Time management can be a challenge for online nursing students. "It's up to you to make the time to study," says Gina, an online BSN student, "so if you don't pay attention it's easy to fall behind." The more you fall behind, the harder it is to catch up. The next thing you know, you've failed a class. Poof! Hours of work and hundreds of dollars down the drain--and you'll have to retake that class to earn your degree. Don't go down that slippery path! Instead, stay on top of your online nursing degree program with these five time management tips.
1. Plan Your Class Schedule
In a traditional brick-and-mortar nursing program, you'd be expected to show up for classes at set times. In your online program, you have a lot more flexibility. If you leave your schoolwork till you "feel like it," or "until you have time," guess what: you'll never feel like and you'll never have time. Eric, an online MSN student who already successfully earned his BSN degree online, is a pro at budgeting his time. "My work week is only 3 days, but I'm exhausted by the end," he says. "Still, the first thing I do on my morning off is plan my school schedule for the next 4 days. I budget my school time in specific increments, like forum posts, learning new material, going over old stuff, working on special projects, and so on. Once I've made my school schedule for that week, I take the rest of the morning off to relax. This motivates me to get my planning done quickly."
2. Keep a Running To-Do List
Some online nursing students prefer to take a more fluid approach to managing their time. "I never know when I'm going to have free time," says Philippa, a single mom who's earning her BSN online. "I do schoolwork whenever my kids let me!" For Philippa, what's worked the best is using a running to-do list. She uses an online program that lets her assign priorities to tasks, organize them by due dates or by categories, and estimate the time each task will take. "When I sit down to do schoolwork, I can jump in right away without wasting time. If the baby's down for a nap, I might spend a couple hours studying and memorizing material. If I only have 10 minutes before the other kids get home from school, I might write a quick forum post or ask a question. I just look at what's next on my list and do it."
3. Trade Your Desktop in for a Laptop
You're not required to have a laptop to attend an online nursing school, but it'll make your life a heck of a lot easier. You'll be able to study during "dead" time, like on your daily commute or sitting in a waiting room. "I have trouble concentrating when there are people around me," says Sheila, an online MSN degree student. "So, when I'm using my laptop on the subway or somewhere public, I might do low-focus things like respond to conversations in the forums, check on my grades, watch multimedia presentations. When I'm at home, I do the tasks that require more concentation, like writing papers and learning new material." For Sheila, who has a 2 hour roundtrip commute to her ICU job, her laptop has made it possible for her to squeeze her education into every second of free time.
4. Break Up With Facebook
Your computer is a tool for learning, but it's also a tool for recreation. Don't let the line between the two blur. Keira, who's studying through an online LPN-to-BSN program, says she closes any unrelated browser tabs when she's logged into her program's website. "I also turned off my email alerts," she says. "Even if I don't check my email, having that little alert pop up and tell me I have 2 new messages is distracting." Michael, an online BSN student, uses even more drastic measures. "There's an awesome program called RescueTime that I found," he says. "You tell it which applications and websites you want to block, for however long, and it won't let you access them. So now when I'm working I actually can't open email or Facebook, which keeps me super focused."
5. Set Imaginary Deadlines
Some online nursing programs have deadlines that don't match well with your own schedule. Eric, who was quoted in the first tip, says, "If a deadline is scheduled on a day I'm working, I don't even realize I've missed it because I don't log into school during my workweek. And when I'm looking at deadline a week or two away, I don't have that sense of urgency." What you should do, says Eric, is sit down with a calendar and block off all the days that you know you cannot access the course website. Every time you receive an assignment with a due date, move that due date up to a spot on your calendar that's not blocked off. That way, you'll be sure not to miss it.
If you want to succeed in your online nursing degree program, use the five tips above to manage your time. With smart time management, you'll earn your nursing degree without paying a single extra penny or re-taking a single class. Plus, your boosted time management skills will help you in your nursing career. What's your favorite nursing school time management strategy?
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