As summer winds down and the academic year comes ever closer to launch, it’s time to start thinking about how to succeed in your nursing program. Time management is one of the best tools you can have for keeping everything under control for back to school.
Preparation is one requirement to a successful school year, but it takes time and planning to reach your set goals. Students need to be willing to assess the requirements of all their courses and merge that with obligations outside the classroom. Frequently, time management is as important as study skills, so making it a priority will give you control over all you have to do.
Here are some tips to get into the habit of making the most of the time you have available.
Map Your Schedule
Find and use the organization method that works best for you. Whether you’re using an app, a spreadsheet, specialized software, or a piece of paper, just pick an approach and use it every day without fail. Some students find that organizing the day in blocks helps–that can be 15-minute blocks or chunks of several hours at a time.
Do you prefer to designate your activities by color? Do you prefer to use separate sections for all your tasks? Will a timer help remind you about your schedule? Time management practices can look different for everyone.
Use color coding/section blocking methods to sort
courses and the work associated with each
work or lab schedule
time for meals, sleeping, relaxing, socializing, or exercising
chores including grocery shopping, laundry
Set Aside Time Now that you know how much time you need to devote to everything in the day, notice where you might need to work extra hard to carve out time for bigger projects. Some days will be busier than others, so evaluate open blocks of time to see how that time can help you finish all you need to do. Can you use an extra half hour between classes to email a professor or a your team about a project? Is your commute time good to catch up on reading or to outline the upcoming week?
Re-evaluate Your Progress
Every few weeks, check in with how you’re feeling. Are you overwhelmed and falling behind or are you managing to stay on track? If your schedule is busier than it has ever been, using the same time management methods that you have always used might not work now. If you aren’t sure what to do differently, reach out to your school’s academic services center for assistance. They are trained in helping students organize their time most effectively and have excellent resources to choose from.
It might take some trial and error to find the right time management approach, but the rewards will be great. As you gain more control over how you use your time, feel reduced stress, and see the positive results from it, you’ll be motivated to continue.
Many nurses are pursuing advanced education. Expanding knowledge is always a good thing—for them, for their employers, for their patients, and for their careers. But what happens if you’re going back to school while you’re also working full-time and raising a family? Perhaps it’s challenging, but it’s definitely doable. These nurses have done it and have tips to help you do it too.
When Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, was asked by her employer to return to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in order to remain in an executive leadership position, you might say that it wasn’t the perfect time. “I was working over 60 hours per week as a nursing leader for a complicated department; we had five kids at home—all with multiple sports and commitments—ranging in age from 1 to 17 years old,” recalls Burger, a media specialist and contributor for www.registerednursing.org. “There is no perfect time to start back to college.”
But Burger and many others made it work, and you can too.
Do Your Homework Before You’re Doing Your Homework
Before you jump right into a program to earn another degree, Simendea Clark, DNP, RN, president of Chamberlain University’s Chicago campus, says that you need to do some homework. “If you’re thinking about going back to school, do your homework first. Everyone has a different set of circumstances, so it’s crucial to research programs and schools that best fit your needs. Many schools offer online modalities that allow you to take some or all of your coursework from the comfort of your home, saving you travel time to and from school,” says Clark.
Be sure that the educational program you select is something that you love—not just something that will bring in the bucks. “The key for those who want to advance their education is to make sure it is something that drives your passion for nursing,” says Adam Kless, MSN, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, vice president of clinical operations for Avant Healthcare Professionals. “Selecting an educational path for mere money will leave one hollow and disappointed in the long run.”
If it will help you, see if you can spread out your coursework. “I chose to take two classes per semester, including the summers. That helped me stay full-time in the graduate program,” says Valerie C. Sauda, PhD, MSN, RN-BC, MGSF, an assistant professor at Husson University’s School of Nursing. “Although it lengthened my study a little, it definitely helped me maintain the work/life balance. I also feel that I learned the material more thoroughly and was more engaged in the classroom and online group activities. A shorter program may not always be best for learning and life. Enjoy the journey!”
Tell Your Family and Your Boss
Now you’ve found the perfect program for you. What’s next? Your best bet is to tell the people closest to you: your family and your boss.
Your family probably already knew that you were looking into an advanced degree, but if they didn’t, be sure to tell them. You may need their support and the best way of getting this is to be honest and transparent. “Have conversations with the key stakeholders in your life—your current boss, your spouse, and your children. Creating ways for them to give you critical feedback in the moment can save a lot of heartache later. When you are under a lot of stress, it can be difficult to maintain a good communication feedback loop,” says Melissa McClung, MS, LPC, a professional career advisor and owner of LBD Careers, LLC. “Setting this up in advance can preserve your important relationships when there are inevitable conflicts.”
There are many reasons why it’s crucial to tell your boss. “Getting your boss involved will allow you to successfully incorporate your education into your work life by scheduling around class, providing you extra learning opportunities while at work, or benefit from finding a mentor at work who is already doing what you desire to do,” says Kless.
“At the outset, you may need to negotiate with your employer for some flexibility with your work schedule,” explains Divina Grossman, PhD, RN, APRN, FAAN, president and chief academic officer at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. “Solicit the support of your supervisor or mentor at work so that you can have more flexibility in your schedule so you can prioritize your classes, clinicals, or to write papers and projects.”
Grossman says that when you tell your boss, you may also be able to streamline your schoolwork by having “your course requirements, such as term papers or special projects, be about topics or issues that you are dealing with at work. This way, you are not only meeting the requirements for your advanced degree, but also are resolving issues in the work setting through your research and projects. Your supervisor will be thrilled to know that you are doing research-based practical work that advances them and you.”
Plan Your Schedule, But Be Flexible
When Sauda was earning her PhD in nursing/education, she planned daily, weekly, and monthly schedules. “I prioritized time for family, time for work, and time for myself, while ensuring that I blocked out time for study and research during the school year. I had to ‘give up’ a few things, including binge-watching TV, checking my social media multiple times a day, and participating in nursing groups as a volunteer,” she says. “Creating and sticking to a daily schedule is crucial for success in an advanced degree program.”
Terri Bogue, MSN, RN, PCNS-BC, a consultant to hospitals and health care through her company, Thor Projects, LLC, planned her time as well when she returned to school. “I scheduled time to study after family dinner and on weekends. I knew that my degree would open doors and opportunities that would benefit my family as well as myself. This knowledge helped me to keep focused on my goal,” she says.
“It’s also helpful to set reminders for assignments and tests on your phone’s calendar as soon as you learn about them. Review your calendar at the beginning of each week and mark down pockets of time when you will study and do the same for spending time with your family,” says Clark.
Besides having a schedule, it’s also important to be flexible. Because, let’s face it, life happens. “The most important thing to remember about balance is that it is constantly about reevaluating and making changes,” says McClung. “I suggest developing a systematic way to check in with your priorities to ensure that you are prepared to flex when you need to. For example, this can be as simple as using a planner and scheduling out time for the important things: work and school obviously, but also family time, meal planning and preparation, exercise, and household chores.”
Have Some Space
Setting up a particular area in your home can help when it comes to doing your schoolwork. “Create a study space that helps you focus. For me, it was one corner of our dining room where I had a small bookcase for my textbooks, all the study materials I needed, and good computer access,” says Sauda. “I also set up a corner in my office at work to house my short assignment work that I could complete during breaks. Whatever you decide, do what works for you and make it a pleasant experience. You’ll accomplish more in the available time that you have.”
Bogue says that she would also set aside both time and a consistent place in her room to study. That helped her to balance it all.
“It is important to have a quiet place to study and complete coursework. A private, dedicated space will allow you to get work done, free from distractions. It is also important to get an early start on assignments, give yourself extra time to complete tasks, and seek help if needed,” says Clark.
Ask for Support
All our sources say that having a support network is crucial when you work and are going back to school. Your network can be family, friends, or even colleagues.
“Surrounding myself with people who were not in the program, but who cared and encouraged me either in person or via email, made all the difference—especially when I went through those difficult courses or when I felt like I couldn’t do it all. It’s the network that made a huge difference,” says Sauda.
Grossman takes it one step further. “You cannot be all things to all people. If you are usually the designated parent for carpool, can your spouse or a friend or neighbor help you out? I learned as a parent that if I can involve other parents in a way that we can help each other, both of us can be successful,” she says. “For example, I can do the morning pick-ups, and they can do the afternoons so that I could attend my classes and do my writing. If I am in charge of cooking meals at home, can I cook in bulk on weekends and freeze the meals or can my spouse help with the cooking?”
If you still need more help, Grossman says, think about hiring someone occasionally to clean or get your kids to help so that your work is reduced.
“Keep your lines of communication open to ask for help when needed and to keep instructors, your boss, and your family informed of any last-minute changes in schedule or areas where you need help,” recommends Clark.
Don’t limit your network to just family, friends, and coworkers. “I was scared when I took my first doctoral class. I had been out of school for over 15 years, and I was afraid that I couldn’t do the work. What I learned quickly was to ask for help, use the learning resources available online and at the campus, and develop a relationship with the faculty. As a faculty member myself, I can tell you that faculty want to help you reach your advanced education goals. They want you to be successful. Asking for help can really make a difference,” says Sauda. “One of my best experiences was in doing a literature search for a paper. I was not getting the articles that I needed to complete the paper, so I finally reached out to the university librarian. Within an hour, I had more than 20 articles that I was able to look at with her support. Not only did it save me time, but I learned the value of a librarian and library services when doing my research.”
Be Good to Yourself
To balance work, school, and life, self-care is essential. “Be patient and compassionate with yourself—this is hard work,” says Bogue.
McClung says that you have to make sure that the other areas of your life are good. To succeed, you have to make sure that you also take care of your health, relationships, and anything else that is important to you.
“Eat well, exercise by taking a walk before or after completing an assignment or after dinner with your family, and make sure to get proper rest,” advises Clark.
Grossman adds that, if you’re a parent, you keep tabs on any guilt feelings—and be easy on yourself. “Do not feel guilty about not being there when you can’t be and having your spouse or relative take over for you. This period is time-limited—not forever,” she says. “When my daughter ran track and field, they knew I could not be there for all the meets, but I could be present for some of them. I could do more on weekends than during the week because of my work and graduate school schedule.”
Totally Worth It
While this time may be difficult, it will also be memorable and fun. “The most important strategy for success is our attitude. Give yourself time to adjust to your new role as a graduate student. Like anything new, you will get the hang of it in time. Above all, make the most out of it, and enjoy the experience,” says Grossman.
Clark says to stay focused on both short- and long-term goals. “Be patient with yourself as you ease into becoming a student again.”
“The challenge and personal growth that came with pursuing an advanced degree helped me find my focus for future research and teaching,” says Sauda. “Always remember that the journey to advanced degrees is worth it!”
New student orientation at most colleges and universities starts within the next six weeks, and for new nursing students, the prospect is both exciting and daunting.
How can you make the transition to nursing school easier? Here are five tips.
1. Get to Know Your School
Follow your new school’s social channels. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn offer excellent insights into what your school is all about, and they’ll probably even share tips that will help you. Check out the campus maps online, and take a virtual tour, so you’ll know where all the buildings are, where you might grab a bite to eat, and where you’ll find your classes and the gym.
2. Learn About the Area
Your campus might seem like a bubble, but it probably is an integral part of the wider community. Whether your school is in an urban center or a rural outpost, find out about the neighborhood. What’s around the school? How are students helping out in the community? Are there places that seem safer than others? Look at the local Chamber of Commerce to find out about nearby attractions and things to do.
3. Find Our About Your Courses
Nursing often has one of the most structured curriculum plans in any school. With so many required courses, it’s good to have an idea of what you’ll need to graduate. The school’s course catalog (often found online) is an excellent resource. Here, you’ll find out about the faculty in your department, the required courses and credits for your degree, and the course descriptions. If you know this, you’ll have a good idea of what your college courses should look like, and you’ll be less likely to be surprised by any forgotten requirements.
4. Meet People
Host or go to a gathering of students in your area. Join a Facebook group for your class and any of the clubs you’re interested in. Talk to your roommate in one way or another. If you are close enough, take a trip to campus to walk around and talk with people. Once you get to campus, you’ll be glad to meet up with familiar people.
5. Get Excited
Yes, this is like stepping into the big unknown. But, it’s also the start of a journey that will take you to one of the most rewarding careers possible. You’ll have successes and failures, and you’ll learn different things from both. Start envisioning this new path and welcome the changes it will bring.
With summer’s end right around the corner and classes just about to start, now is a good time to start thinking of what you can do to start your school year off right.
Whether you are heading straight into nursing school from a high school environment or heading back after several years in another career, getting off to a good start is all about planning.
Here are five back-to-school tips.
1. Get Your Priorities Straight
A big part of getting off to a good start is getting your head in the game. Take stock of what you want out of the coming school year. If you’re a brand-new nursing student, are you looking for a certain GPA or knowledge in a particular area? If you’re a parent juggling many responsibilities plus nursing school, are you seeking a way to carve out time to study? Decide on what is important to you.
2. Identify Your Challenges
Now that you’ve stated your priorities, you’ll need to figure out what might get in your way. If you are worried about finding time to study in a busy household, what plans can you make to go somewhere quiet or find snippets of study time inyour day? Maybe you are planning to commute and your first class is especially early. What can you do to ensure on-time arrivals every day?
3. Never Underestimate Planning Ahead
Getting out the door isn’t always easy, so the less you have to do in the morning, the better off you are. Prep lunches, water bottles, clothes, homework, backpacks, and chores the night before. Make sure you don’t have to stop for gas. Try to eliminate as many things that can slow you down as possible. If you have to go to work before later classes, pack up extra food, and don’t forget your notes.
4. Find Your System
So you are planning and getting things ready—that’s great. But there’s going to be a lot going on, so you need to find an organizational system that works for you. Find a way to keep track of all your to-do lists and make it a method that is most convenient and easy for you. It might be an app or good old-fashioned paper. As long as it is accessible and easy for you to use, it will work.
5. Take a Deep Breath
You are about to embark on another exciting year of learning that will bring you even closer to your ultimate goal of becoming a professional nurse. Think about what that means. You might have some days when you feel overloaded, but those days will be balanced by the days you come home so energized by the idea of nursing, you can’t wait to hit the books. You are on a path with other equally passionate students. Appreciate the journey to becoming part of this incredible profession.
Start thinking about heading back to school now and you can ward off lots of unexpected surprises (not the good kind!). Put some preparation into these next few weeks and you’ll be glad with the results.
For many nurses, going back to school is a challenge. Trying to find enough time in a day seems impossible and sustaining that commitment long enough to finish a degree program is daunting.
But there are ways to find the time you need to go back to school. If you are flexible enough and diligent enough, you can make it happen.
Here are five ways you can squeeze more out of the minutes you’ve got to work with.
1. Get Clear About Your Goal
Going back to school takes time and effort. For some people, it takes a little more of both, especially when it’s someone who has lots of other obligations. But if you fix your sights on your end goal and decide that whatever sacrifice you have to make in the next couple of years will get you there, then it won’t seem so unmanageable. Just keep telling yourself, it is not going to be this way forever.
2. Don’t Go It Alone
There’s no doubt about it – life is busy. If you’re working, have family obligations, or other things demanding your time, you are going to need some help to return back to school successfully. The first step is accepting it, the second step is finding it. If you have a job, see if you can find a program that works around your schedule. If you have kids, see if a friend or relative will care for them – offer to swap childcare during other times. If you spend hours every week cooking, designate at least one or two nights as a pizza and bagged salad night or at least just cook something quick like ravioli or eggs with toast.
3. Find a Flexible Program
Nursing programs are becoming increasingly flexible to accommodate all the different time constraints of nursing students. Look around for a program where you can take night classes or even weekend-only classes. There might be a way to sign up for classes that meet early in the morning or later at night. Search around and see what you can find.
4. Look at Your Schedule
You can’t earn a degree without some juggling. It might seem like you don’t have a spare second, but charting out your days will help uncover the small chunks of time that you might have available. For one week, track your time – when you are working, cooking, exercising, watching television, caring for family, etc. It’s a long process, but you might find out that you have more free time than you think. That can help you put your plan into perspective. And see if you can be more flexible with what you are willing to shift around. If getting up earlier can give you time to study, it can bring your goal that much closer to reality.
5. Talk to Academic Advising
It can’t be said enough – when in doubt, turn to your school’s academic advising office. They are there to help you figure out how you can be successful at school, and they want nothing more than to see you get your degree. Talk to them about your time constraints or your concerns about finishing your degree. You might be surprised at the ways they can help you figure out just how you can make your dreams become your reality.
If going back to school is one of your dreams, but you don’t know where to find the time, don’t despair. With some priority shifting, time management, and reorganizing how you spend your time, you can do it.