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!

How to read a textbook effectively

One of the most common study tips among top students is to take full advantage of lessons by reading the topic before attending class.
But when you look at the huge Physiology book lying on the shelf and you’re not really sure where to begin, one of three things might happen:

  1. You’ll convince yourself to face that challenge after dinner (which probably won’t happen)
  2. You decide to make a quick youtube search and watch a video on the subject instead of getting first-hand information
  3. You start reading a 20-page chapter about a subject that afterward, you’re not able to explain in your own words or even tell the difference between what’s important and what isn’t.

Sounds familiar?
This is because you are approaching your textbook the wrong way, I got frustrated many times by trying to understand a chapter of a textbook while just reading it from start to finish like I was reading a novel, this is the #1 mistake.

Here’s how to actually get the most of your textbook, by reading it more effectively; following these steps, you’ll start diving into the subject with a great view of it and going down to the details, therefore getting a better understanding of it.

1. Do a quick skim through the pages without focusing on anything particular.

This way, you’ll see how is the chapter structured, are there graphics? Images? Tables? Or is it just paragraphs of information? How long are they? Are there subtitles or just blocks of text?

If there’s something that caught your attention don’t fall into the temptation of stopping and reading that page because you’re probably not ready to understand it yet.

By getting an idea of how your book has organized this particular chapter you’ll get ready for reading, and you’ll know what to expect.

2. Read the questions at the end of the chapter

Most of the textbooks have a final section of questions to test if you’ve learned and reached the objectives of that lesson. Often teachers take some of these questions and customize them to apply them on tests or during classes.
By reading these questions you’ll have an idea of what is important to know about the subject and your brain will give you a sign when you’re reading through the chapter and find an answer to some of these questions.
You’ll have something to “look for” and the lecture will be more active and enjoyable for you, like a treasure hunt.

3. Read the titles and subtitles

Like the ingredients of a meal, the big subject is made from little chunks of information, when you go through the components of the big subject you’ll find it easier to understand the structure when you start to actually read about it.
For instance, let’s say you’re reading a chapter about the endocrine system, the first section will explain what are hormones and glands, the second how hormones make things happen in our bodies, and then you’ll have several sections describing each gland of the body.
You now have a global vision of the subject, by just knowing what the book is going to describe you in each section.

4. Read the first paragraph of each section

The first paragraph has a summary of what you’re about to read, a brief description or introduction so you get ready to fully dive into the subject. Often, you’ll find the definition of the title of this section right on the first paragraph, depending on the field you’re studying.

5. Now you’re ready to read it from start to end

You should now have a global idea of the subject and the components of the main topic covered in this chapter, it will be easier to understand when you read through it, and the chances of you having to re-read to understand where is something coming from are much lower.
Try to actively read, if there’s a term you don’t understand write it down and continue reading, this is the moment to formulate questions for the lecture you’ll be attending. If you remember some of the questions you read on step 2 and found an answer you’re doing it great!

6. Understand and USE the tables and graphics of the textbook.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve skipped these gold mines. Tables on textbooks are a great way to have a more visual and condensed shot of information. Once you’ve fully studied the subject, went to classes, taken your notes, made your flashcards, whatever study method you use you can implement reviewing relevant tables from textbooks to remember the important stuff.
Once I learned how to use tables and graphics I am a big fan of these, and they’re part of my reviewing repertoire.

Now you’re ready to wrestle with that thousand pages textbook, go ahead.
Happy learning!

How to help out a mom struggling through college?

How to help out a mom struggling through college?

We all know someone who decides to continue studying and working on his/her career after having a family.

This is specially challenging on the first years of the kids’ lives and when is mom who decides to study, even when the other parent shares equal responsibility to support her studies; we still live in a society where there are very high expectations for women family-wise.

Here’s how you can give a hand to that person you care about, when she’s having a hard time balancing her studies and home life.

  1. Offer to babysit her kids for a couple hours while she studies.
  2. Help her with meal preparations and house chores.
  3. Don’t text her endlessly, if you really want to know how she’s doing ask if she can talk and give her a call.
  4. Listen to her when she needs to vent.
  5. Remind her she’s doing a great work just by committing to finish her studies after being a mom.
  6. Make her a cup of coffee when she has to study.
  7. Help her out with running errands.
  8. Take the kids to school or from school back home for her.
  9. Celebrate her academic successes
  10. Remind her that one grade does not define her overall performance.
  11. Remind her of important dates

1. Offer to babysit her kids

Some weeks we get so caught up in our routines that we neglect study time, it can be so helpful if you just offer to take the kids out for a while, take them to the park, to watch a movie, or just play around with them at home but giving you mom friend some space and time study.

2. Help her with meal preparations and house chores.

It depends on the mom, some like me will refuse at first, but if you have enough trust and familiarity with that person they will accept the help.

I will be happy EVERY TIME you offer to cook, it is the one thing about motherhood that gets me on my nerves, if you know there’s something that your mom fellow doesn’t like to do offer to do it for her and suggest that she uses the time to study.

Simple tasks like sweeping and mopping, taking the laundry out to hang, or cleaning up kids’ mess can make some busy mama’s day easier.

3. Don’t text her endlessly

Anyone who studies/works and has toddlers can tell you this: there’s no time to fool around with the cellphone. I don’t even know when was the last time I published an Instagram story or WhatsApp status. I am forced to use Facebook for online classes and it is so distracting, I hate when I find myself caught up in a social media binge!

I rather attend a call for 15 minutes catching up with someone than spending 3 hours in and out of a WhatsApp chat to say half of the things that we could’ve spoken over the phone. Because let’s be honest, moms won’t answer right away when you text them, this conversation you try to keep with her can take hours.

Make it simple, give her a call, I promise you it will be more valuable.

4. Listen to her when she needs to vent

Ah, we all have those days, sometimes moms feel guilty about being stressed out and wanting to give it all up. It is difficult for us to say it out loud, if your fellow mom trusts you enough to open up listen to her, have empathy, let her know it is okay to feel that way, she doesn’t have to be perfect.

Motherhood is not always la vie en rose and that’s okay, most of the days will be bright and beautiful but there will be bad days, when nothing goes right, she’ll be late for class, she forgets appointments and dinner burns out! Be there to listen up and don’t judge.

5. Remind her she’s doing a great job

Just by making the decision to improve her life through academic achievements, after having kids is a huge deal. Not every mom will make it through, some won’t have enough support, others will lose motivation on the way.

The fact that she’s working towards that goal to be better for her and her kids is an act of courage, remind her how brave she is. It is never said enough.

6. Make her a cup of coffee when she has to study

My partner and my mom do this for me, you have no idea how much a little gesture like this can push her (in a positive way) to get to work. I love coffee, I start my day with it, and my study sessions start with it.

You can do such a small thing for her that means a lot, it means I’m here for you, I support you, I believe in you, I’m cheering for you, go get that degree!

7. Help her out with running errands

It’s finals’ season and your fellow student mom hasn’t brushed her hair in three days (true story) she’s eating take out, the kids have a battlecamp on the livingroom and she’s trying to study in the middle of chaos, it can happen that she didn’t have enough time to review all the classes, she doesn’t want to go out, she doesn’t have time to do it.

If you know there’s something she needs from the convenience store near home, go get it for her, get her some treats to brighten things up. Ask if you can do something else for her, she might not have time to chit-chat but she’ll be so grateful that you did this for her!

8. Take the kids to school or from school back home for her.

This single thing can save her up to one hour that she can use to study, and when it comes to balancing college and kids every minute counts.

9. Celebrate her academic success

It doesn’t matter how big or samll, celebrate! She’s one step closer to the goal, make it a big deal! That exam where she got a 95 is a big deal, don’t let it go under the table, a good grade is even more valuable when it has so much effort behind it.

She overcame her public speaking fear and gave a great presentation, congratulate her for those little things, that are victories for her.

10. Remind her that one grade does not define her overall performance.

Just as there will be good grades there are bad grades, sometimes she might even fail a class, remind her that it is just one step, she doesn’t have to give up, she’ll do better next time. She’s already doing a lot.

Sometimes we expect the bad grades to happen because we know that we didn’t study enough, but some other times these hit hard because we felt confident about our knowledge. We can’t help but doubt if our efforts are not enough. Be the person to remind your mom fellow that she’ll go through this, it was just a bad grade and it doesn’t define her success.

11. Remind her of important dates

Specially if you are a classmate, there’s so much going on a mom’s head that we might forget some specific dealine we had to make. Some moms won’t have this problem, but if your fellow has forgotten important dates before be there to remind her.

If you’re a relative and you know she might forget someone’s birthday or any other important date casually remind her, it can be really helpful when she has so much stuff to keep track of.