#1. Support System
If you’re a mom and plan on going to nursing school, or are already in nursing, the importance of having a good support system cannot be stressed enough. If you’re a super independent person, its easy to get caught up in the “go it alone” mentality, but don’t fall into this trap. While that perspective may get you to where you want to be, you’re going to be in for a bumpy ride. Make things easier for yourself and your family by reaching out to others for help.
When I started nursing school I had a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Pre-reqs weren’t a problem because most the courses I needed were offered online, and the ones that required labs were offered in the evenings after my husband was already off work. The actual program on the other hand was very different.
The program I attended was an associates degree course, so it only took 4 semester; however, each semester was demanding when it came to required presence. For each semester, I had at least 4 days a week that I had to be somewhere. First semester I was required to be at either class or clinical 5 days a week. Add work and family to the mix, and you’re looking at one busy lady. That doesn’t include study time.
Keep in mind, nurses and nursing instructors can be a little on the anal side, and for good reason. When it comes to your health and emergency situations, you kinda want someone who is by the book and will do things right. On the flip side this also means they are going to hold you to these same standards as a nursing student. Don’t think you can get away with rolling into clinicals 5 or 10 minutes late and nothing will happen.
The policy at my school was pretty rough. If you were more than 10 minutes late without prior notification and a good reason, it could be counted as an absence. If you’re less than 10 minutes late it was just considered a tardy; but, two tardys are counted as one absence. Most rotations or semesters would fail you after two absences. During our specialty rotation we were only allowed one absence. Two meant failing.
What I’m getting at here is, plan for rain. Things can and will go wrong. Plan for that to happen. Don’t just have one sitter arrangement, have at least two. Three is better. You never know when something might come up last minute, and your sitter bails out on you. If you’re ready for something like this, it won’t seem like that big of a deal. If you’re not ready, it could mean the difference between passing or repeating a semester. Having a good support system to help with childcare is a must for parents in any field, who want to be successful.
Organization goes right up there with support system, when it comes to things that are absolutely necessary to do well as a mother, an employee, and a nursing student. Being a parent in general is a juggling act. If you’re a parent who has to work, congratulations, you’ve reached level 2. Add schooling to the mix, and guess what, that’s right, you’ve leveled up again! This means you will be insanely busy. In order to hold on to your sanity, you’ll also have to insanely organized.
For me, organization starts with minimalism. Eliminate excess and keep only what is essential. My logic: the fewer things I have to organize, the less time it takes to organize, and the easier organization will be. This concept of minimalism and organization is one I try to share with all areas of my life. From dress to mess, and everything in between.
When I came across the idea that decision making drains you of energy, it was a concept that really resonated with me. Every decision you make throughout the day, no matter how small, requires thought and effort; this translates to energy. Having to constantly decide on what to eat or what to wear, may not seem like much, but the energy required for all these little decisions, quickly adds up. I found that by eliminating excess clothes, dishware, rotating meals, meal planning, and creating routines, I have a lot more energy to focus on my studies and organization is much simpler.
Besides decreasing the amount of stuff you have to organize, learning methods of how to go about organizing our time and schedules is also helpful. If you haven’t already checked out my other blog post on things you should do before starting nursing school, you can check it out here. One of the things I recommend doing is reading Steven R. Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and for good reason. This book is basically a how to guide when it comes to getting organized. There are three organizational concepts he presents that are real game changers.
- Time management matrix
- Weekly scheduling
- Roles and Goals
#3. Time Management Matrix
The time management matrix is basically a four square or punnet square that categorizes everything you do, based on its urgency and importance, into one of four quadrants. The key to effective time management, based off the model Covey promotes in his book, is to spend most of our time on tasks that are important but not urgent. Our objective here is to be as proactive as possible.
It takes a lot of time and energy to put out a “fire” (a metaphorical crisis), it takes far less time to anticipate where or how a fire might occur and implement measures to prevent the outbreak. Doing this preventative work is what it means to live in quadrant II. The more time you invest in preventative work, the fewer fires you will have and the smoother everything will be.
The hard part is finding the time and having the discipline to focus energy in preventative work; especially when you feel like you’re already surrounded by a bunch of tiny fires: exam on friday, care plan due tomorrow, what’s for dinner, crap I for got to pay the…. Don’t let all these urgent important matters stop you from chipping away at preventative work. Investing in quadrant 2 activities is something that takes practice and a lot of time at first, but ends up saving you time and hassle in the long run.
For example: having a single babysitter lined up is a required minimum. Lining up a back up child care provider, will save you the crisis when your normal person calls in last minute. Typically, I would have two sitters lined up at any given time, and then a daycare center if everything fell through. I recommend taking some time and looking for a day care center that allows for drop ins. This is important because of lot of places don’t allow this. Then get your little ones registered, so when that crazy day comes, when everything seems to go wrong, you’re already set up to avoid the crisis of “what to do with my kids”.
Other examples of quadrant 2 activities include getting the maintenance done on your car so it will actually get you to class, having extra ink and paper on hand so that when you go to print your assignment and you run out of ink there’s no need to panic. Its all theses little details you need to stop and consider and address proactively in order to be successful.
#4. Roles Goals and Weekly Scheduling
Weekly scheduling is huge! Not just weekly scheduling, but daily and monthly as well. There are few maxims I enjoy more than the age old adage, “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Nothing could be more true. Every time I hear someone say it, it makes me smile. Dreams become goals when you break them down into actionable steps. Regardless of what your peers or your instructors tell you, getting A’s, even in a difficult nursing program, isn’t impossible; and it doesn’t have to be a dream. You can make this a goal and a reality with proper planning.
During the first day of orientation for nursing school, we were told as a group that “B’s are the new A’s.” We were told not to be so hard on ourselves and that a lot of students who are used to getting A’s don’t get them in nursing school.
I worked hard, planned, and was able to hit my mark. I got an A in all of my courses.
Then, during the first week of second semester, I met with my academic adviser, who was also one of our instructors, to discuss how things were going in the program. This was a routine meeting required of all students. After looking over my transcript and noticing that I had a 4.0 GPA, she commented that I had done well, and then flat out told me not to expect to get an A this semester. She was basically trying to prepare me for the disappointment.
So I had to ask, “how many people got A’s in this course last semester?” I think she might have been a little surprised that I questioned her perspective that an A was unlikely, cause she made a curious face before responding. After taking a second to consider it, she told me, “I think there were two, one for sure, but there might have been another.” This was out of around 80 students.
Again, challenge accepted.
Again, I worked, planned, and was able to an A. I actually managed to get a 94% that semester.
Planning effectively was a big factor in how I managed to do this. Planning and my support system. Not only did I plan time for things like reading and assignments, I planned everything! Meals, shopping trips, household chores (dishes, laundry, floors, bathrooms), car maintenance, work schedule, clinical schedule, scheduled activities for my kids (soccer, school, daycare, quality time). Every activity was accounted for, had an allotted time, and was placed on the schedule. A lot of time went into determining what routines were most effective. I was constantly striving to be in quadrant 2 as much as possible.
A question I liked to ask myself on the days that were the most busy, and I knew that getting everything on the list done was going to be impossible, was “what’s the one thing I can do today, that will make things easier for tomorrow?” This is quadrant 2 thinking. Be proactive. The importance of planning and preparation is too often overlooked when we become overwhelmed. You have to be intentional with your time, because your time is precious, and if you waste it by being sporadic you won’t have enough of it to go around. Take the time to determine the most efficient way of doing things.
Planning is an important part of success, but this is a management task. It’s important to manage your time, but all this time management means nothing if its not getting you to where you want to be. The direction you want to go in is determined by leadership. Leadership is the vision you have dreamed up; its the process of determining what your dreams are and transforming them into an achievable goal. The vision developed through leadership is carried out through management. Goal setting is how this transition occurs. Another question I like to ask myself is: “What activities are most crucial to getting me to where I want to be?”
In Steven Covey’s book, he recommends identifying the roles you have in life, and setting weekly goals that move you towards how you envision being in each role. Roles that I set for myself include: individual, mom, spouse, chef, student, homeowner, employee, friend. For each of these categories I have a vision. This vision guides the weekly goals I make for each category. I would then schedule time for each goal. I found that scheduling this way helps to promote balance. You address all areas of your life, which helps you to not be consumed by any one area; ie: School.
Here’s what my schedule looked like using this method. Mind you, when I was doing this it was for personal use. I had never intended on sharing it, so please excuse the sloppiness.
For more information on how to break down reading assignments check out my other blog post here, where I cover ways to increase reading retention of your nursing school textbooks.
#5. Activity Combining
Pairing activities and combining activities are great ways to create routines and multitask to boost efficiency. As a parent who’s also a student, I’ve found that combining activities is crucial to getting everything done and bonding with my kids.
Something that’s drilled into your head in nursing school, is that every moment is a teachable moment. The same goes for being a parent. Every activity can be bonding activity and a teaching activity. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves of this, especially as we get stressed out with exams and assignments.
When I’m in the store with my two little girls, the biggest key to my sanity, and to bonding is to keep them busy. No, I don’t mean passing them your cell phone and letting them watch cartoons while you get the real work done. I mean involving them. Have them grab the produce bags, count the fruit as you put it in, tell you what numbers the price tags say. All they want is to help and make you proud. Just give them your attention as you shop. Let them practice being an adult. Let them push the cart, give the cashier the money, and hold the receipt. This is bonding and teaching.
Study time is another good time for activity combining. If its not an ideal time to get with classmates who have kids around the same age, go to a park and study. If weather doesn’t permit, go to an indoor play place like McDonald. No one says you have to eat there. If they do… just buy a coffee. This way your kids get to run around, and you get to read.
#6. Meal Planning
Meal planning is so important to doing well as a parent. This goes double if you’re also a student. It will save you so much time and hassle; not to mention, money. Getting your meal planning game on point is a must do!
Meal planing is something that I personally struggle with. Not just as a student, but in general. I just don’t like to do it. I’m not much for cooking either, to be perfectly honest. But I am really into eating healthy. This might be part of the reason I dread the task. I belong to the paleo perspective, so I’m not a big believer in ready made food. I believe this diet is ideal, but I’m not a Nazi about it. There were certainly pizza nights while in nursing school. Overall though, I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. Working on how you meal plan definitely helps with this.
Strategically making enough for left overs is one way I learned to cut back on the work load of meal planning; lunch almost always consists of last night dinner. Crock pot meals that last for 2-3 nights are also a good idea for those days leading up to an exam.
Though meal planning is important, do not underestimate the wonders that can be brought on by food preping. For me, this was especially helpful for breakfast meals, since morning is such a busy time. One of my favorite morning pre-made meals is frozen paleo pumpkin pancakes. My girls love them; I love them. They’re healthy and super easy to make. I’d usually make a batch on Sunday to use throughout the week.
Sunday I know is a day of rest for many, but for this busy mama, Sunday’s were meal plan, food prep, laundry, and family time days. If a Sunday trip to the grocery store was missed, it was like an evil snowball effect, where this one slip up would just lead to an ever growing annoyance that acted as a continuous thief of time, money, and health. You lose money every time you eat out, it takes time to eat out, and nothing you pick up on the go is ever healthy.
Do yourself and your family a favor by working on the art of meal planning and prepping! It’s worth the time investment.
Budgeting is not only an important part of meal planing, its an important part of adult life. Personally, I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey. If you’ve never heard of him please, please, please, go look him up! Right now. Stop reading this blog and look into what he’s all about. I’ll even help you; here’s a link. That’s how strongly I feel about what he teaches. The information he shares can and will change not only your life, but “your family tree”.
A lot of people like to down play the importance of money. Especially when it comes to student loans, or career choices. For instance, its taboo to answer the question “why’d you get into nursing” with an answer that involves the pay; but money is and should be an important factor for any career decision. Money means options. The more options you have, the less trapped you feel. When you feel free, you feel good; or at least I do. No one wants to be a slave to student loans, or constantly have to answer to debt collectors; or even worse, get your wages garnished.
Getting your money and budget under control will also help decrease stress levels. If you’re in nursing school or plan to be soon, this is a good thing. The last thing you need is more stress. Not only that, money problems have a way of creeping into all aspects of your life. Not only will poor money management keep you from doing necessary up keep on things like your car, which you depend on to get to class and work, it’ll create problems in your relationship. Money is one of the biggest reasons couples fight. You don’t want to be fighting with the person who plays the leading role in your support system while you need them the most. Nursing school is stressful enough! Don’t let money be an added factor.
When it comes to financing school, I don’t recommend getting student loans. I also don’t recommend going to a university. At the end of the day, most employers don’t care where you got your degree as long as you passed your boards. I’ve heard people claim employers prefer nurses to have a bachelor degree over an associates, but for me it hasn’t been an issue. I went to a community college, got an associate’s degree, and was offered an ICU position before even graduating.
Community colleges are so much more affordable! If you want to pursue your bachelors, to advance in management or become an advanced practitioner, there are many cost friendly online ADN to BSN programs. These programs can also be done while you work full time. An added plus!
Going this route I was able to 100% cash flow my education for my ADN. In total I paid around 2,000 out of pocket after grants. If you’re married with dependents and you’re able to live off of your spouses income, its super doable to make it through without debt. For this to be possible, I did have to work part time while in school, and most of my wages went straight to childcare costs, but it was still worth it to graduate debt free.
I know that nurses make decent money and how easy it can be to fall into the line of reasoning, “I’ll just pay off my student loans when I graduate,” but why get them to begin with if you don’t have to?
If you’re already in a nursing program, and you already have debt, that’s okay. Not in the “its okay, don’t worry about it” type of way, but in the “it’s okay, you made some mistakes, but you can fix it” kind of way. The first step is getting you and your team mate on a budget.
If I could go back to before I ever even started my prerequisite courses, even back to before I graduated high school, and give myself financial advice, there are two things I would tell myself: 1. Don’t borrow money to go to school 2. begin investing your money into retirement accounts immediately.
Compounding interest is no joke my friends! Don’t wait until you’re in your 30’s. Start now! Like, today! I’m serious. Even if its only 50 bucks. Retirement needs to be a part of your budget. Also, start a college saving account for your kids. That way your kids won’t have to struggle their way through school like you had to. Both saving for your kid’s college and your retirement need to be a part of your budget!
Nothing says “you rocked at parenting” like getting your kids to go to college and then being like “Boom! here’s tuition, now go be awesome. And…. guess what kids? You don’t have to take care of us when we’re old cause we planed for retirement.”
#8. Say No To Extra Activities and Events
More is less, and less is way, way more. Don’t spread yourself so thin by taking on too much. Simplicity is genius! Think minimal in all aspects of your life (except studying). It’s okay to say no to commitments others ask you to take on. Right now is the time to focus on the commitments you have already made– the commitment you have to your family, your work, and your school.
Don’t be that crazy person who joins an extreme weightloss program! Don’t offer to organize a blah blah blah for your blankety blank. Just say no. You don’t have to be sorry, you just have to be firm. You currently have bigger fish to fry. So no church bake sales for you for a while. At least not unless your kicking butt with all your other responsibilities. In that case, you’re awesome, and proceed. But… If you’re struggling in school, or you can’t remember the last time you washed your jeans, just say no.
The hardest part is that this minimalist perspective extends to your kids as well. I’m not saying everything is out until graduation, but you definitely have to prioritize what works with your schedule. My husband and I were able to manage getting our kids through soccer season, but one activity was plenty. Don’t feel like you’re depriving your kids because they didn’t get to do softball, or dance too. All in good time. For now, prioritize.
#9. Mommy/Daddy Study Buddies
Find them! Mommy study buddies are the best. I went my whole first year without exploring this option. It was stupid. I stayed in my comfort zone with people I knew from my clinical group. Doing this seemed like a good idea at the time, but most of them didn’t have kids. This meant that to study with them I had to get a sitter. Well, not really. To tell the truth, I never asked if we could meet in a kid friendly place, but I felt like it would’ve been an inconvenience. This equated to more money spent on daycare, and less time around my kids. Not a winning combination. I should have pushed myself to explore this option sooner.
It wasn’t until third semester that I was fortunate enough to find my tribe; a parent study crew. Really it only consisted of myself and two other parents. Trust me though, when it comes to dense material small study groups are superior. The more people in a group the more likely you all are to get off track, or disagree on where to focus your efforts.
Finding other parents to study with makes being a good student and parent much easier. Instead of meeting at libraries, you meet at houses, parks, or as previously mentioned, McDonald’s. There’s a sense of understanding when it comes to the struggle. Also, there’s a greater sense of urgency and focus. When you’re a parent, and a student, and you have to work, you don’t have time to mess around. You’re on a mission: Learn the material, and get home. Mostly to make dinner and do other parenting tasks, but also to relax. Before I found my tribe, when I would study with individuals who were single, no kids, no job, I noticed they didn’t have the same sense of urgency (unless it was finals week). I noticed more time was wasted on gossip, or personal drama, and that the study time wasn’t as efficient.
If you’re a parent, and you’re in nursing school, and you work, find people that are in the same boat as you early on. Get your kids together for play dates that double as study sessions. It will make your life easier, save you money on childcare, and even though your kids will be busy playing and you’ll be busy studying, they’ll still be with you.
#10. Delegating Duties
Get that list of things to do and start passing it out! kids are capable of so much more than we put on them. I think that with each generation kids have fewer and fewer responsibilities; not my kids. 5 years old and you’re doing laundry. 4 years old you can sweep and mop. 3 years old you can pick up toys. There is so much kids can do to help you out, even at young ages!
I’ve found though that putting your kids to work is most effective when you have a group clean time. They only want to do what you’re doing. So how I’ll usually work it is, I’ll tell them “okay girls, its clean up time” and I’ll ask them what chores they would like to do. Sometimes the answer is none. Fair enough, I don’t really like doing chores either. When that happens I’ll let them be the boss and tell me what I can help them do. This really gets them looking for things to clean. Sometimes racing the clock, or making bets that I can finish a set number of tasks before they finish all of theirs, works. Other times it doesn’t. You really just have to be creative about turning work into play.
I think putting your kids to work is also good parenting. Not only does it teach them to pick up after themselves, it instills discipline, and work ethic. I use chores to teach my kids about money as well. The catch here is that in our house, only extra chores get pay. Cleaning up after yourself is expected, paid work is something you do in addition to this. To make money they have to not only pick up after themselves (clean room, clean bathroom, clean table, sweep, mop, vacuum, laundry), and take care of their dog (feed and poop scoop), but do things in addition to that. Usually I’ll pay for them to clean windows, pull weeds, dust, or help with folding our laundry.
Luckily my kids are still young, so I can pay them in quarters. Some of what they make they can spend, some they have to save. For them being able to buy a pack of gum to share makes all the work worth while.
Being successful as a parent, an employee, and a student, all really come down to being good at the same thing, prioritization. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, so you have to be intentional. What you decide to do with your time will either take you closer to the life you envision for yourself, take you farther away, or keep you where you are. Getting to where you want to be is rarely easy. The majority of the time it means giving up the leisurely activities you enjoy the most. How I see it is, it’s the struggle that makes us stronger. Our goal in life should be to find peace in the struggle as we venture towards our dreams and full potential. Time is precious, and to waste it, is a waste.
My priorities and how I prioritize my time are two different things. To me, the most important things in life aren’t things at all, but people. Above all I prioritize my husband. My husband is my best friend and partner in life. He is the one who gave me my beautiful children. He is the backbone of my support system. He hold me up, keeps me accountable, pushes me forward, and without him the life I envision would be very different. We are a team. The stronger our relationship is, the stronger our family unit is as a whole. I could do everything in the world right by my children, but if the relationship I have with their father is broken, then something will always be amiss. This is why I put my husband first.
(to be fair, I married an amazing man. I wouldn’t suggest that if you’re married to an abusive psycho you should put him before the safety and well being of your kids.)
Putting my husband first, doesn’t mean that I spend most of my time focused on him. In fact, I probably spend the least amount of time on him. What it means is that our goals are aligned. We make all of our decisions together. We consult each other on everything. Even small purchases. Pretty much if it costs more than 50$ and isn’t groceries, we discussed it before hand. Putting him first means going the “extra mile” for him. It means, back rubs, laundry, buying his favorite foods, and looking at every stupid truck he finds on craigslist. I do my best to make him happy and encourage him to follow his dreams, and he does the same for me.
My children are my second priority. Together with my husband we strive to provide for them in every conceivable way. Although I say that my husband is my first priority, and my children my second, the amount of time I spend with my kids, or on doing things for them, far exceeds the time I spend on my husband.
A lot goes into being a mother; cooking, cleaning, teaching, comforting, playing, school, homework, tantrums, time outs. It really never stops. Its an amazing experience, but it will literally drain you. When it comes to prioritization as a parent, there’s a whole lot more on the to-do list, than when it comes to being a wife.
How I lay out my priorities as a parent comes down to my children’s basic needs. They need to be fed, they need to be taught, and they need to play. I prioritize food first, because without a good diet, none of the others are possible, or they’ll at least be more difficult.
As previously mentioned, I believe in eating a paleo diet, which if anyone has gone that route, it can be difficult because of its lack of convenience. There were definitely times throughout the nursing program that we weren’t eating for our health, but for convenience, especially around finals. As a parent I have guilt about this, because I know how important nutrition is, but I also know that by going through school I’ll be able to make more money, and be able to afford better foods. In the long run, the short sacrifices are worth it, even though they’re hard to make at the time.
The topic of teaching brings us back to the idea of pairing activities. Every moment is a teaching and bonding moment; from grocery shopping, car rides, household chores, meal time. Each activities gives an opportunity to talk about topics your child needs to learn; sharing, colors, numbers, letters, reading, respect, discipline. All of these lessons are easily incorporated throughout the day, if you’re intentional with how you spend your time. It may be easy to hand your kid a phone with apps that teaches all these things for you while you shop in peace, but then they miss the bonding aspect. This is something no amount of technology can replace, or at least not hopefully in my life time.
Play goes hand in hand with teaching. Teaching and bonding should be a part of play. These activities should be fun. Boring chores should become games, races and competitions. Kids also need a lot of physical play; running and horse play. They’re like tiny little monkeys. If you don’t take them to get that energy out, they’ll use it against you to drive you crazy. Take them to the park while you study. Let them run. Then when you need a break from the books chase after them. Bond with them.
After my kids, I prioritize my extended family and close friends. My primary obligation is to my husband and kids, but after that all others that have made their way into my hearts comes next. The caveat to this, is that I consider my employment and my schooling an extension of my service to my family. The purpose of employment is to provide for my family. The purpose of school is to better provide for my family. In most cases these activities come before that of extended family members and close friends.
For instance the one semester of nursing school I didn’t get an A, was because I put family first. My dad had been diagnosed with cancer, so instead of prioritizing my studies to get the best grade possible, I spent quality time with him in the hospital. At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, people are what really matter. Its nice to make good grades, and to keep all your options open as a result, but there are times when doing so isn’t worth the sacrifice. I’ll say it again, time is precious. Once spent it cannot be unspent. There are no do overs when it comes to time.
#12. Make Time for Those Special Events
Life doesn’t stop just because you’re in school. Finding peace in the struggle, not only means finding peace in doing the work it takes to pull yourself forward in life, but it also means finding balance. You will have breaks during school, use them to have fun adventures with those you care about. Don’t be afraid to use some vacation days at work for actual vacations, not just before test study cram sessions. Trade shifts so you can go to your bestie’s wedding. Live life!
For those times that your obligations prevent you from partaking in those special events, and have to sit it out in order to make your dreams happen, just remember, its not forever. School flies by! Before you know it, you’ll be making better money, you’ll have more time, and all those fun events will continue to happen. Though its true, you can never get back missing your grandparent’s 50th anniversary party, or not going to that tom petty concert before he died, life goes on, and there will be plenty of other amazing opportunities waiting for you.