Share this article

9 Tips to Help Nursing Students Stay Organized

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated October 3, 2023
    Organization is one key to successfully completing nursing school. Review these nine tips to help students get and stay organized throughout the semester.

    Getting and staying organized is the name of the game for successful nursing students. Some people are just naturally organized, and others need a little bit of help. eSchoolNews reported in a national survey that 54% of students believed organizational skills affected their grades.

    In this guide, two master’s-prepared nurses shared their organization tips for nursing students. Check out how habits like establishing a routine and accountability can help nursing students be more successful in their nursing program.

    9 Organization Tips for Nursing Students

    Organizational skills must be learned and practiced before they become habits. Organizational skills can help you be more productive and get tasks done faster and more efficiently. This can lead to less stress. When you create a system, it should suit your lifestyle and personality.

    These are the tips recommended by our nurse contributors to stay busy as a nursing student.

    Our two nurses are Jessica Ahearn, MBA, MSN, AMB-BC, an assistant nurse manager of ambulatory care services at Deborah Heart and Lung Center, and Elizabeth Hope Hinchman, MSN, RN, who works at Sunrise Children’s Hospital and is part-time faculty at University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Nursing.

    1. Master Calendar

    Hinchman suggests her students create a master calendar at the start of every semester with the due dates of every test, paper, and clinical requirement for each class. “Combine them! If everything is in one place, it’s hard to lose track of what’s going on or what’s due,” she says.

    Print the calendar out and cross off each task as you complete them. “Being able to physically cross things off, visually see your accomplishments, and knowing what you have to look forward to not only helps you stay organized but also has its mental benefits as well,” she says.

    2. Brain Dump

    Ahearn recommends incorporating a daily “brain dump” each morning in her list of how to stay organized. “I write down all the tasks I need to complete in a day, which allows me to declutter my mind, prioritize, and focus on how I can use my time most productively,” she says.

    You can try a brain dump in the morning or do it at night before bed. Sometimes writing a list of everything you want to accomplish the next day can help clear your mind so you can get to sleep quicker and rest easier.

    3. Establish a Routine

    In addition to brain dumping each morning, Ahearn stresses the need to establish a routine to stay productive. This also helps you stay consistent with your daily school work and incorporates time for life activities, such as the necessities of cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping.

    It is crucial that you don’t plan out every minute of the day but allow time for the unexpected. This helps you stay on track and be able to complete your school work.

    Remember it’s important to be flexible in your routine for the necessary things that must be done, but not so flexible that you routinely don’t accomplish your goals.

    4. Clear Your Distractions

    Your physical environment influences your emotions, behavior, and cognition. Ahearn recommends creating a study environment that is clutter free and clean.

    Hinchman also recommends limiting distractions when you study, such as shutting off the notifications on your phone or studying where you aren’t tempted to stop and watch TV or raid the refrigerator.

    5. Accountability

    “Nursing is all about time management; utilize and practice this skill as much as you can,” Ahearn says. She recommends working together with a friend or classmate to stay accountable for your time and actions. Consider checking in daily with each other to ensure you’ve both met your goals.

    If you both love digital communication, consider creating a shared To-Do list from Microsoft. You can list your goals for the day, check them off as they are completed, and stay accountable to your partner without having to speak everyday.

    6. Use Templates

    Nursing students consistently write papers in APA format. Ahearn recommends creating a template with the correct formatting. This reduces the time you’ll spend on repetitive actions.

    You can generalize that advice to other areas of your life too. For example, make meals you can freeze and pull out when needed, templates for your medication cards, or a grocery shopping list template that requires only checkmarks for the weekly list.

    7. Create Your “Brain”

    During clinicals, nurses commonly refer to their shift reference sheet as their “brain.” This is a crucial tool in how to stay organized. It includes the tasks they must complete for each patient and when medications are due. There are several variations to the sheet and some hospitals have created a template for the staff.

    Hinchman recommends creating your own version and tailoring it to meet your needs for clinicals. You might go one step further and create a version you use daily that incorporates your school and life tasks.

    8. Sleep

    Sleep and organization are strongly associated. Research shows that lack of sleep is costly. When nursing students are organized, they have enough time to get adequate amounts of quality sleep. Well-rested students have a greater potential of meeting their goals to stay organized and productive.

    9. Set Reminders

    Take advantage of your smartphone capabilities and set reminders for yourself. Most nursing students have good days and bad days when trying to stay organized. Too often it’s easy to get distracted by friends, family, or events. Set a reminder or use the time management technique for nursing students of time blocking when it’s time to study or to remind you of an upcoming deadline.

    Meet Our Contributors

    Portrait of Jessica Ahearn, MBA, MSN, AMB-BC

    Jessica Ahearn, MBA, MSN, AMB-BC

    Jessica Ahearn, MBA, MSN, AMB-BC, is an assistant nurse manager of ambulatory care services at Deborah Heart and Lung Center. She received her undergraduate degree from Jacksonville University and her master’s at Wilmington University. She is board certified in ambulatory care nursing. She is an active member of the Organization of Nurse Leaders of New Jersey, serving on the Continuum of Care Committee.

    Portrait of Elizabeth Hinchman, MSN, RN

    Elizabeth Hinchman, MSN, RN

    Elizabeth “Hope” Hinchman has been a part-time instructor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Nursing since 2019. She is a UNLV alumna, having earned her BSN from UNLV in 2015 and an MSN in 2019. Hope received the 2022 Outstanding Teaching by Part-Time Faculty Award and was awarded the Tony and Renee Marlon Nursing Fellowship. She currently serves as the Sigma Theta Tau International VP, acts as a rebel nurse mentor, and was recently nominated for a Daisy Award for her work as a floor nurse.