scribbles! Try to be as clear as possible with your notetaking and include any recommended resources you can refer back to later. It’s not always easy to go into sufficient detail when you’re trying to follow the lecture. Schedule in some time afterwards to organize, clarify and expand on your notes while the lesson is still fresh in your mind. You could also cross-reference notes with your classmates or upload them into a shared Google document to catch anything you might have missed.
4. Minimize distractions
Studying requires intense concentration, so when you get distracted, it can take you some time to get back in the flow. Make the most of your time by turning off your phone notifications and avoiding social media while you study. If you find it too hard to ignore, take designated five-minute breaks every hour for a guilt-free scroll. Some people concentrate better in a busy environment, but others need peace and quiet. If you get distracted by people buzzing around you, find a quiet corner in the library, invest in some noise-cancelling headphones, or play some lyric-free study music (you can find plenty of free “focus“ playlists on YouTube).
5. Take advantage of productivity tools
There are so many smart productivity tools out there to help you organize your study and life admin. Look for suitable apps that can help you with:
- Scheduling and task management
- Notetaking and organization (one app even lets you create your own dental wikis!)
- Tracking your time (helpful for understanding how long you actually spend on tasks so you can better plan your schedule and root out time-suckers)
- Collaborating with your classmates
6. Procrastinate smartly
There will be some days when you know you have to study but you just can’t get your head in the game. Instead of spending the day scrolling, try “smart procrastination” instead. If you simply can’t get going after an hour, admit defeat and find something else that needs to be done. Did you have a walk planned later on? Go now! Got some laundry to do? Do it now! By crossing another important task off your to-do list, you’ve freed up some time later on to come back to your studying with a fresh mind.
7. Practice mindfulness
If your mind is racing or you’re feeling stressed, you’re probably not getting much done! Take five or ten minutes to clear your head with a guided mindfulness or meditation session, using an app like Calm or Headspace.
8. Outsource your life admin
Think of the chores or errands that take up the most time and consider whether you can outsource them. For example, you can order groceries online to save a trip to the store, send out your laundry, or ask a friend or relative to walk your dog occasionally.
9. Streamline your personal time
We know that it’s not always possible (or affordable!) to outsource your life admin as a dental student, but you can still save time by streamlining your daily routine. For example, you could:
- Work out at home instead of travelling to the gym
- Meal-prep once a week so you have nutritious meals on demand
- Bike to class or work instead of taking a longer walk
10. Keep healthy habits
When you’re studying a high-pressure subject like dentistry, the fundamentals of healthy food, exercise and good sleep are more important than ever. Make them as much of a priority as studying! It’s important to stay on top of your emotional health too. Pursue interests outside of your studies to give you time to switch off, and nurture your support networks in both professional and personal life. If you feel yourself struggling to cope with the demands of school, reach out for support as early as possible. Professors and upperclassmen in particular will be familiar with the pressures you’re facing and will often be able to share coping strategies or direct you to further resources.
By helping you to build effective time management habits and a professional reputation, these simple strategies will serve you throughout dental school and into your clinical practice. You can find more articles on both studying and dental/oral care in our Student Resources center. We also recommend joining your local Colgate Professional social media group, where you can meet fellow dental students, share your study experiences, and start building your professional network.