Nursing school time management is one of the biggest hurdles you will have to conquer. Time and time again nursing students lament their out-of-control schedules, late night study sessions, lack of sleep and vanishing social lives. But, with a solid time-management strategy, you can be the boss of your schedule, get to bed on time and still see your family and friends. Here’s how you do it.
The first thing you’re going to do is get a paper planner. Yes, you read that right. PAPER. And before you say, “I use my phone to keep track of all my appointments,” I am here to tell you that you are going to be using your paper planner for so much more than keeping track of appointments. The most functional type of planner to get is one with both monthly and weekly spreads…you can use the one I make that’s just for nursing students, or any ol’ planner you like….just make sure it’s BIG and had space for you to block out your schedule each day. The weekly spread is where you get into the nitty-gritty of your schedule…everything goes here.
The monthly spread, on the other hand, gives you a big-picture look at your life. Use your monthly spread for the big ticket items…exams, papers/projects due, clinical days, social events, work schedule and holidays.
Make lists: Each week, go through your course schedules and make a To-Do list for the week. This list will include all the quizzes, modules, assignments, tasks, projects, papers and exams for that week. And yes, sometimes this list can be overwhelming! If you’ve got a snazzy planner like this one pictured below, you can make separate lists for school and home to keep you even MORE organized!
Block out each day: To really make effective use of your time, you HAVE to have a realistic idea of how much you can get accomplished each day. The only way to do this is to look at what needs to get done that day/week and block out time on the calendar to get each thing done. That’s why making lists is SO important! For example, if you have a Med/Surg test on Friday, you will block out time each day to prepare for that exam. You’ve also got a paper due. Great. Block out time for that. Oh, and don’t forget your clinical prep…block out pretty much an entire afternoon and evening for that. And so on and so forth. By blocking out time on your calendar, you KNOW what you can get done and WHEN you need to do it.
When your schedule is so intense, it can be easy to feel like you are just spinning in circles…not sure what to do next. By creating a schedule with ALL your to-do items on it, it’s easy to know what to do next…simply look at your calendar and move on to the next task. Done.
One word of caution: be realistic when planning your time. If you struggle with writing papers, give yourself extra time…if you finish early you can always find something else to do (and preferably it’s something fun!).
When I was a student, I blocked out EVERYTHING…drive time, eating lunch, discussion board postings, errands, reading, studying, group projects, assignments, exercise, lectures…E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. I planned each day with one goal in mind and one goal only: get to bed by 11pm. And I did it, every single night. Here’s what my weekly spread looked like in the first few weeks of school (re-created in the awesome planner I design for students!)
Multi-task: Sometimes you just have to do more than one thing at a time. About halfway through organic chemistry, I started making audio quizzes of the content I needed to review (if you’re not sure what I mean, check out my Pod Quizzes!). It was a way for me to review while doing other things that were important to me…going for a run, grocery shopping or even just putting away the laundry. I was able to pay attention to other areas of my life without feeling like I was wasting valuable study time. Plus, it helped to use another part of my brain and made a HUGE difference in how well I did on exams.
Banish things that waste your time: Very early in my first semester of nursing school I learned that study groups were a monumental waste of time. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t work with others, but how you do it will make a giant difference in your ability to manage time effectively. Check out this post for more on making study groups actually work FOR you instead of AGAINST you.
Make maximum use of downtime: Let’s face it, you probably have some downtime here and there throughout the week…standing in line at the post office, waiting for a doctor’s appointment or maybe you’ve got a few minutes between classes. You’d be surprised how much reviewing you can get done in small little bursts. At times like these I either did NCLEX questions via an app or went through flashcards on my phone.
Adopt a “One-And-Done” approach: In most nursing schools, you will have two to three opportunities to pass some key skills check-offs or exams (such as the dosage calculations exam). Please do not go into these with the attitude that you don’t absolutely have to pass the first time because you can just come back and do it again next week. You DO NOT want to have those tasks hanging over your head any longer than necessary. Students who routinely had to re-take exams or re-do skills would inevitably fall further and further behind. Aim to pass the first time and move on with your life. However, if you DO have to re-take a quiz or re-do a check-off, try not to beat yourself up. Focus on what you did poorly on the first time and your second attempt will most likely go much, much better!
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Got an awesome time-management tip to share? Let us know in the comments below!