Your list of responsibilities during vet school probably seems endless. First, there are classes and studying. Next, there are probably some extracurricular activities. You may have a part-time job. Then there are your pets, your significant other, your friends, your family, laundry, cooking, eating, keeping your home in somewhat livable condition... and the list goes on and on.
Here are a few tips that can help make “the hardest four years you’ll ever love” a little bit more manageable.
Keep a detailed schedule
Use a digital or paper planner to track everything… and I mean everything. Seeing exactly how you’re using your time can help you be more intentional about time management and find time to fit everything in.
Start by entering every single thing that you are scheduled to do. These are the things that most of us would put in a planner - classes, exams, club meetings, personal appointments, get-togethers with friends, and anything else with a defined start and end time. When you commit to doing something on a certain date at a certain time, immediately enter it in your calendar. This can help you avoid forgetting things and double-booking yourself.
In order to get the most benefit from your planner, however, you should also take the time to map out those things that don’t necessarily have to happen at a specific time or on a specific day. I typically do this once a week, but you may find that it’s easier to do twice a week, every two weeks, or at some other interval. Use whatever interval works for you. Regardless, it’s important to take 10-15 minutes on a regular basis to sit down and look ahead. Think about all of the things you want to accomplish in the coming days/weeks - things like exercise, studying, laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Estimate how long each of those tasks will take and then decide exactly where you can plug that item into your planner.
A schedule isn’t set in stone. You can always move things around if necessary. (This is really easy if you use a digital planner, but can also be done with a paper planner if you write in pencil!) Even so, taking the time to think through everything you’re doing and how to organize your time most efficiently can help you be more intentional about your time management.
Minimize decision fatigue
Decision fatigue refers to the mental toll that making repeated decision places on our brains. Even seemingly minor decisions, like what to eat for dinner or what to wear to class, exhaust our mental resources. Combine minor decisions with the mental load of vet school and you have a recipe for disaster!
Minimizing the number of decisions that you make on a daily basis can help combat mental exhaustion. Think through your daily routine and look for opportunities to remove decisions where possible. For example, eating the same thing for breakfast every day and rotating through just a small number of lunches and dinners can save mental energy on both meal prep and grocery shopping. If you pare down your closet, donating all items that don’t fit or that aren’t comfortable, you can probably minimize how much time and energy you spend searching for matching clothes in the morning.
You don’t need to become a complete minimalist (although you might enjoy it!), but limiting your choices can actually increase your happiness. It sounds counterintuitive, but give it a try.
Learn to say no
Part of vet school, and adulthood in general, is learning to set priorities. You cannot possibly do your best in every course and become involved in every club and attend every wet lab and have a healthy social life and stay connected to family back home and exercise regularly and get enough sleep and adhere to a tight budget. It’s just not possible.
Think about what’s most important to you. Academics are certainly high on that list, but are you looking for an internship/residency (in which case you probably want to strive for A’s) or are you intending to go into general practice (in which case you may focus on gaining more practical skills and accept the “C=DVM” philosophy). Do you have a marriage or serious relationship that you’re driven to sustain, or are you okay with foregoing dating in exchange for more time with friends and/or family?
Once you have established your priorities, you can begin to say no to any demands on your time that aren’t in line with those priorities. Learning to manage your time in accordance with your own priorities is a skill that doesn’t necessarily become any easier out in “the real world,” so learn to do it now!
Learn to appreciate “good enough”
Unless something is a high priority for you, learn to accept less than perfection. You likely have perfectionist tendencies (otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to get into vet school!), but sometimes it’s important to learn to let go of perfection.
There’s no need to stay up all night studying in order to learn every last detail about a subject; at some point, you may need to say “that’s good enough” and go to bed. There’s no need to always get your apartment spotlessly clean, or do a fifth revision of that case report, or spend countless hours hunting for the perfect gift for a friend’s birthday. At some point, you just have to accept “good enough” and move on.
Take time for yourself
Find opportunities to carve out time for things that make you happy.
Sometimes, this may require creative multitasking. (Case in point: While in vet school, I often headed to a nearby state park on the weekends. I’d find a scenic picnic table to sit at and study for a few hours, then allow myself time for a brief walk on a trail. It was an efficient way to get my outdoors fix and get some studying done!)
Keep in mind that self-care looks different for everyone. Introverts may need alone time or time outdoors, while extroverts may need to build in time for parties and other social get-togethers. Whatever fun and relaxation looks like to you, make sure that you are getting those moments on a semi-regular basis.
Yes, there may be hectic weeks where self-care falls by the wayside, but those weeks should be the exception and not the rule! Schedule time for yourself when you’re filling out your planner… and make sure that you protect that time!