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How to Plan for Nursing School Success


Coments shared from "Staight A Nursing"  - If there’s one thing I get emails and questions about it’s how on earth to manage everything efficiently in nursing school…at a close second are your questions about how to study, which is completely revealed here!

But before we get started…confession time! I recently struggled with this problem myself. I’m in graduate school, I work full-time (typically three days in a row), manage this website, produce a podcast and now have a dining room full of the most beautiful planners ever to sell. To say I am busy is an understatement! And guess what happened? I kinda semi-bombed a quiz in my advanced physical assessment class. Why? Because I hadn’t managed my time well in the weeks leading up to the quiz and I took it without really preparing. I just assumed I’d do fine even though I’m super busy and didn’t actively plan for nursing school success. Major fail.

So, I decided I’d probably better take my own advice and follow my tried-and-true method for managing a ridiculous schedule. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Gather all the syllabi for all your classes. I like to print mine out on color-coded paper (I love color-coding!). Open a spreadsheet and then take a look at all your syllabi…each one should have a full listing of everything you will be graded on this semester. Enter each item into your spreadsheet.

As you go through all your tasks, you cross them off and let me tell you it FEELS AMAZING!!

Step 2: For day-to-day time management, you need to get all your to-do items into a planner/calendar of some kind. You have a few options for this:

Digital Only: If you are using a digital system only (like Google calendar for instance), you’re going to need to go beyond just putting in your appointments and exams. You absolutely MUST put in all your items. Get ’em in there and attach alerts to them so you’re not blindsided by having something due THAT DAY that you totally forgot about!

Paper Only: The only time a paper-only system works well is if you carry your planner with you everywhere. If you find that sometimes you’re out and about with just your phone, you’ll want to adopt more of a hybrid system (see below).

Hybrid System: This is the system that I recommend as it really is the best of both worlds. You’ve got your paper calendar as your main planner. It has your to-do lists and weekly schedule (basically the nitty-gritty of your life) but then you’ve also got your big events on the digital calendar…mainly I use this for appointments and times when I physically have to BE somewhere or do something at a set time. Plus, it’s helpful to have these types of things on a digital calendar that you share with other people in your household (especially if you’ve got childcare to coordinate with your significant other!!).

Whatever system you use, get ALL your to-do items in there. All your exam dates, project due dates, quiz dates, discussion board posting dates, face-to-face class dates, online class dates, clinical days…EVERYTHING. I use red ink for all school-related items so that it always stands out (have I mentioned I’m a huge fan of color-coding?) ??

Step 3: Get the rest of your life in your calendar. This would be your doctor’s appointments, kids schedules, work schedule, etc. What you may find at this point is that you’re going to need to be very stingy with your time if you’re going to get everything done.

Now that you’ve got your due dates and appointments in your calendar, you need to start scheduling your time. So, as I fill in my calendar, I use the monthly view for the “big picture items” such as exams, clinical days, work days and project due dates. On the weekly view I get very detailed about how I am going to allocate my time. If I know I need to read a chapter for my physical assessment class, I block out that hour in my calendar. If I know I need to work on a project or a paper, I block out the time throughout the week so I know I have allocated enough time to get it done. We’re going beyond just making lists…we are actually blocking out time. This is key so please do not skip this step!

Step 4: Schedule in time to do things that bring you joy…even if it’s just 30 minutes a day or every other day. Get them in the calendar so you can prioritize your self-care.

So when do you do all this planning?

At the beginning of the semester I put all the big items on the monthly layouts of my planner. Then, each Sunday I look at the upcoming week and block out the time I need to get all those things done. And, each morning, I check my calendar to see what I need to do and when I need to do it. A calendar only works if you actually USE IT ??

So what kind of paper planner do you suggest?

The UnCalendar, is great because it provided monthly/weekly views and had lots of space for making lists. I looooove making lists! Plus, it is undated so you can start using it at any time. Notice how I blocked off time for different activities? This is MEGA IMPORTANT!

Whatever type of paper planner you decide to use, the best type is one with both monthly and weekly views. The monthly page gives you that Big Picture view, while the weekly pages give you that detailed “how am I spending my time” view.

How else can I conquer my nursing school schedule?

Other than scheduling out your time in your planner, you want to be as efficient with all your tasks as you possibly can…here are a few tips you can implement right away:

  • Identify your “time thieves” and commit to avoiding them until all your work is done for the day. For me, the biggest time thief of all is social media, so I try to limit my usage until I’m done with all my important tasks.
  • Experiment with different study methods until you find a routine that works for you. Fumbling about with a method that doesn’t coincide with how your brain works is frustrating and wastes precious time you simply do not have.
  • Multi-task by recording yourself reading your notes and then listening to them as you fold the laundry or get outside for a walk. My podcast is a great way to study while you commute, exercise, do housework, etc… Just search for “Straight A Nursing” on iTunes, GooglePlay and Stitcher!
  • Avoid large study groups. To see why, check out my post about it here.
  • Utilize your winter and summer breaks to get your life streamlined and automated as much as possible.
  • Take advantage of grocery store delivery or e-Cart services where you order ahead of time and then just pull into the parking lot while someone brings you your bags (I love this!).
  • Identify which time of day is most productive for you and do your most important things during that time. For me, it’s early to mid morning.
  • Try not to overcommit to more than THREE priority projects each day.
  • Learn to let go…maybe it’s REALLY hard for you to let the laundry pile up, but sometimes you’ve just got to say “no” to things that aren’t important so you can say “yes” to the things that are. The laundry will always be there, but maybe it’s better to spend that time reviewing for an exam or playing with your kids.
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