If you’re like most vet tech students, you are probably trying to juggle a number of different responsibilities right now. Between your vet tech courses, a job, externships, pets, family, friends, and everything else going on in your life, it may seem like a huge challenge to stay completely on top of everything.
So, how do you do it?
I hate to be the one to crush your dreams, but you probably can’t!
Very few people manage to stay caught up on all aspects of their life all of the time. When you have a major priority occupying a large portion of your time, like tech school, you may have to accept that some other parts of your life will start to slide.
The key to balance isn’t to have everything balanced all at the same time… it’s to aim for a life in which everything balances out on average and in which significant imbalances are only temporary. There might be weeks that you feel completely caught up in classes while feeling a little behind on family time. Other weeks, you might feel like a star employee for pulling extra shifts but feel a little less-prepared in your courses than you would like. All of that is normal and expected. Instead of striving for perfection, be realistic and aim to remain as close to “caught up” as possible.
Here are some tips to help you with time management during school:
Keep a schedule
Regardless of whether you use a digital calendar or paper planner, you need a way to track your commitments. Enter everything in your planner… from class meetings to work shifts to important due dates.
In addition to scheduling the things that most of us automatically think of when we consider a planner (exams, appointments, social get-togethers, etc.), use your planner to set aside time for other things you need to accomplish. At least once weekly, look at your planner and block off time for things like laundry, grocery shopping, exercise, and anything else that you want or need to accomplish. Being intentional with your time management can help you use your time as efficiently and intentionally as possible.
Look for a paid job that fulfills your school’s clinical requirements
I’ve worked with a number of vet tech students, in a number of practices. Some of those students have been able to fulfill a majority of their tech school’s clinical requirements on the clock, while others had to go elsewhere. (Our local tech school requires that clinical experience be gained in a practice with a registered tech, so that’s typically the deciding factor.)
Find out your tech school’s clinical requirements and look for a job in which you can fulfill those requirements. It may seem like a small thing, but being able to fulfill clinical requirements on the job (while getting paid) will save you significant amounts of time compared to balancing a job with an unpaid externship.
Seek opportunities to study during your day
No matter how busy you are, you probably have little bits of time in your day that you could use to study. If you’re at work, you probably get a lunch break and/or additional breaks. If you’re out running errands, you may have downtime while waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s office.
Keep flashcards or a course outline with you at all times, no matter what your plans are for the day. Using the VTP mobile app for VTNE review can also be a great way to keep your study materials mobile. Taking advantage of little bits of downtime for quick review can free up bigger blocks of time for more important tasks (like in-depth studying, time with friends and family, and sleep).
Focus on quality, not quantity. Finding effective study strategies can allow you to decrease the time that you spend studying without a corresponding decrease in results.
In general, active learning methods are the most effective way to learn and remember course material. Consider outlining the course material, making flashcards, designing practice tests, and explaining the material to a friend or roommate. Each of these methods is likely to be significantly more effective than mindlessly reading and rereading your course notes.
Streamline your personal “chores”
When you hear “work,” you probably envision homework and the time you spend in vet clinics. Realistically, however, the term “work” also applies to things like doing laundry, cooking meals, washing dishes, grocery shopping, etc.
Look for ways to streamline these tasks when possible. Cooking a large batch of food over the weekend can provide you with meals to eat throughout the week. Downsizing your belongings can minimize the amount of time you spend cleaning and decluttering your home. Group your errands by location to decrease drive time. Rethink your laundry routine to see if you can make it more efficient. Keep an eye out for anything you can do to help you minimize the amount of time you spend on these little necessities.
Take time for yourself
Some weeks are going to be crazy and “me time” will seem like a distant dream. Whenever possible, however, try to carve out time at least once weekly for something that you enjoy. Schedule these things in advance, so that you have something to look forward to on your busy days.
If you know that you’re going to have an especially hectic week or two, give yourself a true “day off” at the end of that period to look forward to. Consider planning a day trip with a friend, checking out a book from the library that you’ve been wanting to read, taking a hike with your pets, or something else that you love. It’s human nature to get to the end of a busy week and want to spend the day on the couch surfing Netflix, but planning ahead may help you come up with something that you would find more enjoyable!