How To Do Nails Quicker

Hello and welcome to another nail tale told by yours truly. As you may have noticed, I troll around all the nail forums on Facebook and look for the most asked questions to write about in here.

Something I’ve been seeing alot of lately is ” how long does it take you to do a full set/ how can I work quicker”

For most clients, quality is more important than speed, but there are a handful of daring people who just can’t sit longer than 45 minutes. So they go to a NSS (non standard salon) and take the risk of contracting a fungus or having their natural nails completely filed to death by someone who cares very little about their well being. Maybe it’s a rush for them…crazy adrenaline junkies. Of course, being the kind, caring techs we are; we want to keep people out of these salons. So let’s look at ways we can cut down our time to suit the needs of everyone, and as an added bonus, you get to do more nails in a day!

When I started doing nails, it was taking me close to 4 hours to get them applied, filed, and polished. I was blessed with the most wonderful clients who endured this pain, and luckily for them, I got quicker. Now, I can whip out a full set with gel Polish in just over an hour. This isn’t me bragging by the way. I’m just saying, if you put in the effort to cut down your times like I did, you can do it quicker too! There is no magic trick or easy solution here people. You’re going to have to put a little bit of effort in to figure out where you’re spending you’re time, because what you’re doing is completely different from what the next tech does. I can not pin point it for you, but I can explain it and break it down in such a way that you will be able to pin point it yourself.

Like everything that needs a solution, this needs broken down into sections that are easier to concentrate on. A full service of extensions includes so many aspects. Your job now, is to study each of these sections and write them down. The next time you are with a client, ask them if it’s OK if you set a little timer, as you’re doing some research. I’m sure they wont care. And if they do…. Well… Black list them. How rude! Have your section list next to you and time yourself during each one.

Example sheet 1, timing service sections.

Write down your times for a few clients so you can see in black and white what parts of the treatment are consuming the most time. Once you’ve done a few clients, compile your totals into a new list so you can see them all together.

Example sheet 2, service timing totals.

Now you can focus on one thing at a time to get quicker. You can’t just say, it takes me 3 hours to do a set of nails. I must work faster. It’s not just about being faster. I could file a nail really fast for ten minutes. Or I could apply less acrylic and file it slowly for 2 minutes and still be saving 8 minutes… Are ya with me?

OK. Here are the sections. If you feel like I have missed something, do include it in your list. And let me know so I can add it here.

Work area set up. (5 min)

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Your work area needs to be set up in a way that you have everything you use, within your immediate reach. Make sure all your liquids, powders etc are topped up and you have a designated “home” for all your tools. You will need to adjust your area for each client depending on what they want. If they are having glitter, gems, stickers, etc.. put it in your reach.

This desk is set up perfectly to suit the needs of Melanie Hidden at Nails U Love.
Everything is within easy reach and organised.

It’s just like mom always harped on us when we were kids, if you’re done with something put it back where you found it. When you’ve got crap laying all over your desk, your vision is going to be distracted and you won’t be able to find things quickly. Melanie at Nails U Love has everything she uses in a treatment, in her reach. Everything is clean and visible. Find a set up that works for you. Keep it that way always, so that your hands know where to go, without even thinking about it. You can get your client to fill out the consultation form while your preparing for their individual treatment to save on time.

For these next sections, I want you to think about them in terms of a single finger. Write down all of your steps you do for each section. And imagine how long you think it should take per finger, then multiply that time by 10 to get your total expected time. The times I use in this article are my realistic expectations of myself. You can use them or change them accordingly. When you’re timing yourself during a treatment with a client, time the whole section. But you can keep yourself on track by counting during each finger in the back of your mind while you’re working, and make a note of where you’re going over.

Nail preparation (10 min)

You need to be prepared. Have a good cuticle pusher, cuticle removing cream, sanitiser, lint free wipes and a bin on hand.

  • Sanitise hands. 10 seconds
  • Apply cuticle removing lotion. 2 seconds
  • ( assess each nail while applying cuticle remover )
  • File free edge. 5 seconds

Filing the free edge while the cuticle remover soaks into the cuticle, is working very efficiently. Saving you time 🙂

  • Push back cuticles and remove dead tissue. 30 seconds
  • Wipe off Cuticle remover. 5 seconds
  • Buff/etch nail. 10 seconds
  • Brush away dust. 5 seconds

So. That is how I prepare a nail for any kind of treatment. Those are my expected times. If I multiply each time by ten (fingers) and add them all together, that gives me a total of about 10 minutes (give or take) to get through this section.

Tipping /applying forms (5 min)

You might notice that some techs can apply tips so fluidly and know which size to use without even thinking about it. That’s because they’ve done it 5 million times and 80 % of clients will use the same size tips. Make a note of which tips you’re using for thumb, index, middle, ring and pinky finger for 5 clients. I’ll bet you that each client used the same size tip per finger give or take a size. Put a mark on your tip box indicating which was most popular for each finger so you know what a good starting point is when you’re sizing tips. You may need to move up or down a size, but at least you will know where to start. I expect to take 20 seconds to size, apply glue and tip each nail.

This is how I’ve labeled my white tip box.

Don’t waste time blending. If you are using acrylic, you don’t even need to buff the tip. the acrylic itself will melt the plastic of the tip enough for good adhesion. If you are using gel, you will at the very least, need to buff the tip. The best tips to use, are well-less tips. When I use well-less tips, I swipe the corners of the tip that is stuck to the natural nail with a 180 grit file just to smooth it out a bit, then buff the entire tip. This only takes a few seconds a finger. If you are using a natural full welled tip, you will need to spend more time blending if you aren’t applying Polish, but if you are applying Polish. Treat them as a well less clear tip and just file the corners that are glued to the nail and buff.

That gives me a total of 5 minutes (give or take) to size, tip and blend the corners of the tip.

If I’m applying forms, I expect to take 20 seconds a finger to peel, curl, and apply the form. Some will need customised which takes a bit longer. But in total I expect to spend no more than 5 minutes applying 10 forms. I suggest you find forms that stay stuck together. Don’t buy cheap ones. Get a good quality form and you will reap the benefits.

So I’m 20 minutes into the treatment and I’m ready to…

Cut and Shape the tip. (5 min)

You want to shape the tip roughly before you apply you product. It’s easier, it saves you time and it saves you money on filing away product. It’s important to implement a shaping routine and do it the same every time so that you can just smash through this step quickly. Depending on the shape I expect to spend no more than 20 seconds a finger. You don’t need perfection here. Just cut your tip with a pair of scissors to the length you want and then cut some bulk off the sides if your shape requires that. Then tidy it up with a file. If you need help with shaping techniques and routines, you can check out my YouTube list “shaping

Prime and apply product. (20 min)

The best advice I was ever given was ” apply your product as though you don’t own a file ” I see it so many times where techs use so much product and have to spend ages filing the nail into shape. It’s counter productive and it’s wasteful. If you’re going to spend a lot of time doing 1 thing while building a set of extensions, let it be applying the product. You can always add more. Even after you’ve started filing, it will take less time to pick your brush back up and add a bit more product to the apex, than it would to sit and file away half of the nail. If you find you are spending too much time filing the surface of the nail into shape, my suggestion to you is this. Use half as much product as you normally would for one nail. Assess the nail and think about it in terms of ” Oh shit. I don’t own a file“. Do you need to use less product? Do you need to add a bit more? If you need to add more, don’t go overboard. Add just a bit. You’ll be able to see pretty quickly if you’re using too much product and as a result wasting time and money filing it away.

On a medium length nail, I expect to take no longer than 60 seconds per nail to apply acrylic. For gel, it’s a bit different. I apply my Base Layer to all 10 nails and cure (this total first step takes about 3 minutes) Next I apply my first layer to each finger individually, curing in between ( this takes about 30 seconds per nail) and then I repeat. (taking about 30 seconds per nail ) Then I cure each hand for a full 60 seconds.

So for acrylic I’m expecting to take 12 -15 minutes. ( counting the time it takes to switch between fingers)

For gel, I expect between 16-18 minutes.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to round these up to 20 minutes to give me some time to breathe.
Filing and finishing (10 min)

So, because I was very meticulous in my product application, I’m not spending a lot of time filing. I have a filing routine that I use to enhance the surface shape of every nail, I file in the same pattern for every nail so my results are always similar. Of course I don’t do it blindly. Each nail needs assessed during the filing process to make them all identical but I only expect to spend 30 seconds Filing the surface and buffing, and a further 30 seconds perfecting the free edge. That’s 60 seconds each finger, I’m going to round this up to 10 minutes for both hands to be completed.

Now, I’m about 60 minutes in and I’m ready to cleanse and apply Polish.

Applying Polish (20 min)

When you’re putting gel Polish over acrylic or gel extensions, you don’t need a Base coat. Just make sure you don’t buff the surface too smooth, and go straight in with two coats of colour ( taking about 30 seconds per finger each coat). And 1 layer of topcoat (taking about 30 seconds per finger). I’m going to round this whole section up to 20 minutes to allow for clean up.

My total expected timing is 1 hour 15 minutes. That’s a very quick time and doesn’t allow for any mistakes or stopping. If you’re new to nails and you don’t have routines established, you’re going to have moments where your hands aren’t moving and you’re thinking/looking for the next tool, or writing down your times. For the purposes of this exercise, stop your timer after each section and write down your time. Reset the timer and start the next section. If your total measured timing is 2 hours, and the whole treatment took 3 hours, you’ll know that you are spending a lot of time doing nothing, and you will need to work on staying focused. Once you’ve done this exercise 5 times you’ll be able to see on paper, what parts if the treatment are taking the longest compared to your expectations. Work on one section at a time, getting more productive and it will show in your total timings.

Wow, that was long. It took me more time to write this out than it would to do an actual set of nails. If you read this the whole way through, you are committed and the perfect candidate for this exercise.

This is exactly what I did 6 years ago when I started doing nails, so I know it works. It’s a bit of effort but the knowledge and awareness you gain from it is priceless.

So I challenge you. Write out five sheets of “service timing”. Record your times for your next 5 clients and compile them into a new sheet. Send me a message on facebook and show me a picture of your totals, so we can work together to get your timings down!!

I hope you accept this challenge and Im really looking forward to seeing your results!

Love Courtney



22 thoughts on “How To Do Nails Quicker

Add yours

  1. This is exactly what I needed! I can’t wait to start implementing this on my next set. Do you have a video of you doing a full set? I’d love to watch you do each step even if it’s just on one nail. (Visual learner 🙋🏼‍♀️)


    1. Hi aleca, I’m so glad you found this helpful! I don’t currently have a video of the entire process, I do have a few videos on my YouTube channel though that you might like to watch. There’s one for applying/blending natural full welled tips, creating an apex with gel, applying gel Polish… I will try and do a video of a single nail from start to finish when my gel Polish is ready to come off but I’ve only just applied it yesterday so it may be a couple weeks. Xo thanks for your support!


  2. Thank you so much Courtney for the huge effort in this post. It’s EXACTLY what I was looking for. I had already thought about timings for just 1 nail from start to finish, and now I can follow your instructions and work on your challenge. I had to wait until I retired to follow my passion for nails. I qualified Dec.2016 and I only have 3 faithful clients, myself and Daisy, my practise hand. I’ll let you know how I go. 💅 sharon Queensland Australia 🇦🇺


    1. Hi sharon, I thought I has replied to this alreasy but I don’t see it! I’m so pleased to help you! Sometimes you just need someone to spell out what you already know you should do. Good luck and yes, please keep me updated with your progress. Xo


  3. I really enjoyed reading this thank you so much! Can i ask how long it should take to prep the nail for an infill/ design change please? Xx


    1. Hiya, it depends really. Every client will have different needs. But if they looked after their nails they should only need the cuticle pushed back, and a quick etch/buff. 30-45 seconds a nail I’d say!


  4. Wow this is great!! Got my time cards made up going to give this a try….Just want to say thank you for this as well as ALL your other article’s are so detailed and helpful.


  5. Thank you so much! I’ve only been doing nails semi-professionally (I have a day job too) for about 3 years, but I still struggle with timing sometimes. This is the most concise explanation and advice on timing I’ve found yet. I don’t do acrylics because of the monomer since I work out of my house (household complains!), so I do hard gels and dip; the former longer, of course, the latter super fast. 99% of clients do soft gel color over one of the two and I rarely do regular polish. I’m finding that adding nail art to the mix, for me, adds a minimum of a 1/2 hr if I do a hard gel set (1 1/2 hrs for me from prep to top coat without art). One client came in asking for a very complex design. I could do it but I warned her that her service would take between 2 and 2 1/2 hrs. I offered to use decals/stickers which would save a ton of time with a very similar result (I have hundreds, all set out in binders by color, type etc). She was upset and said she didn’t have the time but wanted a “hand painted look,” not decals and I said “well, I don’t have time to do a complex, hand painted design that will take 5-10 minutes per finger if you’re not willing to wait!” She waited and I did a gorgeous design for her which brought her service to 2 hrs 25 minutes. She never came back, regardless of how they turned out, because “I can’t waste time like that.” She literally texted to tell me that even though she “received many compliments.” Whatever. My next client was lovely and said “take your time, I’d prefer quality over a rush job.” Thank goodness for those!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i got my diploma almost 3yrs from now and i find it so hard to do my sets under 3h :/ ive had a break for a year and living on a very small island so im finally getting new and returning clients … im so so looking forward my client tomorrow ! Tnx for this ❤


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