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The Safety of Structure

I was inspired to write about this after speaking to a friend who started their 1st year of university in the UK recently. We were discussing how tough it is adjusting to being in university where we get a lot of freedom to do what we want with our time. The sense of disorientation that came with this freedom, combined with being in an unfamiliar setting brought about a strong sense of unease that only improved after developing a routine + getting familiar with our new surroundings.

Talking to this friend reminded me of my own experience settling into university life during first year. I came from a college (also a boarding school) where most of my waking hours were controlled by a rigid timetable. This consisted of registration in the boarding house, fixed meal times, classes, extracurriculars, mandatory prep time, and so on. As a result, I struggled with the lack of structure to my time upon starting university. Knowing that the consequences of how I spent my time are entirely on me, frightened me.

Things only started getting better after I established what my general routine looked like and came up with a system to manage my time. This gave me an idea of when things had to be done and what I could look forward to in a day/week/month. Eventually I shook off that sense of uneasiness and started properly enjoying my time in university :)

I'm now feeling this again going into clinical years and moving into hospital accommodation where I currently spend most of my time away from Manchester. It has been a few weeks now and the adjustment is ongoing. I have to adjust to learning in the clinical environment and meeting different requirements this year which can feel very overwhelming. I get my timetable later than usual which makes it difficult to arrange meetings or figure out when I will be back in Manchester. As a result I don’t train with the karate club and meet my friends as much - I’ve had a number of meetings that had to be rearranged due to clashes with my last-minute timetable and I really dislike having to reschedule things.

I feel strange admitting that I'm struggling since a lot of people in my life, especially my peers, think I have my life together when I clearly don't. My experiences made me consider why we as humans are generally so wary of change - being in a familiar setting gives us the safety of structure. The familiarity is in two aspects: familiarity with the surroundings and familiarity with what we need to do (aka having a routine).

Here are some tips that have helped me immensely with developing a routine and managing my time, I hope they’ll help you too!

  1. Having a clear system by which you plan your time is KEY. There is a quote by James Clear which goes: “You don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” I use Google Calendar to schedule events in my timetable and Google Keep to record my weekly and daily to-dos.

  2. Consider what sources of information you need when planning. For example, I have a list of information sources that I consider when planning my week, including my reminders, calendar events, events I saw on Facebook and medical school requirements e.g. with placement sign offs. Having this list prevents me from forgetting things I need to do in various aspects of my life.

  3. Unload your brain. There is too much to remember without you making a mistake so help yourself out by just writing everything down. I use Google Keep for this.

  4. Build a routine and try to stick to it. Yes, life sometimes gets in the way and even more so in Medicine but you need to be disciplined enough to maintain a semblance of a “normal life”. There are times where you might have to just do something without thinking any further e.g. me making myself train for a half marathon when the weather's getting colder.

  5. Try things out. Experiment with different study spots, study routines, note taking methods, etc to find what works for you. Once you find something that works for you then STICK TO IT.

  6. Spend your time well whether this is studying, working, or down time with friends and family. You should be able to look back at the time you've spent and have no regrets doing what you did. That’s what I try to tell myself :)

Now I finally feel like I have more time to work on some of my passion projects, so join me as I get things I care about done in my first published YouTube video!

My next post will partially cover my tips for familiarising yourself with a new environment so stay tuned for that!

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