How I Study While Working 100 Hours a Week as a Doctor9 min read

Published by Zach on

Is it possible to maintain a relentless work schedule as a doctor and still find time to study and improve professionally and personally? Well, on some weeks, when I hit around ~100 hours, it isn’t easy, but it’s possible. In this post, I will share my journey and strategies for continuing to study, learn, and improve myself even when I work 100-hour weeks as a doctor. Let’s get into it.

1. Prioritize MITs based on Environment

The first step is realizing what tasks can be completed during job downtime vs. tasks that require long, uninterrupted time or other resources.

For example, I can quickly do some Anki flashcards or read an article while at the hospital during downtime. However, I likely cannot have a 30-minute uninterrupted chat with someone (because there is a chance I will need to see a patient urgently) or record a YouTube video (because I need the proper equipment) while at the hospital.

So, instead, I figure out what tasks I can complete during the week while at the hospital or working full-time and what tasks I can complete when I have uninterrupted time off.

I go over Most Important Tasks (MITs) in another video, but I usually like to have 2-3 “big” MITs for a day when I am not at work and 1 “small” MIT when I am at work.

For example, an MIT I had last week while working was “outline a newsletter,” and another MIT I had while at home that week was “record 5 YouTube videos.”

Ask yourself a couple questions:

  • What are the highest priority tasks or goals I have
  • Do you know which goals can be completed during downtime at work?
  • Which of these goals can not be completed during downtime at work?

Figuring out my highest priority tasks and goals is so significant and complex that I question and re-answer it every year, then break it down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals.

2. Leverage Down-Time

This is the hardest and most beneficial strategy when working long hours. There is downtime, but we often want to rest and relax or scroll on our phones. Now, resting and relaxing isn’t necessarily bad, but maybe this resting and relaxation can be directed to an MIT or something more beneficial to you in the long term. Here are some things I have transitioned to doing to maximize my productivity during downtime:

  • When working on documentation or times when I simply need to be typing a lot (and not thinking much), instead of sitting in silence I will listen to an educational podcast.
  • When I feel tired and burnt out and might be able to sneak away for 10-20 minutes, I go to a call room, shut the door, and do a guided meditation (this is a game changer). And because I meditate every day, this saves me time from doing it from home and nicely breaks up my long day.
  • When I have true down-time at work I immediately complete my MIT
  • If I have completed my MIT, I do something educational like reading a business article or journal, a book, listening to a podcast, or completing some LIT (low-importance tasks). If it is the last two hours of work, I let myself waste time (TV shows or fun books)

So my down-time is usually meditate → MIT → educational materials → goofing off (Tv/reading)

***Having clear MITs for the week is a game-changer here.

3. Maximize Up-Time

When you know you will have two days off, I use one as a proper break and set the other as a MAX day. What are the most important activities with the highest time importance? Can I accomplish those on that day? What hours will I dedicate to that task during that day?

Importantly, I do not forget about the machine that runs it all: my brain and body. This includes getting a good night’s sleep, not being distracted, setting boundaries with friends and family, and getting to work.

4. Apply 80/20 and be Effective

With such limited time, we must be efficient with it. For example, when I was on clinical rotations in the hospital in medical school (not 100 hours, more like 60), I knew I had limited time to study after or during a rotation. I had to use the highest efficiency techniques or the 20% of techniques that got me 80% of the results. What were those? Well, eliminating highlighting, rereading, and summarizing, and focusing on practice questions and flashcards.

In one study, a group of students was examined, and their time studying and performance were measured. Here is what the examiners concluded:

The quantity of time spent studying has an influence on performance, but […] this influence is moderated by a third variable, the study habits used by students.

Source 1

The downtime I have when working 100 hours a week is vital, so I know whatever I do during that time needs to be the most efficient possible. This isn’t just studying. This could include:

  • Focusing only on certain parts of my business/YouTube channel that are effective (courses and videos, while eliminating most other social media, I even had to drop my podcast for a little because I simply don’t have time)
  • Focusing on staying connected with friends and family that matter to me while not staying connected with those people that don’t build me up
  • Eliminating nights out, alcohol, TV, and low-importance tasks from my life so I can spend even more gross time doing the things that matter.

Overall, the equation looks like this: Output = Total Time x Efficiency, that’s it, so if you can increase either of those two variables, you can increase output.

What do you do during your up-time? During your downtime? Can you apply 80/20? Can you eliminate certain things? Can you use more efficient methods for whatever you are doing, like the Pomodoro Technique or SMART goals?

5. Reasonably Plan

I will not write a book in one week while working as a doctor; it’s just not going to happen. What I will be able to do, however, is outline one chapter of a book or write a few pages of the book.

It’s essential to be honest with yourself and your capabilities when developing your MITs for up-time and down-time. I fail at completing my MIT about 1-5% of the time; that’s 4-18 days a year, and that’s because I’ve been doing this for two years now and know what I am capable of. If you plan too much for the day, you will become overwhelmed and hurt your chances of staying consistent with your MITs; if you plan too little, you aren’t maximizing your potential. Whenever you miss an MIT, you hurt this specific habit muscle. Every time you complete it, however, you build the muscle.

What can you accomplish in 30 minutes, while at work, during downtime? What can you accomplish during 3 hours of uninterrupted time at home?

Create a couple of big goals for the year and then, as precisely as possible, break those goals down into goals per month, per week, and per day. I like to make my yearly goals every year and break those into monthly goals at the beginning of the year. Then, using my monthly goals as a baseline, I’ll set my weekly goals at the beginning of every month, and then, every Sunday, I’ll set my daily goals for the week.

For example, if one of my yearly big goals is to publish a YouTube video every other week, that’s about 26 videos, a little more than two videos a month. So, I need to finish two videos a month. Ok, that means in week 1, I write and record a video; in week 2, I edit and upload it, then repeat for weeks 3 and 4 for video number 2. Then, during week 1, on Monday, I came up with the video title; on Tuesday, I did the thumbnail; on Wednesday, I wrote 1/2 of the video; Thursday, I wrote the second half of the video; on Friday, I edit it; and Saturday I record it. See how we are accomplishing that seemingly crazy big yearly goal a step at a time? You can achieve more than you think if you break it down and plan it.

Now, I bulk record and write my videos for efficiency. I have other big goals every year, so this equates to spending one week every two months writing/recording/editing/uploading five videos, but the above was just an example.

6. Keep the System Running (as efficiently as possible)

All of this falls apart if you are not taking care of yourself. Sleep, exercise, and nutrition are vital to keeping your mind in tip-top shape so you can complete these tasks. I find it ironic in the hospital that many residents are sleep-deprived, eating frozen foods, and simply not exercising at all. Yet, we are constantly recommending these interventions to our patients.

Take the breaks. I often need a little break to give the best care to my patients. Still, I try and hit a double whammy with my breaks, like taking a walk outside the hospital (sunshine + exercise + break), meditating in a call room (meditation + break), or going to chat with friends (friends + break), or sitting somewhere with a nice view for lunch (meditation + food + break.

Being the most efficient person in the world is worth nothing unless we maintain our sanity and health. Set personal boundaries and rules and stick to them. And never be afraid to seek support.


  • Prioritize your MITs and classify them based on what environment you can complete them in
  • Figure out what you will be doing during down-time
  • Figure out what you will be doing during up-time
  • Be as efficient as possible with those times by increasing the time you have to complete those tasks by eliminating unnecessary things in your life or by increasing your efficiency in completing the tasks.
  • Plan as specifically as you possibly can (it will make your life so much easier)
  • Maintain your mental and physical health above all

Work Cited

  1. Sarath A. Nonis & Gail I. Hudson (2010) Performance of College Students: Impact of Study Time and Study Habits, Journal of Education for Business, 85:4, 229-238, DOI: 10.1080/08832320903449550
Categories: Medical School


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