A few weeks ago I wrote about the #1 secret of successful nursing students and in this article, we’ll dive into secret #2: successful nursing students make time for time management.

I see it time and time again. Students put off getting a time management system in place, thinking they can rely on the methods they used during their prereqs. Or, they think they can develop a plan once they see what nursing school is like. And both of these, my friend, are massive mistakes.

Students who struggle in nursing school often struggle because of poor time management, an inability to prioritize tasks, and a constant feeling of “I’ll never get all this done.” Having a solid time management system in place can help alleviate these struggles, give you a focus for each day, and provide you with the inner peace of knowing “Yes, I will get all this done because I’ve planned for it and made time for it.”time management nursing school

And before we go further…I know what some of you are going to say. “I don’t have time to deal with a calendar or planner!” And yes, I know it can seem counterintuitive to spend 20 or 30 minutes every week filling out your planner or digital calendar. After all, shouldn’t you be studying every spare minute? But, I promise… the time you spend on getting organized each week will pay you back a hundred times over.

The key to a time management system is to use what works best for you. Lists, paper planners, large whiteboards, digital calendars…they’re all fantastic options. But here’s the most important factors:

  • Choose a system you can commit to using regularly
  • Set the system up BEFORE classes begin

Once you’ve made those two commitments, it’s time to get down to HOW to utilize time management in nursing school.

SECRET #2 OF SUCCESSFUL NURSING STUDENTS

Step 1: Define your non-negotiables. These are the things you are NOT willing to give up for nursing school. Take a moment to write those down. For me, my biggest non-negotiable was sleep. I was not willing to stay up past 11 pm. And I never did. For you, it may be storytime with the kids each night, your running routine, or date night with your significant other. Whatever these are, write them down.

Step 2: Plug all your standing commitments into your planner. These are the things that you must do every week or month at a certain time. This could be lectures, clinical days, your job, and your kid’s activities. And please don’t make the mistake of just jotting down the start time of the commitment. Make sure you block off the entire time frame dedicated to that item. This is called time blocking and it is a time management tactic of assigning actual blocks of time to each task.

Time blocking is THE ONLY WAY you will ever know FOR SURE that you can complete everything you need to do for nursing school. Using a list is not enough. You must block out time for each and every activity.

Step 3: If you use my Master List system that I teach you in Bootcamp, consult your list to see what you actually have to do in the coming week. You can also look through your course schedule or syllabus to see what assignments, quizzes, and other tasks you have due for school. These are items that are due on a certain day/time, but when you do them is up to you. This can also include asynchronous classes that are conducted entirely online without set timeframes designated by your instructor. I like to put reminders for when tasks or assignments are due and then you also want to block out time for each of them.

Time blocking for assignments and projects can be difficult at first as students often don’t know how long these tasks take. Err on the side of blocking out MORE time than you think you may need. You can always move on to the next task earlier, or take a well-deserved break.

For online quizzes of 10-15 questions, a safe bet is 30 minutes per quiz. Care plans, depending on their format, may take three to seven hours (you’ll get a feel for this once you know what your instructor requires), and discussion board posts should never take more than one hour.

Step 4: Look at long-term assignments that span more than one week, such as papers or group projects. It may be helpful to break these larger assignments down into milestones that you can assign time blocks to throughout the week. For example, let’s say I’m writing a short 3-page paper. Milestone one might be to find research articles. Milestone two could be to read the articles, compiling the evidence I need for my paper. Milestone three would be to write a first draft of the paper’s introduction and so on. When you’re looking at projects like this, decide what time frame makes  YOU most productive. For me, larger blocks of time work best when I’m diving into something complex…I wrote all my papers for grad school in three to four-hour blocks of time. Doing it this way gave me time to really get into the complexities of the project while allowing plenty of time to actually write. Others may find it more beneficial to break things up into smaller chunks. You know how you work best, so you do you!

If you’ve got an exam coming up next Wednesday, you definitely don’t want to save your test prep for Tuesday night. You need to block out time throughout this week and the early part of next week to prepare adequately. Again, you do you…if you study best in shorter chunks of time, then plan accordingly. If you like to dive deep for two or three hours, then go for it.

Step 5: Now that you’ve got all your non-negotiables, school commitments, assignments, studying, and projects in your planner, it’s time to fit in those things that keep your life running smoothly. These are things like grocery shopping, errands, household chores, and meal prep. If you’re having trouble fitting these things in, it’s a clear sign that you might want to delegate these essential but not critical tasks to someone else. If there isn’t someone else to delegate to…what can you let slide? What can you outsource?

Some ideas include:

  • Meal delivery kits
  • Online grocery shopping
  • Laundry services are pretty reasonably priced, especially when you see how much TIME you can save
  • Check Groupon for house cleaning services in your area
  • Get comfortable with a messy house. There, I said it. Sometimes it’s more important to study for an exam or spend time with your family than get all the clothes and dishes put away.
  • Keep a “later list” in a prominent place. When you have an errand that needs to get done (not right now, just at some point), write it on this list. When you have a free day, do all these “later list” items in one fell swoop. Take yourself out for lunch and a pedicure while you’re at it…have fun!

Step 6: Make note of things you enjoy doing or people you enjoy spending time with. Sometimes when you’re in “work mode” it can be easy to forget how to have fun (or we feel guilty for having fun). When your schedule opens up, consult this list and commit to enjoying yourself, even if it’s only for a few hours.

Step 7: Use this planner or online calendar regularly. Before the start of your week, commit to spending 30 minutes getting your week planned out. By seeing exactly how and when you’re going to get it all done, you will feel SO MUCH less stress. Sure, you’ll be busy, but you’ll never have to ask, ‘How am I going to do all this?” because you’ll already have a solid plan.

For more tips on thriving in nursing school, download my free guide, The 20 Secrets of Successful Nursing Students.

Drill these tips in by listening to this topic on the Straight A Nursing podcast, episode 181.