Tips for Nursing Students as a New Semester Begins
As summer winds down and the smell of a fresh new semester of learning is in the air, it is a wonderful time to adopt positive habits to make learning exciting and fulfilling. Nursing school is a very intense program of study requiring long hours of classroom time and clinicals that often feels like a full time job. Because of this, time management is key to getting the most out of the program while still living a healthy life with adequate rest, nutrition and time for your loved ones.
Here are some tips to get you on the right foot for a successful fall semester of nursing school:
1. Attend your orientation. This allows you to meet your instructors and understand expectations. If possible, take your spouse or partner with you so that they can participate in the process and better support you when you face challenging times during the semester. If your program does not have a formal orientation day, the first day of class typically covers the same topics so be sure to be on time and fully engaged in that first class.
2. Time Management. Once you've attended orientation and received your course schedule from your instructors, start a habit of effective time management. If you are balancing school and family, it is a good idea to post your priority list, schedule your to-do items, study time and important dates to a family calendar. This way they'll know when you have time blocked for study, clinicals, exams, etc.
To build your calendar, first start with a blank sheet of paper and write out everything you know needs to get done. During this step, there is no need to prioritize... just get everything down on paper. Once you have everything down, prioritize the items by tasks or events that need to be scheduled and other items that can be accomplished during "free time". It is important that you do not block time for every last item on your list as it can get overwhelming and your time management tool becomes a stressor rather than an exercise to relieve you of stress. Save some of the smaller items like shopping or salon visits for your "free time" blocks so you can do them during whichever block feels good to you. Sometimes "free time" blocks are there just to provide you with a break to take a nap or reflect so it is good to keep those open.
Once you have your list prioritized, get a weekly calendar and start blocking time for the items on your list. Be sure to allow enough hours to realistically complete the task. Color coding works well for this exercise. You can block all class time in blue, exam dates in red, etc. Blocking time allows you to plan time to study and to work on upcoming projects so that you aren't left cramming for exams or clinicals.
Once you are done, you will have an organized calendar for the week and a list of to-dos to hit during your free time blocks and peace of mind that you are effectively managing your time. While you can plan ahead months in advance with this tactic, it is good to block the hours in weeks at a time. Blocking time too far in advance can create anxiety and since commitments and priorities are always changing, it is good to allow yourself flexibility.
3. Designate a study area. It is crucial to nursing students that they have a designated place to study. This area needs to be set up so that it is not distracting and provides energy for your mind. Create a space that has good natural light and adequate table space for books, notebooks and your computer. Keep this area clean of clutter and insist that it stays as a study zone even when you aren't using it. When you respect your study zone, those around you will as well. Put up signs if needed to remind roommates or family members that your study space is not to be disturbed.
4. Limit distractions online. In this age of online learning, it is required that students go online to interact with classmates, download study materials, communicate with their instructors, etc. While performing these functions for your class work, it is hard not to get sucked into personal email correspondence, Facebook, Twitter or your favorite sports and news websites. To be successful at time management and maintain low stress levels, it is imperative that you become aware of the time you spend "playing" online as it can be detrimental to your GPA.
Before making changes in your online habits, first observe yourself when you are online. How much time exactly do you spend each day managing your personal email, social networking and surfing the web? How much of that is necessary? Some students have found it helpful to literally take a semester-long break from their social networking sites in order to give their complete attention to school. This can be a very rewarding exercise and it gives you something to look forward to as the semester comes to a close.
Managing your personal emails can be done in less time if you adopt a habit to only check your email once or twice per day. Drop the old routine of checking every 10 minutes and see how much more time you have to tackle items on your priority list. Add "check personal email" to your time management calendar to commit to this new habit. You can even add an auto-responder to your emails to let those writing you know what times you check your email and that they can expect a reply during those hours.
5. Exercise. Staying active is critical to nursing students. 45 minutes a day of exercise can mean a world of difference when it comes to stress levels and brain activity. Students typically struggle with blocking time and committing to an exercise schedule but once you do it and you feel the effects afterwards, it is clear that this is something that is just as important as sleep.
To stick to a workout schedule, it is best to keep expectations realistic. Don't feel that you need to join a health club and find time to travel there, change clothes, do cardio and then entire weight machine circuit. That can be too much for a student to handle and offer too many reasons to quit. Start by taking a 45 walk each day. Schedule it around your existing daily routine. For example, if you drive to school, come early and park in a lot that is further away and take the time to walk to class. You could also plan a walk/job workout in your neighborhood before you shower for the day. In addition, many campuses now offer yoga classes throughout the day to help students clear their minds and perform exercises that improve the blood flow throughout the body. There are plenty of ways to get 45 minutes of exercise in your day without it requiring an additional 45 minutes of travel and preparation.
6. Plan meals in advance. As a student, nutrition is very important to maintain energy levels and brain function however students have very little time to grocery shop and cook. In your time management calendar, block time to plan easy-to-make healthy meals that can last all week. Do your shopping on a Saturday when farmers markets are open and you can get the best quality produce at great prices. Prepare casseroles and pastas in bulk so you can grab and go throughout the week. If you live with your family, plan days where your spouse can cook when you have long days of school.
Many of these tips are great for time management even when you are through with school, especially since being a nurse can often require long hours and weekends. Work on time management tactics and allowing time to take care of your own health until it becomes part of your lifestyle and you'll accomplish so much more with each passing day!
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