How to create a routine as a full-time student and mom

Be honest with the time you have

We all have 24 hours in a day, but when you are a full-time mom, the numbers get a little bit different. As much as I’d like, I can’t afford to pull up an all-night study session even if I feel energyzed and ready to conquer those books. I have to be a fully functional human being at 9 a.m. when my twin toddlers wake up.

So, at the very least I need to get 7 hours of sleep, to take care of my family safely. Most of the time less than that is not enough to go through the day, 7 hours of sleep should be a minimum with the exception that somedays you’ll get more or less sleep.

Take note of each activity you do in a regular day, actually take a pen and paper to write this down, you might be surprised to find (hopefully) more time than you expected.

This is what my exercise doing this looked like:

I realized the consistent spare time I had was at their afternoon nap 60-90 minutes and after they were asleep until I have to go to bed around 4 hours.

This is what works for me, some people prefer to wake up earlier and study before the sunrise. I used to be like that, until motherhood hit me, now I can’t wake up at 3 a.m. and study anymore, my eyes are just too heavy to stay awake even if I went to bed earlier and I’d gotten enough sleep.

That leaves me with 5 – 5 1/2 hours to study or work on my projects like writing or creating digital products.

Time blocking your spare time has never been more important

I only have around 5 to 7 hours of spare time, when I can focus on my studies and personal projects because the kids are playing in a safe place at my sight, dad is taking care of them or they’re asleep.

The catch here is to determine which of these hours you’ve got would be more suitable for studying and which for other activities.

You have to make sure you’re fully rested and have energy to study when you set up a block of time for this. If you find it hard to wake up earlier than your kids to study just set a study time block on the middle of the day when they take their afternoon nap.

It’s again about being realistic with ourselves to avoid the frustration of not having the willpower to do these things like waking up early to study before the sun rises and having it all together.

Instead try to do some easy stuff like setting up a load of laundry or any kind of chore that doesn’t need much thought when you’re not at 100%.

Have your days themed

Idon’t know if this is a thing, I’ve only seen time blocking used as chuncks of time on a day that are destined to a single activity. Well, I time block my entire week, I have a block on wednesdays for laundry, on thursdays for folding, I cook twice a week a big meal, and my partner cooks on his day off.

I don’t mind eating the same for three days with a little spinoff I change the dressing so it’s not so boring for the kids, and my partner eats at his job, he works at a restaurant. My not-so creative cooking skills work for the twins and me.

I’ve even had days set for writing my blog posts and one for creating fresh pins and schedule them (every 10 days) having 3 scheduled pins per day.

Some days my creative release is focused on sewing or making hair bows for my small business and writing is set aside, I only have so much time in my hands, but you get the point.

A big mistake we make is trying to compare ourselves with others

There are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G women out there, that truly are able to keep a super organized life, have their careers on point, their family healthy and happy

A routine that works for you is the one that you can stick to most of the days without feeling drained, let’s be honest here, every day won’t be perfectly schedule, especially when there are people depending entirely on you, every family is different, this is why taking the exact routine of a super productive mom you follow on social media won’t make you as productive as her.

For me the first step to make a routine that truly worked for me and my family was to have a reality check and accept that I might not have as much time as I’d like to dedicate to school, and that’s okay, because it won’t be like this forever.

Toddlers grow, they’ll be going to kindergarden next year and I’ll have at least 3 more hours to spare. For now, I just enjoy watching them develop, and I accept the fact that being a full-time mom/housewife + student will take a hit on the less vital of my obligations which is school.

Be okay with it, but if there’s room for improvement do it. If you can spend even 30 more minutes studying instead of taking a 40 minutes long bath, take a quick shower and use the rest of the time to study.

Design your schedule on paper

Having your schedule on paper gives you a bird’s eye view of your week, and you’ll be less likely to miss a class or procrastinate on the important stuff you need to do.

While creating your schedule you’ve already defined when is your 99% safe time to study, when kids are asleep or maybe at school, whatever your situation is. These are the first blocks you want to designate study blocks. Then you have your classes, today April 9th 2021 we still have online classes only at my university, that block is pretty easy to create because I don’t need any more extra time to commute to uni, if you need to physically attend classes take that time into your block and make any babysitting considerations needed.

The remaining blocks of time you have to prioritize basic things like cleaning, cooking, also having a lunch / dinner time that is always at the same hour is the best way to avoid feeding struggles with the kids.

Consider everything, even the visits to the park and how long will them be, when you have your time planned is less likely you’ll waste it.

Create rituals to help your kids stick to the routine

Kids love routines, they make them feel safe, it is amazing how you can use this to your advantage to have the little ones dance at your rythm.

I have a sort of ritual for eating with my twins, we set their table, they take a seat and I bring them the food, they just turned 2 and they eat on their own, when they’re done they bring their bowls to the sink and help me clean up the mess.

We have rituals for our night and morning routines as well, you’ll learn day by day how to make them stick to the routine without having to put much effort into it.

Lessons I learned from my first year of medical school as a mom

“Good luck on that” with a sarcastic tone was one of the comments I got after saying I had enrolled in medical school when my babies were less than a year old. We don’t need anymore negativity than what our heads are already throwing at us.

That’s part of the reason why I started this blog, to show any woman out there who needs to hear this that you are not the only one, it isn’t impossible, many women have succeeded in their careers and families at the same time.

It won’t be easy, but it is possible!

Here’s what I learned in my first year of medical school full-time mom and student.

I have a little disclaimer to make, because I live in Argentina and medical school here is a little bit different than in the United States.

We don’t have to go through pre-med courses (getting a bachelor degree) in order to get into medical school. Instead it will take you 6 years to complete medical school. The first three years are biomedical subjects, biology, histology, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, pathology, etc.
Then 2 more years of clinical subjects, as internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, etc.
And a last year of in hospital medical rotations as an intern, going through all the branches of medicine.

So as I understand it, according to the classes I took in my first year which were Biology, Anatomy Histology… these are the equivalent of a pre-med course in the US.

1. Being a mom at school is more common than I thought

There are many more student moms than I thought. In my introductory course pre-pandemic february 2020, I got to meet a couple of fellow student moms.

I felt a little relieved to know that I was not the only one doing this, because so far the only way I had to know that there are more women out there on the same path as me was through internet.

2. I can’t do it all and it’s perfectly fine

At the beginning of the year I was working part-time as a waitress, studying and taking care of my babies. I was doing okay for the first couple months, got one month of lockdown where I was fully taking care of my online classes and babies, there where some months where I was working and studying, I added a little spice to my dish in August, when I started this blog. A lot going on in my life and I could only keep it up for a little longer.

Things got crazy somewhere around October I was forced to quit my job because I refused to work 11 hours a day, every other day. I had babies waiting for me at home, I got to see them awake only for 2 hours, it wasn’t fair for any of us.

A part of me was relieved because I wasn’t feeling comfortable anymore at my workplace, but after the first week of unemployment my head was all over the place, my grades were already dropping, I was feeling like a failure, I felt demotivated, a part of me wanted to go get another job, but deep down I knew that it would be just too hard to find something that would adapt to my partner’s and I schedules.

Classes were already very demanding and I had failed a couple of exams, getting a new job would be a stressful situation that I wasn’t ready to go through.

I really wanted to be this superwoman that could manage it all family, job, studies and having toddlers all day long at home. But I couldn’t and that’s fine.

Now I understand I had too much on my plate, I didn’t look for another job, we made some budget adjustments and my partner’s income was able to cover all our expenses, I took a break from blogging, and focused on saving my year at school.

I almost didn’t make it, but I passed all my courses. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, I just have to keep my babies happy and pass my classes, after that I’ll do some writing as a part of my creative relief. I do want to monetize this blog but that’s not haunting me, I’ll just take it one step at a time.

3. I am not the same student as 5 years ago

I have already been in medical school, back in Venezuela where I was born I pursued my career until my family was no longer able to sustain me. I decided to leave my country because I didn’t want my parents to choose between eating or sending me money for school. Yes, it was that heavy.

I used to study very early in the morning, I’d wake up at 4 a.m. a little before my roommate was going to bed. She was the best, made me coffee when I got up, to make me a human again, and I did the same for her at noon.

Now I can’t wake up at that time, I have tried it, my eyes just close after 10 minutes in front of the computer. So, I have to study throughout the day when my kids are playing safely, clean, fed, and where I can hear them. Sometimes during naptime, and at night after they’re asleep.

I stay up late and wake up when I’m fully rested or babies wake me up, which is around 9.

Also I used to make these beautiful notes with drawings and details, I have no time to do that, I did try to do it again because it was the only way I had ever studied, until now that I started using Anki.

I am currently taking a leap of faith, I have a huge exam in 20 days and it will be the first time I’ll rely solely on digital flashcards (Anki) I trust their spaced repetition system, I feel more engaged in my study sessions because I’m talking, explaining the subjects to myself, like the real oral test will be.

4. There are no right or wrong ways to study.
Learning isn’t a straight path

Last year I got into this studygram world, so motivational, encouraging, beautiful notes, perfect schedules, very long study sessions, I related to my previous student self, only devoted to study. And got caught in it for a while.

The thing is that not every student is the same, not everyone learns by writing, or reading and highlighting and re-reading notes, not every student has the time to keep a notebook for every subject and that’s fine.

I understand that learning is what I make of it, if I’m approaching a textbook with the idea that if I don’t highlight, or take notes from it I won’t learn anything I won’t be fully focused on it, I won’t be engaged with the material; instead if I read textbook actively, thinking how can it help me better understand a coming lecture, there’s less pressure on me. I will be more open to the words, I’m not looking to get all the information from a single source at a single study session. I’ll learn from reading, hearing, participating in class, making my flashcards, taking some crucial notes and explaining in my own words complex concepts.

On a side note, I wrote a post about getting the most of your textbooks and how to read them more effectively, you can check it out here.

Learning can be a combination of many study methods or a single one, whatever works for me in that moment if can successfully explain it to someone in my own words I know I am learning, whatever path led me to that knowledge.

I am experimenting with study techniques, and that variety is keeping the spark alive between medicine and me after almost 10 years of marriage, with our ups and downs.

5. Done is better than perfect

If I just get 1 hour of study on a particular day I consider it a success, even though a perfect study day for me would be studying 6 hours, there are days that I pass on the opportunity to do a quick review when I get the chance maybe 15 minutes to study, those first 15 minutes build the momentum, there are rare times when I only get to study 15 minutes in a day, I either do more than an hour in several sessions through the day or nothing at alI.

I’m currently reading a book ‘The Compound Effect’ that talks about how these little actions we choose to do on a daily basis eventually change our lives even when we can’t see the change in short-term vision.

It’s okay if you don’t get through all your study goals, if you just get to sit once a day to focus on studying no matter how long or short the time you’re already succeeding by building the habit to study every single day.

6. Feeling like quitting somedays doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes

I’ve struggled a lot, I’ve cried, got frustrated and even looked up other careers, something easier, shorter, more flexible, I always come back to where I belong.

Because when you love something so much, when your reasons are authentic, there’s a greater value that you won’t get anywhere else but by doing what you chose to do as a career, nothing will fulfill you like pursuing that dream.

Even if it gets painful hard, you’ll know you made the right choice when after the storm of uncertainty and doubt on yourself has passed you’re still in love with that future you draw for yourself. Feeling like quitting doesn’t mean you don’t have what it takes, it means that you’re so deeply involved in your passion that you want to get it right no matter what, and even consider change instead of failure on that path you chose.

Because, let’s be real, we don’t feel like quitting when things are going smoothly (unless you aren’t truly passionate about your career and feel like quitting because you’re bored) when you’re passionate about it you’ll get so overwhelmed at the sight of imminent failure that you’d rather steer the wheels than failing at achieving your goals.

Take a deep breath, remember why you started and that old saying ‘This too shall pass‘ you’ll be back on track again.

This ended up looking more like a motivational speech than I thought, I hope you find it useful or at least entertaining. And keep up the good work!