SMART Goals for Nurses and Nursing Students: How They Help With Time Management

Written by Domantas Vanagas

January 3, 2022

Becoming a nurse is a fantastic career opportunity and one that can be very rewarding when done correctly. But did you know that a large number of nurses burn out every year simply because they don’t properly assess and handle their goals and duties? This situation can be quite unfortunate and may result in nurses struggling in their duties or causing them to burn out and seek another career.

That said, it simply doesn’t have to be that way if you understand time management nursing SMART goals and how to set them. This unique time management tool can help nursing students and nurses, providing the support needed to avoid severe burnout during college or their work duties. Here’s what you need to know about this process.

What are SMART Goals for Nurses?

SMART goals refer to a unique time management method that focuses on five different steps, each of which corresponds to one letter in the acronym “SMART.” This method can easily be adjusted to suit a handful of other educational and career options, including nursing.

graduated nurse woman celebrating

Here’s each letter of the acronym broken down, with a brief explanation of how it can help with nursing students and nurses:

  • Specific: All of your goals must be specific, defined, and actionable, focusing on one area you’d like to improve. For example, nurses could choose bedside manners as their particular goal.

  • Measurable: Your success can be quantified and measured in a way that drives your improvement. For example, nurses working on their bedside manners could measure success by the number of compliments they receive from patients.

  • Attainable: Your goals must be realistic and obtainable within your time set. For example, working on 100% approval from patients may be impossible in just two weeks, but 80% may be possible.

  • Relevant: All of your goals must be relevant to some aspect of your life. For example, improving your bedside skills is relevant to nursing students and nurses and will enhance their overall careers.

  • Time-Based: Each goal you create should have a specific time frame to finish it. For instance, you may give yourself a month to accomplish your bedside training program.

Nurses and nursing students can use this system in many different ways. For example, they can improve their overall training and education by identifying spots where they need improvement.

They can also set actionable goals that make their career smoother and easier to accomplish, such as making it easier to transition to 12-hour shifts after working primarily in a college setting.

What Benefits Do Nurses Get From Using SMART Goals?

Nurses get many potential benefits when using time management nursing SMART goals. This method has become one of the most actionable and beneficial time management tip and can be used in just about any career field.

Benefits you may receive include:

  • The ability to track your progress more efficiently and transparently

  • A way of creating better improvement goals that provide actionable benefits

  • Increasing your productivity and efficiency by focusing on your overall improvement

  • Enhanced strategies that make it easier to focus on productivity and minimize procrastination

  • Improving your ability to understand patient needs and management methods

It should be easier to handle the new demands a nursing profession may place on you with these benefits. For instance, if you’ve been promoted to a floor manager and you aren’t sure how to handle your new duties, SMART goals can help you take what you’ve learned as a nurse and apply it to a management position.

How Can Nurses Use SMART Goals For Their Time Management?

Creating SMART goals for nurses or nursing students requires understanding the importance of time management and overall planning and execution process of SMART goals. In this way, you should find it easier to produce meaningful steps towards SMART goal execution. Feel free to adjust these steps, as needed, to get the best results.

stethoscope laying on papers

The main four steps that you’ll be taking during this process include how you’ll:

  • Create a Series of SMART Goals: Create multiple SMART goals you can use for improving your nursing career, such as minimizing medication errors or finding ways to improve medicine implementation. Know precisely what overall purpose you want to achieve and use the SMART guideline to produce specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals for your improvement.

  • Identify Ways to Achieve This Goal: Brainstorm steps that will help improve your overall SMART goals. For example, suppose you’re trying to minimize medication errors. In that case, you may want to create a new way of tracking medications, ensuring that they aren’t given to the wrong person, and minimizing handling problems.

  • Plan a Specific Schedule for Your Goals: Once you’ve come up with several ways to achieve your goals, create a schedule for these activities. For example, you may schedule one-hour daily blocks to create your new medication tracking method. You can also focus on training your nurses on this program, setting aside these one-hour blocks to help them, as needed to train everybody.

  • Know When to Delegate: SMART goals as a nurse may require delegating tasks to others who can help. For example, if you don’t have time to train everybody in your new medical implementation system, you can choose those who’ve already been trained and have them handle these steps. Doing so helps you measure the program’s success and make adjustments as needed.

When attempting these SMART goals, don’t forget to take breaks and eliminate all distractions. For example, it’s straightforward to get drawn into a problematic nursing case and find your new medication plan getting sidetracked or even forgotten. Attend to all of your duties but always keep your ultimate goal in mind, taking breaks to refresh your mind and body.

SMART Goal Examples for Nurses

Time management mistakes may be particularly tough for nurses because they often work 10-16 hours daily. As a result, it is essential to set reasonable SMART goals for your day. These goals can focus on not only enhancing your overall work experience but making your hospital more effective.

clock within bed sheets

Improve Rest Periods

  • Specific: Decide how you want to split up your rest periods during your long shift, including setting up half-hour breaks evenly throughout a particularly long workday.

  • Measurable: Track how much downtime you get throughout a workday by timing it out on a stopwatch and writing this information down on paper, seeing when you’re more likely to take breaks.

  • Attainable: As a nurse, you might not always have the time necessary to take a break. Therefore, you may need to set shorter breaks time (such as 10-15 minutes) up throughout your day to avoid strain.

  • Relevant: Focus on taking breaks after particularly tough times, such as after a patient passes or during a lengthy surgery where you need to stay focused on treatment.

  • Time-Based: Try to get your break time down to a reasonable level by the end of your workweek. You can then use the schedule you create to plan additional days and weeks ahead of you.

Decreasing Infection Risk

  • Specific: Your goal here should be to take actionable steps to minimize patient infection. Focus on different hand-washing initiatives you can take to help improve this goal.

  • Measurable: Track your instances of patient infection and create programs for hand-washing in which nurses must note proper washing procedures on a sheet, which is checked by their managers.

  • Attainable: Calculate your current infection rate and try to decrease it by as much as 30-40% or so. That rate should be obtainable as you slowly reduce your rate over an extended period.

  • Relevant: Teach your nurses how to minimize infection rate by steps like hand-washing, equipment sterilization, mask cleaning, and throwing away old or used gloves.

  • Time-Based: Improving your infection rate will take time, though you should try to make real progress in at least a week or two: your overall goal may take over a year to accomplish.

stethoscope mask and hearts laying on a blue background

Balancing Work Schedules

  • Specific: A work schedule goal should include providing appropriate schedules for each of your employees, meeting their particular part- or full-time work needs.

  • Measurable: Track success with this program by gauging how much overtime your employees get or asking them how satisfied they are with their schedule and process.

  • Attainable: It should be possible to get your employees the hours they want and can handle and cover all shifts. However, you may find limitations based on nurse availability.

  • Relevant: Always pay attention to your employees’ time needs, including scheduling people who prefer late-night work to midnight shifts and part-time employees into gaps left by full-time workers.

  • Time-Based: You should try to balance work schedules ASAP and focus on two-week stretches or so, though planning a month ahead may be beneficial if possible.

SMART Goals for Nursing Students

Time management for nursing students should focus on improving their information retention and minimizing early burnout. These simple SMART goals give nursing students like you the ability to focus on their studies without getting worn out by the demands of the process.

Improving Studying Capabilities

  • Specific: Create a goal of improving your GPA to a 3.5 from a 3.0 by increasing your studying time from one hour every night to at least two hours.

  • Measurable: Schedule two-hour blocks through your weekdays and regularly check your GPA online to see how well it improves with each test and assignment.

  • Attainable: Identify classes where you need to improve and figure out how much you need to enhance your GPA in each, focusing on classes you know you could do better in with more focus.

  • Relevant: Improving your GPA is an appropriate goal, as it may help you find better placement in high-paying hospitals. Focus only on information pertinent to your studies.

  • Time-Based: Try to set your obtainable goal by at least the end of the semester, as this should give you more than enough time to improve your overall study habits.

Minimizing Early Burnout

  • Specific: If you’re getting burned out on your studies, your exact goal may be to get closer to 7-8 hours of sleep every night to avoid fatigue and improve your overall studying.

  • Measurable: Consider a sleep-tracking device that gauges how much you rest during the night, including whenever you take a nap, to measure your success.

  • Attainable: Try to transition to the most sleep you can get without impacting your studies, such as compromising on 6.5 if you still need time to study before bed.

  • Relevant: Focus your goals only on steps that help you get to sleep, such as exercising regularly, taking melatonin before bed, putting away your computer and phone an hour before bedtime, etc.

  • Time-Based: Ease yourself into this new schedule over a few days or a week, adjusting your sleep gradually. Doing so helps to minimize the risk of adjustment troubles.

Bonus Tip

Here’s one more tip about time management nursing SMART goals that you can use for your education or career needs: always set an action plan.

An action plan is a series of fundamental steps you can take to achieve your SMART goals. It can exist alongside your SMART outline and help improve your execution.

For example, when improving your studying schedule as a nursing student, you can set an action plan to identify subjects where you’re weaker. You can then transition to tutoring if you need outside help and work with your tutor to properly focus on improving your overall study schedule.

You can also set actionable steps after that to identify good sources for studying, such as checking out books from the library that focus on your subject or buying them online. After that, you can set up a study group with people you trust who work together when preparing for various studying methods.

Don’t be afraid to change your action plan if it doesn’t work for you. For example, if your study group ends up primarily socializing and chatting (or if you find it hard to study with a group of people in general), you may want to plan your studying around quiet time in your dorm or the library.

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