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Using Productivity Checklists with a Timer to Manage Time in Nursing School

I have been called ridiculous. I have been called obsessive. I have even been called a lunatic. When I tell people the way I use strict checklists along with a timer as though my very life depends on it, most scoff at the micromanagement of my time. Fortunately, I couldn’t care less.

With self-diagnosed ADD and a mind always brimming with new time-consuming projects and a family, I constantly battle against myself to spend my time wisely and actually accomplish what I set out to do. If I was to start nursing school in the daytime while working full-time at night and juggling childcare between myself and my equally busy wife, I was going to need a concrete system.

I began using detailed productivity checklists to get things done in a given amount of time. These checklists have evolved from basic to-do lists when I first started nursing school to detailed schedules of activities, even building in time to stop and eat or have coffee. Eventually, I began assigning time limits to each activity and using my cellphone timer to regulate myself.

It is easy to blow through the timer and continue working on a task that is not completed, but I found that I was defeating my own system. Now, no matter how far into a task I am, my timer means it's time to move on. How and when I finish this task is based on priority and it will usually fall to the end of the checklist with a new time limit.

The first use of my checklists came in the form of an insert I made to clip into my weekly planner. This form was developed to help me accomplish all of my weekly study tasks for school and gave my planner the functionality of a customized scheduler without the cost of having one made (plus it could easily be edited to fit my needs as the semester progressed). Below is the basic idea of this checklist which I scaled to print so it could fit in my regular weekly planner with a small binder clip.

Semester 1 Weekly Checklist

  • Pre-read chapters

  • Note outline

  • Rewrite lecture notes

  • Prepare flashcards

  • Message board post

  • Complete e-learning questions

  • Other ___________________

Once other students saw my checklist and how well I was able to stay on top of my studying and assignments without slipping later on in the semester, they began adopting their own checklists to mimic mine. I began to adopt the same checklist idea for when I studied for exams, but this is where I first implemented my timer. To hold myself accountable, I ensured that I spent a minimum of x minutes or hours studying a particular topic in a particular way. My lists would look something like this:

Cardiology Exam

  • Anatomy

    • Diagrams (45 minutes)

    • Read Chapter (30 minutes)

    • Flashcards (30 minutes)

  • Arrhythmias

    • Youtube for ECG videos (60 minutes)

    • Flashcards (30 minutes)

    • Read chapter (45 minutes)

  • Heart Failure

    • Youtube videos (30 minutes)

    • Read chapter (45 minutes)

    • Review class notes (20 minutes)

When using a checklist like this one to study, I would also allow myself a 5-minute break between items, as well as a 15-minute break between categories, or about every 2 hours. By allowing myself “scheduled break time,” I found it easier to avoid temptation and stick to the task at hand.

I now even use productivity checklists with time limits at home for productivity. With the assistance of a routine timer app, I blast music in my house and run around getting things done. I estimate how much time it will take me to complete each task and assign that time limit. The beauty of this method is the ability to predict what I can accomplish in a given amount of time.

For instance, my “Fast Home Routine” is exactly one hour long and involves tidying each room of the house, loading the dishwasher, taking out the trash, and even stopping for a 6-minute snack/coffee break. I am more motivated to get all of these tasks done knowing that if I start right now, in one hour I will be done. Additionally, the “pressure” put on by racing against the clock turns the housework into a challenging game.

Once you try using these productivity lists and timers in your studies or at home, the process easily translates to working as a nurse and managing your time and priorities. Setting goals, time limits, and arranging priorities at the start of your shift (or in my case, right after my morning med pass) will help you get through your day in an efficient and productive manner.


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